Tears were shed, confetti swirled, and the Glitterball trophy twinkled like a giant Christmas bauble as former Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher and professional partner Oti Mabuse were crowned winners of Strictly Come Dancing 2019 (BBC One).
It was a remarkable triumph from the likeable Fletcher who joined the contest as late replacement after Made in Chelsea’s Jamie Lang cried off with an injury.
He’d been given just four minutes to make up his mind about participating. All these months later he lift the Glitterball gong and smiled like someone who had woken to find themselves still in a dream.
“I think this show represents everything that is amazing with this country,” he said. “I think the people personify what is great and it's just been an absolute privilege."
The result was decided by public vote – just as well for Fletcher and Mabuse, as they placed second on the studio judges leaderboard, behind CBBC host Karim Zeroual and Amy Dowden.
He and Mabuse had to work hard for their victory, in which they triumphed over enthusiastic competition from EastEnders star Emma Barton and Anton du Beke and Zeroual and Dowden.
It was a tense decider, brimming with thrills, spills and courtesy of the eventual champions, electric pink vests that lit up Elstree Studios like lipstick firecrackers. With no clear favourite, viewers will have been on tenterhooks to the very end. In other words, classic, ding-dong Strictly with all the trimmings.
“The things you do with your hips,” marvelled judge Bruno Tonioli to Fletcher after he and Mabuse rounded off the evening with a simmering samba. “What you have achieved over the last 13 weeks is extraordinary.”
But there were glitches behind the scenes. Such was the deluge of public votes, some viewers complained they couldn’t register their preference online. Others took to twitter stating they were similarly unable to vote by phone.
“We are having a very high volume of votes tonight,” said presenter Claudia Winkleman. “If you are having any difficult voting online you can also vote by phone.”
Strictly’s 17th series has been an engaging underdog story and the final served as exquisite cherry on top. Fletcher was parachuted in after the launch episode had already aired. Yet from this standing start, he won over viewers with his determination and charisma. He also struck up an instant chemistry with Mabuse.
I’m reading everyone tweets and wow!!!! I just want to say a massive massive thank you for getting us to the final and allowing us to go on this journey! It’s been an amazing season and I personally have everyone to thank for that pic.twitter.com/evnMkgNuWy— Oti Mabuse (@OtiMabuse) December 14, 2019
On the subject of underdogs, Strictly die-hard will have been cheering veteran pro du Beke, appearing in just his second final. The perennial Strictly bridesmaid finally had his lucky turn this year when EastEnders’s Barton was revealed to have the twinkliest toes in all of Albert Square.
Strictly doesn’t really do “villains” and Zeroual, was there on merit. Still, there had been grumblings that he had pushed himself to the limits on the show, once spending 11 hours training in a single day. Was that allowed?
He pulled out all the stops once more in the final. For favourite dance he and and his pro partner Dowden (in her first final) reprised their jive to You Can’t Stop the Beat from Musicals week. Fletcher and Mabuse for their part did a samba to La Vida Es Un Carnaval. And Barton and du Beke danced a Viennese Waltz.
The Judges Pick section meanwhile saw Emma and Anton tackling a Charleston (with obligatory typewriter prop), Karim and Amy a quickstep and Kelvin and Oti a rumba. And the showdance round featured Emma and Anton performing a routine to Let Yourself Go by Irving Berlin. Karim and Amy grooving to A Million Dreams by Pink – while dallying in a pool of glowing confetti – and Kelvin and Oti bopping to the Isley Brothers.
There was also a performance from Taylor Swift. She was no doubt aware she was gracing British entertainment’s biggest shop window. Ratings have been solid this year, knocking flailing X Factor into a cocked trilby.
It was all a very long way from 2018’s controversy-plagued season in which an illicit kiss between Seann Walsh and dancer Katya Jones had overshadowed the action on the floor. Understandably the BBC had no wish to see the “Strictly Curse” go viral yet again.
So there will have been relief the final passed without controversy. Instead, this was an early Christmas treat tied up with a shiny bow. And in Fletcher and Mabuse it gave us a champions more than deserving of their place in the hoofing hall of fame.