Strictly Come Dancing returns tonight to showcase six of the Series 11 celebrity couples. The remaining nine will take to the floor tomorrow in a blur of fake tan and a flutter of sequins, but there are no eliminations, merely the opportunity to showcase their talents and allow punters to rate the top performers.
In the past eight seasons, six male celebrities have won the nation’s most popular dance competition, most notably gymnast Louis Smith who was overwhelming favourite last year and did indeed scoop top place. If the trend were to continue, Ashley Taylor-Dawson is the top male in the running. The 31-year-old Hollyoaks actor, considered to be ““lean, mean, and moody” by judge Len Goodman, will be a hit with many voters and bookmaker William Hill offers betting odds of 7/2 that Taylor-Dawson will win, and this is despite the imminent arrival of the actor’s second child which will undoubtedly affect his training regime with dance partner Ola Jordan.
Rugby legend Ben Cohen is also in the running with bookmaker BetFred offering betting odds of 14/1 that he will win the final with Kristina Rihanoff. The former winger may be insufficiently flexible to deliver an overall win and he is mid-way in the betting at present – sixth place overall – although strong early performances could well push him up the leader board.
Both men face tough competition from the women celebrities with Coronation Street actress Natalie Gumede the clear favourite, given her extensive Corrie fan base and her childhood dance training. The 29-year-old Burnley lass won Best Newcomer and Best Storyline at The British Soap Awards in 2012 and 2013 respectively; can she add the Strictly glitterball trophy to her cabinet too? Bookies reckon so, with bookmaker Boyle Sports offering betting odds of 9/4 that Natalie Gumede will win with partner Artem Chigvintsev (who partnered Kara Tointon to success in the 2011 series) despite early training injuries to Gumede’s hip and knee.
BBC Breakfast presenter Susanna Reid could also prove a challenge for the blokes. The 42-year-old won the newsreaders’ dancing competition for Children in Need and enjoys a warm rapport with viewers. Len Goodman believes that she is “really one to watch” and at present she is third favourite with odds of 15/2 from bookmaker BetFred. Singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor and model Abbey Clancy are also in the top six with betting odds of 7/1 and 12/1 respectively from the same bookmaker.
The first live dance show of Series 11 will be on Friday, 27 September at 9pm on BBC1, featuring the bookies’ three celebrity favourites – Ashley Taylor Dawson, Natalie Gumede and Susanna Reid – together with Mark Benton, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Tony Jacklin. The remaining celebrity couples will showcase their talents on Saturday, 28 September at 7pm on BBC1.