How to waltz away a winner: BILL BAILEY's secrets of his success
How to waltz away a winner: Hilarious, touching and VERY revealing – count down the hours to tonight’s Strictly lift-off with 2020 winner BILL BAILEY’s secrets of his amazing success
As the new series launches tonight, reigning champion Bill Bailey shares his top tips with this year’s celebrities on how to snare that famous glitterball…
DISCARD YOUR INHIBITIONS WITH A SPRAY TAN
One of the many firsts I experienced on Strictly was my first spray tan. Stepping shirtless, sockless and trouserless into a pop-up tanning booth was a bit of a shock. For starters, I was not prepared for how cold the tanning spray gun is. It’s like standing naked in a one-person marquee in the prow of a speedboat in rough sea and emerging as buffed and bronzed as Captain Ahab.
Well, I say naked — you can go commando if you like, but I am a little too prudish for that. For the men at least, the only visible tanned areas are above the waist, so I saw no need for all-over tanning — and the thought of having to is making me shudder…
I was more comfortable about wearing make-up after years of filming, but another first was the application of eyeliner, or as it’s called for men, ‘guyliner’
Judicious application of make-up was part of a wider lesson about Strictly; that what seems too much actually looks good on TV
LASHINGS OF GUYLINER MADE ME LOOK THE PART
I was more comfortable about wearing make-up after years of filming, but another first was the application of eyeliner, or as it’s called for men, ‘guyliner’. There is something ancient about this, as it recalled to me the many dark-lined eyes of ancient Egypt, on the Pharaoh’s minions. They weren’t dancing the jive though.
Judicious application of make-up was part of a wider lesson about Strictly; that what seems too much actually looks good on TV. Although it might raise an eyebrow when you stop for crisps at the all-night garage on the way home.
Bill Bailey celebrates with a bottle of champagne in his Strictly dressing room
In fact, it was only in a couple of dances that the make-up featured heavily, and each time it enhanced the look immeasurably. The most striking of these transformations was when we danced the Argentine tango to the Phantom Of The Opera soundtrack.
Initially, I wore a mask in rehearsals, to get used to the sensation. But after many incidents of the mask catching on Oti’s hair, or her costume, or it slipping over my face, or me sweating underneath it, and trying to swipe it away mid dance, it was decided that it should be replaced with make-up. The final effect, expertly applied, solved the problem and looked great . . . so much so, viewers assumed it was indeed a mask.
BECOME ONE WITH YOUR SHOES . . . LIKE A HOBBIT
They may be soft on the sole, but they’re as hard as Wolverine’s claws on the heel — so there will be blisters
Dance shoes are specialist bits of kit that have to be ordered in, and my patent ballroom dance shoes are like nothing I’ve ever worn.
They may be soft on the sole, but they’re as hard as Wolverine’s claws on the heel — so there will be blisters. You can’t avoid them, so get hold of some blister plasters, pronto.
The first few weeks will be painful . . . and you just have to smile through it. These pro dancers are as smooth, graceful and bendy as sparkly manta rays, they smile and laugh often, but no amount of whimpering will elicit an ounce of sympathy from them, and rightly so.
The best thing is to wear them around the house to break them in — and don’t be afraid to ask for different sizes. There’s quite a bit of give in them, and they do stretch — what you don’t want is them to be at all loose-fitting.
They should become part of you, so you forget you are wearing shoes, and just imagine you have leathery feet like some sequinned, waltzing hobbit.
FAMILY SUPPORT WAS KEY TO MY VICTORY
I wasn’t to know it at the start, but my Strictly experience would last many weeks. And to stay fit and healthy, and maintain equanimity, you need great support from your family. Very quickly, my routine took on a much greater significance.
My teenage son, Dax, was sceptical about my involvement in the show, but when he saw the work that went in and the skills I was acquiring, he became quietly impressed — although with each week he became more amazed that I hadn’t fallen over yet.
My wife Kris’s renowned cooking skills now became a necessity. She was behind me the whole way, encouraging me, supporting me, and was a massive part of my success.
Every night after training, I would arrive home a wreck, hardly able to open the car door, and stagger to the house. Once inside, I was presented with a cold drink and a tasty home-cooked meal. I can’t tell you how important that is.
THERE’S NOTHING BETTER THAN A BATH
As I lay in the bath before dinner, a mass of aches and pains, I could barely speak, so I would relax by listening to audiobooks.
I went through The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and The Mirror And The Light by Hilary Mantel. I credit all these wonderful writers with resetting my mental equilibrium.
My toes had lost feeling, my shoulders were tight, my feet throbbed, my neck was stiff and my knees were complaining, but a chilled glass of Sauvignon and a plate of food made with love goes a long way to fix all that.
And the sleep . . . oh my word, the sleep is like sleep from childhood. Deep, instant and often dreamless, it’s the other essential element on this dance odyssey.
Each week, the Saturday is a blur of activity. Camera rehearsals, Covid tests, press, social media, photo calls — it’s relentless. And somehow you have to pick yourself up and throw it all out there again.
Semi-final week was the toughest, as that requires you to learn not one but two new dances from scratch. I was thrown into the tango, then whisked back to the Charleston, then back to the tango and so on. Both completely different dances, and both with intricate and specific footwork and differing styles.
I was almost at the limit of my endurance then, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so wrung out. In rehearsal for the Charleston, I slipped, which didn’t bode well for the evening performance. I was exhausted, we all were, and it seemed like I might have gone as far as I could.
But we were through to the final, and this was a huge deal. Oti had got me there, Kris and my family had got me there, and I’ll be honest, my own cussed determination had got me there. Oh, and the voting public, God bless you all!
Oti Mabuse and Bill Bailey during the live show on the BBC1 dancing contest
LISTEN TO CRITICISM — BUT HAVE FUN!
It seems like simple words of advice, but in this case it’s true. The more you put into the training, the more you will succeed. And the judges, for all their comments (and Craig’s withering critiques), really know their stuff. So take any criticism on the chin and strive to improve.
But don’t forget to have fun! This is a TV entertainment show of the highest order. Yes, it’s also a dance competition where you will be judged, sometimes harshly. This can be too much for some, and they respond badly. I think it’s good to have low expectations, that way any praise is even more welcome.
So, I would say to all this year’s contestants, listen to your pro partners. They know what they are doing and will make you look good.
Don’t complain, just put the hours in, immerse yourself in the show, in the competition and in the world of dance. You will only do this once, so make it count!
COSTUME IS KING – EVEN IF IT MEAN WEARING A BABYGRO
The costume fittings were always fun days, and they usually happened on the Friday. The character has been set and you may have been rehearsing with a prop or basic version of some aspect of the costume in training, but now comes the real thing.
For example, for the American smooth I rehearsed with the top hat and cane, but not the full white tie and tails. It can be a quick learning curve to adapt to the dance in new, restrictive threads.
This is an important part of getting into character. I defy anyone to get all trussed up in the full evening wear and not feel like a million dollars.
My favourite costume was for the paso doble, where I was presented with a pair of specially made suede knee-length boots, which finished off a fantastic, hippy cowboy look, with added guyliner.
And there was a significant costume first: The ‘Shant’. This is a shirt sewn into your pants to keep everything tucked in.
It’s an odd one at first, as you have to wriggle yourself into it, like a Babygro. It felt weird, but like everything Strictly, you quickly accept it as the norm, and eventually love it.
Pro tip though — make sure you have been to the loo beforehand — it’s tricky to extricate yourself once ‘shanted’.
WHATEVER YOU DO, DO IT WITH SWAGGER
Other dances may not go so well, they might not suit you, and you feel a little like the wind’s gone out of your sails. Pictured, Bill Bailey and Oti Mabuse
When we danced to Rapper’s Delight, it was a game-changer. It was our first ten, and I skipped down the stairs after the chat with Claudia. It was a tough dance, but what made it work was attitude.
I was buoyed up by the success of the paso doble the week before, so I was on a roll. I flung myself into that dance with swagger, and it worked a treat. So this was a massive high. The downs are brought on because it’s impossible to maintain that.
Other dances may not go so well, they might not suit you, and you feel a little like the wind’s gone out of your sails. That’s when you have to dig in and keep pushing, as in life.
Sara Davies , Ugo Monye , Nina Wadia , John Waite , Robert Webb , Rose Ayling-Ellis , Adam Peaty , Judi Love , Tom Fletcher , Tilly Ramsay , Rhys Stephenson , AJ Odudu , Dan Walker , Katie McGlynn , Greg Wise on Strictly
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