Bill Bailey and Oti Mabuse are the spirit of Strictly and the worthy winners

It’s the end of Strictly Come Dancing 2020 this weekend, bringing to a close one of the only guaranteed rays of light in the current hellscape we find ourselves in.

Despite all the difficulties – the professional dancers forming a bubble to do group routines before separating from their families for the course of the series, Katya Jones and Nicola Adams being given the boot thanks to a Covid-19 diagnosis, Motsi Mabuse having to self-isolate mid-series – Strictly has played a blinder this year.

We have had amazing group numbers, Motsi serving non-stop lewks, Shirley Ballas repping the woman at a hen do in a pink cowboy hat vibes for six weeks straight, Max George dressed as Homer Simpson, and, of course, incredible celeb talent.

From the get-go, it was clear the standard was high this year on Strictly. HRVY got a nine in week one for his jive with Janette Manrara, and he received the first 10 of the series just three weeks later. Despite ending up in the bottom two twice, Maisie Smith has delivered near-pro performances week in, week out, landing her first perfect score last week for her street dance with Gorka Marquez.

Now, those two couples are fighting against two more for the glitterball trophy – but for me, there’s one true winner of the series, and it isn’t the celebrity with a perfect 30.

Along with Maisie, HRVY and Jamie Laing, Bill Bailey is in the running to be crowned 2020 champion, and I can’t think of a more fitting winner.

I’ve always been a big fan of Bill, from Black Books to Never Mind The Buzzcocks, and knew he had a few moves, just based on his Skins character dancing with his dog.

But as happy as I was that he had joined the line-up, I wasn’t expecting big things – and let’s face it, neither were the bosses. As a quirky mid-50s guy, Bill – along with Jacqui Smith – was being set up as one of the ‘joke’ acts, alongside the very young cast of performers.

He was paired up with Oti Mabuse, the most talented and fabulous pro of them all, but the reigning champion, and they didn’t need to give her the bookies’ favourite.

Only, that’s actually what they did. Fast forward to the final, and Bill is edging out his rivals to be the favourite to lift the glitterball trophy, and giving Oti her well deserved second win in a row. 

This wouldn’t be just a pity win – Bill Bailey is a dancer, baby. His quickstep to Talk To The Animals was light-footed and joyful enough to distract from the CGI elephants on the dancefloor; his tango to Enter Sandman a surprising and daring take on the dramatic dance; his street dance to Rapper’s Delight now legendary.

Bill took us all by surprise with his grace and lightness of feet, and we never want somebody we know who is going to be good – we want the growth, we want the journey.

But talent isn’t enough in the final. As brilliant as Bill is, his highest scoring dance has been a 27, while he has an average score of 23.7. Maisie has an average of 26.7, while HRVY has an average of 26.1, and two perfect scores with Janette (Jamie and Karen are bottom of the pack with an average of 22.7). So should we go by scores? 

No disrespect to Maisie and HRVY, but no. We need to go with the couple that embodies the spirit of Strictly, and that’s Bill and Oti.

Bill is a musician, so he has that in-built rhythm, but he wasn’t a trained dancer – just somebody who has grabbed the challenge with both hands and turned all preconceived notions about him around on the dancefloor.

He has taken the competition seriously, but not to the point of arrogance. He has suffered slight missteps, but always given every dance his all.

He has shown that being 55 years old is no barrier to being a great dancer, and not to patronise Bill – he’s a good dancer for any age – but that’s inspiring to the audience of Strictly that may think from their couches that it’s too late to try the jive or the waltz.

(Notably, if Bill wins, he will be the oldest person by far to lift the glitterball, with no champion ever being in their 40s, let alone 50s.)

But most of all – he’s fun. Yes, Strictly is about footwork and posture and a controlled free arm and fleckles and straight legs and booing Craig Revel Horwood, but it’s mostly about fun.

As much as I adore a 30 scoring ballroom dance, I’m not going to love it if the celeb has had no fun with it, and Bill exudes joy from every pore.

When I saw him dancing in a suit to the Sugarhill Gang, I couldn’t peel the smile off my face, and that’s what I need from Strictly.

In weeks where restaurants were shut, and I was banned from seeing friends or visiting babies in different counties, I knew that I could switch on the telly and experience genuine happiness watching Bill Bailey do a Charleston, or a ballroom dance to Metallica. 

Because Strictly isn’t strictly about dancing ability. It’s how it makes us feel. It’s the campness, the glitter, the spectacle, the delight that only watching a former politician dance to Gangnam Style can bring.

It’s remembering those unique performances, not the high technically perfect ones. It’s about rooting for an unlikely dancer, and thinking that maybe if we put our minds to it, we could do a quickstep that good too. 

All of the dancers in the final would be worthy winners. But there is just one that represents Strictly for all I love about it, and Bill and Oti lifting the glitterball would be one thing that 2020 couldn’t ruin. 

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