This post was written before this weekend but not posted as I've been away from keyboard.
Autum is upon on and in time honoured tradition it is time for my much loved Strictly Come Dancing blog - the blog where psephology dress in tails and forecasting executes a slow Samba role. After an initial "But who are these people?" unpromising start the inclusion of Ed "Glitter" Balls and a record breaking opening week mean that Strictly this year is shaping up to be classic.
Usually I like to do my first predictions before the first week of the dancing and then revise them after I've seen them dance but a genuine lack of knowledge about some of the contestants and my deep imperative to comment on the Labour Leadership election between two obscure backbenchers no one had ever before meant that I didn't.
This is the first year in which the first round of scoring has seen no couple score less then 20. Initial quality of dancing has been high and pretty even. I think this year's competition will be much more open than previous years.
Anastacia and Brendan
Anastacia is genuinely a global superstar, if you live in the 2000's and listen to a different genre of music from me. She'll be pushed by the ever competative Brendan "Hot" Coles. Her Cha-cha-cha was well received with 28 points putting her in 5th place on the leaderboard. Does she have the combination of stunning dance moves and heavy weight lovability to get to the final. I think not - she'll fight through to the closing stages but will be eliminated before the final.
Claudia "Just Dance" Frangapane, is the smallest and youngest and most gymnastic of the this year's contestants and the most reminiscent of Chelsee Heeley. She is paired with new dancer AJ Pritchard. Rightly marked down by Head Judge Len for her unwarranted gymnastic interludes she managed a creditable 8th. It's difficult to comment on the abilities her partner brings to the show but my general rule in Strictly is don't bet heavily against Olypians. They are popular with the public, know how to train and have a determination to win. Unless they are Victoria Pendleton, in which case no one loves them. Difficult also to judge the dancing her in amongst the gymnastics. My big note on the evening was that she'd telegraphed one of her tricks very clearly. I'm going to reserve judgement but my gut says, if she can dance a Cha-cha-cha she wouldn't be tumbling.
Daisy "Daisy" Lowe is a model which to be honest isn't a field I've taken much interest in since the heternomative culture of the 1990's told me I should fancy Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford. She's paired with Aljaz Skorjanec, a former winner and a dancer and choreographer I really rate. She topped the leader board with 32 points after a delightful waltz. Before seeing her dance I wouldn't have expected her to make the final. My view is that models aren't all that popular with the voting public. But someone who can dance as well as Daisy has surely got to be in the final. I don't think she'll win but she's my first finalist.
Danny "Flasher" Mac. When I first saw Danny Mac I had an instinctive, irrational dislike of him. Finding out that we was an appearer on Holyoaks only made my dislike of him instictive and rational. Discovering that women of my acquaintance were public prepared to admit to finding him sexually desirable, well, let's just say no one came out of that well. Danny has Oti as a pro-dancer. I like Oti, I think she has potential as a dancer. Their score of 31 for a rather loose limbed cha-cha-cha was flattering but put them in to second on the leader board. Let's see how he does with something that requires him not to smarm. He ought to be a contender for the final with a score of 31 but I don't like him even if he is good so I'm going to put him down to go out a few rounds before the final.
Ed "Glitter" Balls is paired with Katya Jones one of a number of new professional dancers this year. I love him. I salute him. Ed Balls. But he's out of place. By far the worst dancer over the weekend he finished bottom of the leader board on 21. Ed Balls. Difficult to see him lasting beyond the first dance off I suspect we'll next hear of Yvette Cooper's husband when he returns from the wilderness to lead Labour to a stunning election victory in the second general election of 2020.
Natalie Lowe this year is paired with famed ginger jumper Greg "the Ginger Jumper" Rutherford. Despite early problems getting his legs to move slowly and not in a straight line Greg managged a creditable 27 points putting him in 6th place. One again, through a double whammy of being an Olympic athelete and not Victoria Pendleton the Ginger Jumper's staying power should not be underestimated. Easily a contender for the semi-final.
Judge "Judge Not Lest You Be Judged" Rinder. Flamboyant does not do justice to Judge Rinder's Cha-cha-cha. Strangely persuasive also doesn't do justice to his cha-cha-cha. 25 points and joint 10th place with Laura Witmore probably does do justice to his cha-cha-cha. Charisma, entertainment, energy and a celebrity appearance by Benedict Cumberbatch about the time the trailers for Sherlock start appearing will keep him in till the half way mark. After that, he'll be up against good dancers in the dance off. I have to fully own that I do not warm to Oksana for reasons I can not put my finger on.
Laure Witmore. I have never heard of her until Strictly. 10th on 25 points was probably a fair return to opening efforts on Saturday night. Paired with another of the new pro-dancers. I don't see Witmore doing better than mid-table mediocrity.
Lesley "Delorian" Joseph, in the able and long suffering hands of last year's 4th placed Anton de Beke gave a surprisingly moving waltz which I thought was a touch undermarked at 23 and second from bottom. Likely to make it through a few weeks on the basis of being surprisingly not awful.
Louise Redknapp was the whirlwind crush of my generation, the pin up of the early 90's before the Spice Girls and All Saints. Musical and popular and charming she's paired with perhaps the best professional dancer in terms of choreography. I'm not sure she'll win but I'm sure she'll be in the final.
I like Janette Manrarra - she's a another of the professional dancers who takes a three dimensional approach to teaching, and performing with her celebrity. Melvin seems like a jolly chap but I don't think he has the natural affinity for dance that is needed to get much beyond the half way mark.
I quite like Naga Munchetty as a news anchor but she's a bit awkward. A competent opening dance saw her comfortably off the bottom of the leaderboard. Pasha Kovalev has a decent track record of getting his celebrity partners through the rounds but I don't think he's every really gotten someone several weeks futher then they ought to have gone, or done something that changes the game. He's solid but not spectacular as a partner. I predict an earlyish exit once the definate no hopers have been cleared out.
Ore Oduba, of whom I had not heard, was the surprise delight of Saturday night. A good dancer with some charisma I loved his first dance. I immediately thought he'd make it to the final.
Tameka Empson fills the roll of Surprisingly Good at Dancing for a Large Lady this series. Eastenders usually gives someone a good voting base. Anyone who can "surprise" the audience by being a competent dancer whilst overweight and cheerful can coast in to the second half of the series. For a value of coast that involves working really, really hard to get fitter and dance better and remain cheerful.
Will Young and Karen Clifton. If Will Young doesn't win then I will be very surprised. Musical theatre veteran Will is paired up with one of the better professional dancers to form the second power couple of Series 14. He comes with his own fan base. One that I think largely crosses over with Strictly's fan base. Karen has steered some less then awesome dancers to a decent places. Now she's paired up with someone who can actually dance in his own right I expect Will will be straight through to the final and is my pick to win.
So, my predictions for finalists, Will Young, Louise Redknapp, Ore Oduba, Daisy Lowe and Greg Rutherford. I think Will Young will win.
First out, sadly I predict Ed Glitter Balls will be first out.