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'Strictly fantastic'

The Rev Richard Coles steps back in time and tells Andrew Stone about his experience of Strictly Come Dancing

Doing ‘Strictly’ was so much harder than I thought

THERE promises to be fantastic show dances, amazing footwork and more sequins than could ever be counted in the live final of Strictly Come Dancing on BBC One this evening (Saturday 15 December).

The four couples putting their best feet forward to win the coveted glitter ball are Joe Sugg and Dianne Buswell, Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton, Faye Tozer and Giovanni Pernice and Ashley Roberts and Pasha Kovalev. For the celebrities, in particular, the evening will be about remembering their footwork, keeping their frame and trying to control their nerves.

However, for the celebrities who have left the series after losing a dance-off, the evening provides the opportunity to enjoy one last turn on the dancefloor in a group number.

‘Going back was lovely,’ recalls the Rev Richard Coles, who returned for the group dance in last year’s final after being the second celebrity to leave the show. ‘But it was also kind of odd, because I had left early and there had been a big gap since the last time I’d been involved.

‘I’d been out in the wilderness a bit and then, all of a sudden, I was back. I’d missed out on a chunk of stuff, but it was still fun. It reminded me what it was like when we began, because we started with a group dance, which was the most fun thing of all.’

Richard was paired with Dianne Buswell, the only female professional dancer to reach this year’s final.

‘She was wonderful,’ he says. ‘Very patient, great fun and she put up with all my uselessness. The problem was I couldn’t get my feet to be where they needed to be in time to do what they needed to do – which is what dancing is.

‘Doing Strictly was so much harder than I thought. I knew physically it would be demanding, but mentally it is also demanding because you have to remember so much stuff and make it look like you’re not remembering. The art of it is to make it look effortless when, in fact, it’s not.’

Despite the challenges of getting his footwork right, Richard loved taking part.

‘Apart from being booted off, which is horrible, being on Strictly was fantastic. I loved every second of it,’ he admits. ‘The idea of going onstage and prancing around live in front of millions of people didn’t bother me in the least – maybe it should have done.

‘The trouble is, I love dancing and I think I’m good at it but I’m not. I can’t complain about the assessment of my dancing, if I’m honest.’

Even though Richard’s time on the show was shorter than he wanted it to be, he was delighted just to be there.

‘I never expected to get a call inviting me to be on Strictly,’ he says. ‘But when you look at what the programme does, I suppose the thought of a dancing vicar would be quite attractive to them.

‘Although the invitation did come as a bit of a surprise, in life I always say “yes” unless I absolutely have to say “no” – I don’t want to stand before God on Judgment Day and feel that I hadn’t given it all a shot. Through my faith, I’m called to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and to engage with the world.’

Richard takes that calling very seriously. He works as the parish priest at St Mary’s in Finedon, Wellingborough.

‘Finedon has around 4,000 people in it,’ he explains. ‘It’s small enough that everyone knows each other, but big enough that there’s plenty going on. We have a crowded social calendar and the church still plays a significant part in the life of the community, such as the housing association and supporting the food bank.’

Richard also regularly engages with the wider world through his work as a broadcaster, including a regular spot co-presenting Radio 4’s Saturday Live. However, although he finds both types of work fulfilling, he knows which is more important to him.

‘Being a priest is the thing I am built for,’ he says. ‘You get deeply involved with people at times in their lives that are extremely demanding and full of sadness and then sometimes full of joy.

‘You’re called to stand – using slightly old-fashioned language – on the God-ward side of man and the man-ward side of God, and that’s such a fascinating thing.

‘You play a part in the life of the community, and that really is fantastic.’

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