If there’s any justice, it must be victory for Bill, the Old Bailey! Comedian, 55, bids to become the oldest ever Strictly winner tonight, writes JAN MOIR
Tonight, a 55-year-old man with screaming calf muscles will take to the dance floor for one more twirl of twinkle-toed glory.
Comedian and musician Bill Bailey is the oldest male contestant to ever reach the Strictly Come Dancing final and in the process has become the unexpected hit of this series.
Aided by professional partner Oti Mabuse, Bill is our tangotastic hero, the unlikely trouper who has waltzed straight into our hearts.
Millions have taken pleasure in his achievements as he masters new steps every week, while his expression of pure happiness as he whirls around the ballroom simply gladdens the soul.
Comedian and musician Bill Bailey (pictured) is the oldest male contestant to ever reach the Strictly Come Dancing final and in the process has become the unexpected hit of this series
Maisie Smith was a child star
She’s the youngest finalist ever at 19 and arrives on stage with the highest points, but despite being a dazzling dancer there’s something about the EastEnders actress which rubs the public up the wrong way.
Never less than cheery, there’s a whiff of stage school about her – not surprising as she was a child actress when she was cast as Bianca Jackson’s daughter Tiffany in 2008 and went to a performing arts school later where she received dance training.
Craig Revel Horwood has lauded her ‘fantastic musicality’ and ‘insane’ energy. In the semi-final last week, she scored 59 out of 60.
HRVY as a baby
Tall and diffident, there was an air of cannon-fodder about HRVY in the early weeks, but he has blossomed into nothing less than a long-necked ballroom prodigy.
Teamed with Janette Manrara (wife of Aljaz Skorjanec) he has been hailed as the GOAT by Craig Revel Horwood – or Greatest of All Time.
A YouTube star and pop performer, the 21-year-old has been weepy over messages from home and hasn’t shown more than a polite interest in Maisie Smith, despite rumours of a potential romance.
Mums fell in love with him when he danced dressed as a garden gnome, and everyone else went wild for his La La Land-themed charleston.
Jamie Laing is pictured aged around seven
Brimming with enthusiasm and with the hyperactive bounce of a brace of puppies, he has survived an unprecedented four dance-offs to make the final.
He was made famous by appearing in Made In Chelsea, and his great great grandfather invented the digestive biscuit.
Jamie, 32, started poorly, with a 14 for his week one cha cha, but has since had triumphs including a 29.
Former Strictly pro dancer Ian Waite reckons Jamie might just win. ‘Jamie has had the biggest journey – everybody loves the journey,’ he said.
Seen here as a youngster in snaps from the family photo album, the star of Black Books and Never Mind The Buzzcocks splits his time between London and North Devon where he lives with wife Kristin, and son Dax, 14.
He has gone from the bottom of the class of 2020 to the giddy heights of the top of the leaderboard on occasion; from a derisory 15 points to his highest score of 27 out of 30 just a few weeks later.
We have watched him perform a jive as a leather-clad biker who also painted portraits (don’t ask) and dress up as a cowboy to crank out a paso doble in front of a covered wagon, as you do.
Judge Shirley Ballas told him: ‘There were a couple of mistakes but your stamina at your age is off the chart.’
On various routines, he has also shown off his musical prowess by playing the drums and the piano.
‘Shameless,’ said host Claudia Winkleman, as he nodded in agreement.
Initially, Bailey – who joked that the hokey cokey was one of his favourite dances and hoped to get it on the show – seemed like the standard up-for-a-laugh Strictly contestant; one of the game older crocks who makes it through to round three before hobbling off with an ankle injury, bruised pride and complete inability to master the samba.
But that is not how things turned out.
‘I’m always up for a new challenge, and this has got to be right up there with the best of them,’ he said back at the beginning, which should have given a clue to the depth of his intent.
He may have joked, ‘I’m not the Lord of the Dance, I’m more Caretaker of the Dance’ when he signed up for the show, but he furiously prepared for the arduous live routines.
He worked on his fitness levels, studied footage of himself rehearsing and even read Craig Revel Horwood’s autobiography as part of his research.
It helped that he could actually dance and that Oti thought he was ‘a living legend’ – steady on. She was there to help him on every step of his Strictly journey, not always in a complimentary way.
‘Don’t Elvis it, we are not in Vegas now,’ she told him on week one, when they were rehearsing the cha cha cha.
‘I can’t help it, I’ve got Elvis knees,’ he protested, before storming around the studio ballroom in unlikely yellow satin trousers with a look of utter rapture on his face.
At first, he did not impress the judges. ‘It was like you were dancing on hot coals after ten double expressos,’ said Revel Horwood, and gave him three measly points for his efforts.
Motsi was more polite. ‘You have to work on your technique,’ she said, while Shirley Ballas laid out the ordeal that lay ahead. ‘You will have to work on your posture, your leg action and your feet,’ she noted.
Yet Bill improved quickly. By week four, Shirley got her ten paddle out for Bill and Oti’s couple’s choice routine to Rapper’s Delight.
The following week, even Craig was full of praise: ‘Darling, your hand shaping is absolutely extraordinary, you are a revelation,’ he said.
It was always down to Shirley to play the age card. ‘There are young people who can’t do that. I am in awe,’ she remarked, after another spirited knees-up from our Bill.
Of course, older female contestants have made it to the final before, with Pamela Stephenson coming third in 2010 at the age of 61 and Debbie McGee reaching the final in 2017, aged 59.
But when it comes to ancient blokedom, balding Bill with his wispy never-say-die mullet, is out there on his own, flying the flag for the greybeards and oldsters, dancing as if the next ten years of his career depend on it, which they probably do. As he said himself, when he takes to the dance floor: ‘My hair will be flying free… like a spaniel out of a car window.’
Tonight he straps on his rumba shoes to compete against fellow finalists who are young enough – almost – to be his children: HRVY, 21, Maisie Smith, 19, and 32-year-old Jamie Laing.
Is there a chance that he could actually take home the glitterball trophy? Bailey has much in his favour, not least of all the likeability factor lacking in some of the other more ambitious, flinty-eyed finalists.
And as someone who is proficient on many musical instruments, he has a faultless, in-built sense of rhythm. You can be as fit as a fiddle or as young as a spring lamb, but you can’t do a thing if you ain’t got that swing.
‘It gets harder and harder for a non-professional, but Bill never complains,’ said Oti. ‘I constantly ask him if he is OK, but he pushes on. He never says he’s tired.’
Strum dancing: Bill plays the guitar. When it comes to ancient blokedom, balding Bill with his wispy never-say-die mullet, is out there on his own, flying the flag for the greybeards
At the zoo: Bill and his penguin pal. Bailey has much in his favour, not least of all the likeability factor lacking in some of the other more ambitious, flinty-eyed finalists
Trumpet voluntary: The young Bill Bailey shows his musical prowess
That’s the spirit, Bill! We’ll all be rooting for you tonight, as you take your place in the ballroom of broken dreams with a smile as big as Blackpool on your face and just the occasional twang from those swivelling, samba-ing, fully loaded but half-century-old hips.
‘There is something about being able to careen around a dance floor with expression and joy that is just fantastic,’ he said.
And it shows, which is the best thing of all.
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