Luke Blackall: Lapping up the boos as Ice judge villain
Man About Town: The Dancing on Ice stars I had praised were hugely grateful. I hadn't understood before how seriously they all took it
As this year's Dancing on Ice contestants were squeezed into their outfits, told to grin and pushed in front of the camera this week, it reminded me of my own brush with skating celebrities.
Over a long lunch a few years ago, I was asked if I wanted to sit on the judging panel when the show went on tour. I laughed. I was neither a dancing expert nor an ice skater, and I find sequins unsettling. Also, I said, people who are "guest" judges should really be famous. Not someone who has been known to write about famous people.
It didn't matter, they said, that I knew little about the technique or artistry. I would be able to give my view on each performance and help choose a winner.
Fearful but fascinated, I headed to Wembley Arena for the big event. Bar the near-silence that greeted me as I was announced as the special "guest judge", it started well. I gave my views, told the stars that I liked their dancing (even the bad ones; having tried skating I'm impressed with anyone who can change direction), and those people were duly cheered. It was nice, wholesome family fun.
But back in the judges' dressing room I realised things were going too well. I was being too generous. The other judges reminded me that I didn't have to give everyone top marks.
But it was tricky. Backstage the stars I had praised were hugely grateful. I hadn't understood before how seriously they all took it. But I was given a lesson in that shortly afterwards when I gave my verdict on a former children's TV presenter.
I had seen her on TV during the series, and she had been very good, Skating live, I thought she wasn't quite so ambitious, and I said so. Actually, I think the words I used were "a bit boring". Unfair? Perhaps. The TV star looked shocked and, I'll admit, I felt a twinge of guilt.
But I wasn't prepared for what came next. Boos. From everywhere. And they weren't booing her, they were booing me. Surprisingly I found it rather addictive, and I started to see how the other judges enjoyed playing the camp villain.
Later that day I got a message from the presenter's then boyfriend. Apparently I'd really upset her. I tried to pass an apology on, but to no avail. Even now if I see her at a party, I can expect a reception colder than an ice rink.
For while we might see it all as a pantomime, for those taking part, it's the most serious drama.
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