The blades are out for TV ice-dance final

There's been high drama off the rink as the ITV skating show comes to a climax
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The joy of skates

There have been tears, tantrums, sequins and spats, but tonight one of three soap actors will finally be crowned the Ice King or Queen in the final of ITV1's Dancing on Ice competition. For many it has proved riveting viewing, but more for the intrigue off the ice than on it.

Keep it in the family

Professional ice skating is a small world. So it's no surprise that the team of experts that makes up the choreographers, judges, dancers and mentors for Dancing on Ice are all connected in some way. Judge Karen Barber used to be the skating partner – and romantic partner – of fellow judge Nicky Slater. Her current husband Steven Pickavance – a medal-winning ice dancer – trains the contestants.

The professional skaters Fred Palascak and Melanie Lambert are married, as are Andrei Lipanov and Susie Lipanova. Dancing on Ice mentor Jayne Torvill's husband Phil Christensen manages Torvill and Dean and co-produces the Dancing on Ice live tour.

Love in a cold climate

Christopher Dean is one half of Torvill and Dean, who won gold at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo in spectacular style – gaining nine perfect sixes for their interpretation of Bolero. The golden couple were never romantically involved and have always enjoyed a squeaky-clean image – until Dancing on Ice, where both offer advice to the contestants.

Dean announced during the series that he had split from his wife of 16 years, Jill Trenary, in 2009. There's nothing too scandalous about that, except the Olympic gold medallist had been spotted during the series entertaining judge Karen Barber at his luxury flat in Hertfordshire. In fact, she spent five consecutive nights there. Dean's manager firmly denied the rumours of an affair. "Christopher Dean is not having an affair with Karen Barber," he said. "They have been spending time together. Why have they been seeing each other so much? You will have to ask her that."

Barber's spokesman also dismissed the suggestions of an affair, saying that as a long-standing family friend she was simply helping him through a difficult period.

They win again

Nicky Slater and Karen Barber were always the bridesmaids to Torvill and Dean – coming second to the Olympic champions six times in the British championships.

"We worked so hard – late at night, early in the morning," Barber said, "but we were always behind Torvill and Dean." The pair began skating together in 1977 and when Torvill and Dean turned professional in 1984 it seemed the path to Olympic glory had finally been cleared. But they failed to pick up the torch.

"We weren't ready for it," Slater said. "Our routines weren't fast enough; our choreography wasn't sufficiently extended. We had the potential to do more but there was a lot of pressure on us. Maybe we should have taken a year out."

He's got a ticket to gold

Slater is the nearly man of British ice skating – always losing out to Dean. He believes his rival just got lucky, however, by teaming up with the gifted Torvill.

"When Dean was introduced to Jayne Torvill, her brilliance and fearlessness were an immense boost," he said. "She was his ticket to gold. I couldn't have known it at the time – no one could – but this was the girl who was to transform Christopher Dean's fortunes. We didn't have their technical ability, but we had a personality that Chris and Jayne didn't have. We were friends and team-mates, but the competitive spirit was never forgotten."

The ice man cometh

The hate figure of the show is Jason Gardiner, a flamboyant former dancer with a gift for the withering icy put-down that some – including Barber – say crosses the line into nastiness. "There's a line and sometimes it gets crossed, especially by Jason," she has said.

A source on the show added: "Everyone loathes him. He really is very irritating."

He even managed to insult Dean, by praising fellow judge Robin Cousins, a former solo figure skating champion. "For me, he's more accomplished than Christopher Dean," he said of Cousins.

Gardiner was in trouble last week for describing finalists and actors Gary Lucy and Kieron Richardson, in The Bill and Hollyoaks, as "pillocks" and backing their rival Hayley Tamaddon, who was in Emmerdale, to win tonight's final.

"Calling us pillocks isn't really the best thing to hear when you are going into the final," Richardson said. Responding on his Twitter page, Gardiner wrote: "Kieron has great energy, but that's it. Gary is dull. Hayley is best by far."

A frosty atmosphere

No series of Dancing on Ice would be complete without feuding contestants. In the past it's been Ulrika Jonsson vs Kay Burley over a 20-year-old feud that began when they both worked for defunct breakfast network TV-am.

This year there have been reports that Heather Mills had been fighting on set with Inbetweeners actress Emily Atack – who happens to be cousin to Mills's former husband Sir Paul McCartney. But Mills denied the claims, responding on Twitter: "Before the papers write any more BS, Emily Atack, Paul's distant cousin and I, get on great."

There has also been unrest because finalist and favourite Hayley Tamaddon was a standby skater for the 2008 show, leading to sniping that she's had two years' practice. One unnamed contestant said: "Hayley and Dan [Whiston, her dancing partner] are not popular within the group. They haven't made much effort to get involved. It would be fair to say that several people dislike her, even hate her. She is the butt of a lot of bitching sessions."