Louis strikes gold at last in 'Strictly' final

It was a marathon of glitz, glamour, and double entendres – but the dancing was brilliant

Because, disappointingly, the world didn't end on Friday as per the Mayan prediction (fools, hysterics), none of us had any concrete excuse not to tune into the final of Strictly Come Dancing last night. Though it is in so many ways as anachronistic as the show's lead host himself, the Beeb's ballroom dancing extravaganza remains a colossus of Saturday-night viewing, and the Cowell-trouncing series is the biggest televisual hit of the year. The final was expected to attract as many as 12 million viewers, proving that, on a weekend night at least, any critical faculties we may possess depart, and all we crave is glitz, glamour and a dollop of double entendres that only ever mean one thing.

OK, glitz and glamour have their rightful place, but did we really need almost three hours of it? Strictly dominated BBC1 last night, a full 90 minutes before supper, then a brief respite that allowed us to switch over to The Ramones and Shakin' Stevens on TOTP2, before another hour and a quarter to wrap up something that could have unfolded in half that time. Nobody, not even Sting at his tantric peak, needs that much foreplay.

All of which meant that the final comprised a hell of a lot of filler: Darcy Bussell pursing those pursable lips, while Downtonishly reigning in any temptation to say "yah", the other three judges performing their habitual panto routine, and eliciting boos and cheers with Ugly-Sister predictability. Where they had spent much of the past 12 weeks marking contestants down in pursuit of those audience catcalls, for the final they handed out a succession of ultimately meaningless "10s" with Samaritan generosity. And then there was Brucie, Sir Brucie, making his clumsy puns and then asking, under the assumption that he had: "How did I get away with that?"

Thank goodness, then, for the dancing itself, the standard of which this year was impressively high, save for the occasional Sid Owen. Even Lisa Riley wowed. Riley was, let's be frank, the token fat bird this year, though the BBC would never be quite so crude as to advertise her as such. Nevertheless, she was the one we were supposed to laugh at when she struggled, in sequins, with the splits and the high kicks. Riley, though, was gorgeous and sublime. She didn't just dance across the floor all the way to the semi-final; she glided, oozing a boundless likeability.

But last night was all about the rarefied cream: the Olympian versus the Girl Aloud, the TV presenter and her out of Tracy Beaker. Louis Smith was the uncontested diva among this bunch, a man who paid as much attention to his quiffy hair as he did his fancy footwork. For his penultimate dance, he decided to up his chances with the public vote by getting his tits out, something neither Kimberley Walsh, Denise Van Outen nor Dani Harmer opted for. Little wonder they never really stood a chance. It didn't matter, really, that Denise was the better technical dancer; after a summer of silver, Louis strove for, and bagged, a Christmas gold.

Never underestimate that competitive spirit.

The final three

Louis Smith

The Olympic gymnast with the carefully clipped facial hair – a one time hopeful on X Factor – says he will need a knee operation once the dancing stops. The muscles used for the tango are different from those used leaping around a pommel horse, it turns out, and after a long year his body is feeling the heat. A legion of fans now love that winning smile.

Kimberley Walsh

The Girls Aloud performer survived a "bottom two" dance off with Fern Britton in the middle of the series. Britton made it to page three of the tabloids by ripping open the front of her costume next to the judges, but not into the next round. Instead Walsh went from strength to strength, winning fans and was joint favourite going into the final week.

Denise Van Outen

With stage school training and a past life in the West End musical Chicago, the former Big Breakfast presenter had to fight complaints that her performing background was not in the spirit of a competition for novices. She didn't seem to care too much. More problematic was a dislocated rib suffered in training which she warned could hamper her tilt at victory.