Anton Du Beke overjoyed as he finally lands promising Strictly partner
Reigning champion Kevin Clifton was paired with 60-year-old Anneka Rice, the oldest celebrity in the new series.
Anton Du Beke joked that he might have a chance of lifting the glitterball trophy after discovering he will be partnered with EastEnders actress Emma Barton on Strictly Come Dancing.
The veteran ballroom dancer, 53, has been on the show since its first series but has never won.
He has often been paired with the contest’s older, and sometimes less nimble, female stars including Ann Widdecombe and Susannah Constantine.
After Tess Daly announced the pairing on Saturday night’s launch show, he and Barton hugged, with Du Beke joking: “So this is what it feels like… Book me in until Christmas.”
Talking to Claudia Winkleman, an overjoyed Du Beke added: “I’d just like to say to all the other ladies on the show I apologise, I know it seemed a bit of an overreaction but if you’ve been through what I’ve been through… I’ve gone all hot.”
The 17th series of the BBC One dancing programme launched with 15 celebrities from the worlds of sport, television and comedy appearing in the pre-recorded episode.
In a shock twist, reigning champion Kevin Clifton, who last year won alongside Stacey Dooley, was partnered with TV personality Anneka Rice, the oldest star on the roster this year at 60.
Former Coronation Street star Catherine Tyldesley was paired with South African professional dancer Johannes Radebe, while Neil Jones secured his first celebrity partner in former England footballer and Arsenal star Alex Scott.
Earlier in the evening Neil and Katya Jones, who last month announced they are splitting up after six years of marriage and 11 years together, danced together on a podium during the second group performance of the night.
Their split came nearly a year after Katya was pictured kissing her former Strictly dance partner Seann Walsh, although they did not cite the comedian in their reasons for the break-up.
Documentary maker Dooley also returned to the show to dance a fiery paso doble with Clifton, her former partner and now boyfriend.
Last year’s series was Clifton’s first after splitting from his wife Karen Hauer, while Dooley was in a relationship with Sam Tucknott at the time.
Speaking after the performance, Dooley said: “That was so exhausting. I’m no good now…”
Asked if she has any advice for the new contestants, she said: “Just enjoy it, don’t take it too seriously, put the hours in, just do your best.”
Bruno Tonioli, Craig Revel Horwood and Shirley Ballas returned as judges, this year joined by newcomer Motsi Mabuse.
The South African dancer, who was a judge on the German Strictly equivalent Let’s Dance, said: “Oh, I love it. There’s so much love and dedication here, I already feel a part of the family.”
Australian singer Kylie Minogue kicked off the evening with a medley of her hits, including All The Lovers, Better The Devil You Know and Dancing.
Minogue sang as the professionals performed their first group dance of the series.
The launch episode ended with a group dance by the celebrities and professionals, performing to Lionel Richie’s Dancing On The Ceiling.
Made In Chelsea star Jamie Laing was due to dance with Oti Mabuse, but the reality TV star had to pull out of this year’s series after injuring himself.
Strictly Come Dancing will return on September 21.