Chris Maume: Twinkle-toed Healey can fill Ramprakash's dancing shoes
View from the sofa: Strictly Come Dancing, BBC1 Saturday, 6.45pm
Monday 06 October 2008
Given its competitive nature, it makes sense that athletes have tended to do well on
Strictly Come Dancing – and not just Ramprakash the Rampant, who tore up the opposition in 2006.
There have been five series so far, with two winners from the world of sport – Darren Gough, who combined the feet of Fred Astaire with the body of John McCririck, won the year before Mark the Magnificent – plus three runners-up in Denise Lewis, Matt Dawson and Colin Jackson.
(We'll do the decent thing and try our best to forget about Peter Schmeichel, who took an early bath two years ago thanks to moves reminiscent of Jeff Goldblum at the end of The Fly, when he drags himself across the floor – part man, part insect, part machine – and begs Geena Davis to put him out of his misery with a pump-action shotgun.)
Now it's Austin Healey's turn, in Strictly 6 (BBC1, Saturday), and though it's early days, it looks like we could have another sporting winner. A fortnight ago, when the men did their first dances (in case you weren't aware, the men and women do alternate weeks), Healey finished on top of the leaderboard despite the fear factor. "Nothing can prepare you for it," he said. "It's the scariest thing I've ever done in my life – playing in front of 80,000 people in Twickenham doesn't even come close."
The head of the judges, Len Goodman (who took up dancing when football didn't work out for him, according to the Strictly website), described Healey's first effort as "the best first dance from a man I have ever seen," while the usually acid-tongued Craig Revel Horwood was gobsmacked: "It's graceful, it's elegant – it's quite shocking, actually."
On Saturday Healey, dressed in spangly black, was doing the jive with his partner, Erin Boag, which he claimed to be finding tough in rehearsal – "I feel like the Ant Hill Mob chasing Penelope Pitstop" – but even to a layman's eyes his footwork was sensational. Decent backs need nimble feet, and Healey is twinkle-toed. "You were pumping and riding that jive with devilish confidence," said Goodman's colleague Bruno Tonioli on Saturday. "I've never seen anything like that at this early stage of the competition." And Arlene "Hot Gossip" Phillips declared: "You have set the standard for Strictly 6!"
If, for every Ramprakash there's a Schmeichel, the new series has two of them in Mark Foster and Andrew Castle. Foster may have won six world swimming titles, but he is just too lanky to make a decent dancer – and he seems to know it. "You stand there like a Greek god," Phillips told him, "but it looks like all your charisma has flown out of the window."
Castle, meanwhile, was pure Danish goalkeeper. "I do admire your courage," was the nicest thing Revel Horwood could find to say, while Tonioli grimaced. "It was really painful to watch – you're so tight, like Jana Novotna in the Wimbledon final." Castle never got that far in his tennis career – he was best known for that ridiculous poll tax protest during the National Championships, you may recall – and he is unlikely to be around much longer as a dancer.
Still, at least none of them were as bad as celebrity chef Gary Rhodes, who makes Schmeichel look like Nureyev. "I was praying for you throughout," said Revel Horwood. "I didn't see you on your knees," observed Bruce Forsyth, the master of ceremonies. "Some people have," said Tonioli. And I thought it was supposed to be a family programme.
Gunners run short of credit
Commentating on Sunderland's 1-1 draw with Arsenal on Match of the Day on Saturday, Jonathan Pearce came up with the extraordinary fact that Roy Keane's squad cost more to assemble than Arsène Wenger's. And in the studio afterwards, Alan Hansen was dismissive of the Gunners' title chances. They're a very young side, that's true – and everyone knows you win nothing with kids...
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