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Helen Skelton reigns triumphant as Strictly Live Tour kicks off in Birmingham

Every year, Strictly Come Dancing transfixes millions of people across the country with its all consuming world of glitter and kick ball changes.

Helen Skelton and Kai Widdrington picked up the glitterball trophy on the first night of the Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire.
Helen Skelton and Kai Widdrington picked up the glitterball trophy on the first night of the Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire.

As the war between streaming services and live TV rages on, Strictly is clear proof that event television is still live and kicking.

Week after week, we tune in to desperately root for our favourites, many of whom undergo transformative journeys in the process.

It's no wonder so many celebrities say the experience changed their lives - think of Bill Bailey, who shot from underdog and presumed "dad dancer" to series champion within a few mere weeks.

Or Rose Ayling-Ellis, the deaf actress who played Danny Dyer's daughter on EastEnders, who won over the hearts of the nation and helped to change people's attitudes around deafness.

And this year, we had Hamza Yassin, the wildlife presenter and cameraman, who came on the show as one of the "lesser-known" contestants, but became an almost instant fan-favourite and went on to lift the Glitterball trophy.

This is the power that Strictly has, which is why an 8,000-strong legion of fans turned up to Birmingham's Utilita Arena this week, to join in with the infectious fun on the Live Tour.

The Strictly Live Tour kicked off in Birmingham this week. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire.
The Strictly Live Tour kicked off in Birmingham this week. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire.

The show utilises everything that fans love about the BBC One show, bringing back seven of the series's most memorable contestants to recreate two of their most popular dances.

The formidable judging trio of Shirley Ballas, Anton Du Beke, and Craig Revel Horwood give their usual witty comments - or in the case of Horwood, withering, as he plays the panto villain of the panel.

All dances are ranked out of 10 by the three judges, but the leaderboard is purely advisory, as it's up to the audience to crown the winner of the show by voting for their favourite couples.

And while last year, the beloved Rose and Giovanni stormed the tour, winning all but a couple of the shows - this year is more unpredictable, adding an exciting frisson to the proceedings.

Kicking off the night was the ever-so charismatic radio DJ and TV presenter Tyler West, alongside the flame-haired Dianne Buswell, who performed their energetic Charleston to 'Flash, Bang, Wallop' from Half a Sixpence.

An incredible opener, the pair performed lifts so ambitious and dizzying that Dianne's hair extensions even fell out.

Tyler West and Dianne Buswell. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire.
Molly Rainford and Carlos Gu. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire.

The affectionately dubbed "Tie-Dye" were followed by CBBC actress Molly Rainford and Carlos Gu, who performed a sparkling Quickstep and a fiery Pasodoble - one of the most powerful dances of the whole evening, which set hairs raising on necks.

Will Mellor put his whole heart, soul, and pelvis into his two dances with Nancy Xu - which certainly seemed to set Shirley Ballas's heart aflutter, and had the audience in roars of laughter when he pleaded for votes to make his dear mum happy.

Will Mellor and Nancy Xu. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire.

Aldridge's own Ellie Simmonds won over the audience with her stunningly graceful and emotive Waltz to 'Can't Help Falling in Love' and then blazed across the dancefloor with her fiery Charleston to 'Too Darn Hot'.

Ellie Simmonds and Nikita Kuzmin. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire.
Fleur East and Vito Coppola. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire.

Top of the leaderboard for the evening was the formidable Fleur East, with her impeccable Samba to 'Hot Hot Hot' and show-stopping Couple's Choice to Destiny's Child, making her one of the clear favourites for the evening.

Series champion Hamza Yassin, who holds a special spot in my own heart, gave an earth-shattering performance of his Couple's Choice with Jowita Przystal - an absolute showstopper of a dance which was one of the best performances in the entire show.

Series champion Hamza Yassin and Jowita Przystal. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire.

But it wasn't the reigning champion who picked up the Glitterball trophy on the show's opening night.

Helen Skelton and Kai Widdrington were crowned the champions, after their Quickstep to Amy Winehouse's 'Valerie', and Helen's iconic Couple's Choice to 'Mein Herr' from Cabaret.

Sensual and powerful, Helen had jaws dropping with her impeccable movements, and the whole audience rooted for her as she performed her "revenge dance".

Helen Skelton and Kai Widdrington. Photo: Jacob King/PA Wire.

The audience's love and support for Helen, who recently endured a very public divorce, is emblematic of the show and the connection viewers form with the contestants.

After 20 successful series, Strictly has established itself as a British institution, beloved by people of all ages and walks of life.

But it's not the glitz and glamour that keeps people glued to their screens - it's the people, and the audience's love of Helen, Hamza, Fleur and co suggests that this is a phenomenon that will keep on thriving.

Long may it continue.

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