Bill Bailey's Strictly Diary: ‘First Janet, now Joan – this show amazes me’

In his exclusive weekly report, the comedian talks about his new A-list fans and missing his beloved birdwatching

Oti and Bill performed an American Smooth to a Frank Sinatra classic for 
last week’s Blackpool-themed special
Oti and Bill performed an American Smooth to a Frank Sinatra classic for last week’s Blackpool-themed special

It’s week six on my Dance Odyssey and last Saturday I was dancing in full tailcoat, starched shirt, cummerbund and bow tie combo. And of course, this being Strictly, I appeared standing in a huge revolving glittery top hat. I had quite a few spins on it in rehearsal, to the point I got quite attached to it. I might ask if I can have it installed at home as a way to greet dinner guests. 

This was the American Smooth, and it looks to me like the quintessential ballroom dance. Elegant, graceful and as the name suggests, a glide across the dance floor that should appear light and effortless. Despite this, and the calm demeanour required to pull it off, I was anything but calm. In fact, the precise requirements of the routine and the fact that we were opening the show meant the occasion got to me a little.

This was Blackpool Week after all, when traditionally the whole show decamps to the seaside for a special edition at the Tower Ballroom, but of course right now this couldn’t happen. I’ve performed in Blackpool many times, and enjoyed it even though this grand old resort has seen better days.

I love a drizzle-soaked stroll along a wintry seaside promenade, especially if there’s a few thieving herring gulls trying to nick my chips, but I’ve never really imbued Blackpool with an almost mythical status. But this is how it is perceived in the dance world. I was charmed by Oti’s reminiscence of her first trip there to compete in the famous Dance Festival that attracts competitors from all over the world.

She talked fondly of flying over from South Africa when she was 10, and what it meant to compete there. I’ve since found out that this iconic dance event began in 1920, so the fact that this is their centenary year has sparked in me a new-found admiration for this slightly careworn Victorian resort.  

Bill and Oti's Couple's Choice routine got tongues wagging

After our Couple’s Choice, a video of it was retweeted by none other than Janet Jackson, so when things return to normal I might offer my services as a backup dancer. You never know! The surreal nature of all this finds new ways to amaze me every day. Now it turns out that Joan Collins is a fan. And that’s just the Js.

Talking of Js, this week is the Jive. A fast dance that is the most physically demanding yet and has to ooze cool. Jive was once seen as a corrupting influence on the UK’s youth, much as punk was in my own teenage years. We’re jiving to Blondie’s One Way or Another, which propelled them from the punk clubs of New York to the wider world. I just have to summon the spirit of my own punk years, minus my spiked peroxide hair.

After months of training, I admit I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t dancing. I’m missing going for walks and birdwatching – I haven’t seen so much as a chaffinch in six weeks. My first meeting with Oti at the London Wetland Centre seems an age ago and the last time I saw a wigeon.

But for now, rehearsal calls, as does the spiky brush that roughs up the dance shoe sole for extra grip, the aching legs, the thrill of the competition. I did hear a seagull just now though, as I snaffled a chip from my son’s dinnerplate, so at least the spirit of Blackpool is alive and well in west London.

Strictly Come Dancing continues on Saturday on BBC One at 7.15pm and Sunday at 7.25pm

Bill Bailey: Christmas Larks will be staged at London’s Lyceum Theatre, from 28 Dec to 3 Jan