After weeks of jaunty jives, romantic rumbas and sizzling salsas, this Saturday we find out which of our remaining celebrities and their professional partners will waltz away with the coveted Glitterball trophy, as Strictly Come Dancing reaches its finale.
Someone who knows exactly how the couples will be feeling ahead of the big night is Janette Manrara. The former Strictly pro turned co-presenter of companion series It Takes Two with Rylan, Janette graced the dancefloor for eight series of the BBC1 sequined spectacular, coming runner-up with popstar HRVY in the 2020 final.
In an exclusive interview, Janette, 39, looks back on this year's highlights, shares her tips for the finalists, and chats Christmas gifts for her 'TV husband' Rylan...
How much are you looking forward to the Strictly final?
"It’s been such a good series. Everyone's been amazing this year, so I can't say who I think will win because it's impossible to call."
Describe the atmosphere on final night…
"The buzz in the studio is next level. You have a huge sense of accomplishment as a couple because you've made it all the way to the end, performed every dance and survived all the ups and downs; the sore feet, the blisters, the exhaustion. No matter how tired your body or your mind is, when the final comes around, you're so elated and proud of yourself, you don’t really care about winning, just that you’re one of the finalists. It's a special day."
Surely the minute you set eyes on the glitterball trophy, you must think: 'We could win this’?
"During the day, you're honestly not thinking about it, all you're thinking is: 'Don't mess up the showdance!' There's a huge feeling of already having won just by getting to the final. But there can only be one winner. When you're standing there at the end, waiting for host Tess Daly to say your name, you do think: 'I hope it's me.'"
What advice would you give the finalists?
"Enjoy every second and take it all in because it’s such a busy day — with three routines to rehearse — but it goes by in a flash. There’s lots to practise and behind-the-scenes stuff to film but you can get caught up in all of that and forget to enjoy the day. It’s about embracing everything that's happening then letting it all out on that dance floor. That's what the public will be voting for; somebody who gives it their all and who’s enjoying every moment."
What's been the standout performance of the series for you?
"Everybody’s had a moment that's made us go: 'Wow!' We had our first 40 of the series in Blackpool with Fleur East and Vito Coppola dancing their couples choice to the Destiny's Child mix. It was amazing to finally see a 10 from judge Craig Revel Horwood!"
Has anyone really surprised you?
"People have really taken Hamza Yassin to their hearts. Hamza's got this beautiful aura about him, he exudes joy and kindness and he’s so naturally talented, with this amazing ability to dance technically and beautifully. He and pro-dancer, Jowita Przystal, are such a special partnership — she really brings out the best dancer in him. Plus, he has amazing hair!"
And who, for you, has been the most entertaining?
"Will Mellor has been great value and gives 100% of himself to every dance. I remember when he and his partner Nancy Xu did an American Smooth to 'Cry to Me' from Dirty Dancing in Movie Week. It’s not meant to be a sexy dance but he put such a twist on what an American Smooth could look like."
Who do you think has been on the biggest journey?
"I think Helen Skelton has had a really beautiful journey with Gorka Marquez. Also Kym Marsh and Graziano Di Prima’s rumba was a real turning point for her — I thought it was the best rumba I've seen on Strictly in a very long time. Beautiful leg action, amazing technique and she got lost in the characterisation. Every couple has brought something to the table."
Is there a dance you’d love to have been involved in?
"It was wonderful being back in Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom again and feeling the magic in the air. I particularly enjoyed watching the group dance featuring Sam Ryder and the junior ballroom dancers. It was so emotional, I couldn't stop crying. I wished I could’ve been dancing with them but now I'm obsessed with It Takes Two..."
What do you most enjoy about sharing hosting duties with Rylan?
"It Takes Two offers the audience a more detailed look at what Strictly’s all about. It genuinely doesn't feel like work because I'm such a Strictly fan; I enjoy getting to celebrate the couples, celebrate dance and talk about something that's such a huge part of my life. Although we don't work together every day, Rylan and I are really close; he's such an amazing presenter and a kind human being. I feel honoured to call him my TV husband now."
Your actual husband, ex-Strictly pro Aljaz Skorjanec, has also appeared on It Takes Two…
"I'm absolutely thrilled Aljaz has been doing some of our special reports, showcasing all the different versions of Strictly and Dancing with the Stars from around the world. I'm really proud of him and it's been lovely seeing him on a VT while I'm working in the studio."
What are your plans for Christmas?
"Aljaz and I are doing our Christmas to Remember UK tour until December 18, then we're off to Miami for Christmas and New Year. Each year we switch between Slovenia, where Aljaz is from, and Miami, where I’m from. Which means we have a hot Christmas in Miami... and a snowy Christmas in Slovenia! I always watch the Strictly Christmas Special. It's such a feelgood show — and a little Strictly Christmas present to top off a really great year."
Speaking of presents, what Christmas gift would you buy your 'work husband' Rylan?
"Oh, Rylan loves a LOT of things. Candles. Dental products. Hair products. A nice belt. Nice clothes. There’s definitely a few things I know Rylan will love for Christmas."
Catch Strictly Come Dancing: The Final on Saturday December 17 at 7.05pm on BBC1.
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With over 20 years’ experience writing about TV and film, Vicky currently writes features for What’s on TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite Week magazines plus news and watching guides for WhatToWatch.com, a job which involves chatting to a whole host of famous faces. Our Vicky LOVES light entertainment, with Strictly Come Dancing, Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice UK among her fave shows. Basically, if it’s got a shiny floor, she’s all over it! When she’s not watching TV, you might find Vicky in therapy… retail therapy that is!