Bill Bailey On The One Thing Missing From His Strictly Experience: 'I'd Still Love It To Happen'

In the final instalment of our Back To The Ballroom series, last year's Strictly Come Dancing champion reflects on his magical dancefloor journey.
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“The time now is to just enjoy it and absolutely revel in every moment,” Bill Bailey says when we ask what his advice is to this year’s Strictly Come Dancing finalists.

Having won the show last year, the comic knows exactly what will be going through the minds of the 2021 finalists Rose Ayling-Ellis and John Whaite as the curtain starts to lower on their Strictly journeys.

He continues: “This is the last time you will dance with your partner in the competition, so make the most of it and just go out there and have the best fun… because this is the real celebration of all the hard work you have put in.”

 Bill Bailey and Oti Mabuse were crowned winners of Strictly Come Dancing 2020
Bill Bailey and Oti Mabuse were crowned winners of Strictly Come Dancing 2020
Guy Levy/BBC via PA Media

Bill lifted the Glitterball Trophy with partner Oti Mabuse in what was undoubtedly Strictly’s trickiest year on air.

Owing to the pandemic, the show was dramatically cut down from 13 weeks to nine and the majority of the studio audience was scrapped, while contestants were forced to form strict bubbles with their professional partners in order to keep everyone safe.

Despite all the changes, it was still a magical experience for Bill, who a year on, is still reaping the rewards of his win.

In the final instalment of our Back To The Ballroom series, Bill lifts the lid on the secrets behind his now-iconic Rapper’s Delight routine, and reveals why he’s been joining Oti’s online dance classes…

I gained an extra level of confidence from doing Strictly…

Dancing live on television is a hugely nerve-wracking experience, especially for a non-dancer, but getting through it and then doing it better and improving – even doing it quite well and enjoying it – gives you a deep well of confidence.

It was great fun but I have taken something from it that will affect me and my confidence to do all sorts of things. Every time I step on stage now, even if it’s a big gig, I think, “well you danced a Jive live in front of millions of people, you can do anything”.

You can’t quite imagine how tough it is going to be, and yet you can’t prepare yourself for how exciting it is. It was great fun.

Oti encouraged me to ditch my on-stage comedy persona…

I’m used to going on stage, seeing an audience and you ramp it up – the light goes on and something happens, I’m in performance mode. Oti said to try not to do that, because what happens is you rehearse and rehearse and everything is going fine, but then you step out on the floor and you turn into Bill Bailey the performer. The performance is then great but the steps go out of the window.

What she was basically saying was to try and control that and rein that excitement in and channel it into the steps and routine, and then you can enjoy it after – don’t enjoy it too much through the steps. And it was very true.

Oti and Bill Jiving on the Strictly floor
Oti and Bill Jiving on the Strictly floor
Guy Levy/BBC via PA Media

Our friendship was one of the best things to come out of the show…

You go through lots of levels of good days, bad days, up, down, day-in, day-out and you have to get on with people because you are spending so much time with each other. What we found was we’re a lot alike in terms of our attitude to work, work ethic, being quite driven and determined, and that was where we met. We recognised each other through that mutual respect for each other’s work. Plus the fact we made each other laugh a lot of the time, that was great fun.

Our Rapper’s Delight routine was nerve-wracking for Oti…

Because we were out of hold, I pretty much had to dance it on my own. Normally, at least you have your partner as a guide and you can communicate with them. I was completely off the leash in that routine, so it was nerve-wracking for Oti.

A lot of the time, she goes, ‘You’re dancing behind me, so I can’t see what you’re doing and I’m going to have to trust you are doing it right.’

I had a special connection to that song…

It is one of my all time favourites. When I was a teenager, I learnt the entire nine-minute long version, so I used to perform it at parties as a party trick. So the chance to dance to this was fantastic.

The behind-the-scenes build up to the show is a blur of activity…

What you see on the screen is shiny, polished and everyone looks fantastic, but what you don’t see is this manic activity – running backwards and forwards between rehearsals, trying to find a space to rehearse, running to get make-up done, an interview, the podcast, social media – it’s non-stop, relentless activity.

Somewhere in all of that, you have to get yourself fitted into the costume, you have to get your microphone attached, scuff up your shoes so you don’t slip on the dancefloor. Every week you have to put on a live show and it reminds me of when I did theatre shows and that mad scramble before the opening night – every Saturday is an opening night on that show.

If I’d had to dance with anyone else, it would have been…

Katya would have been a great pairing, we got on really well. I’d see Katya around rehearsal rooms occasionally and we’d cross paths. A lot of the time we were separate because of Covid, so you were only in the bubble with Oti and my wife, and we couldn’t socialise with anyone. I think it’s very different [in 2021].

Katya Jones
Katya Jones
Karwai Tang via Getty Images

I’d still love to dance in front of a big crowd…

I would love that. We’ve not had that and I still hope to this day that we get to do it. Even when we went back for the launch show, there was a very limited audience, all masked-up and distanced, and I think that’s one of the things that I feel we missed out on and would love to happen one day. I’m pretty sure it will.

The one thing I would also change about the experience would be…

I would love to have done a couple of the other dances, like a Samba for example – we never got to do one. I missed out on that and in fact I joined one of Oti’s Zoom classes just to learn the Samba.

My dream Strictly celeb is…

It would be wonderful to see someone like Idris Elba doing it. I don’t know whether he would ever do it, but having worked with him, he’s such a lovely guy. I think he probably has the moves.

Idris Elba
Idris Elba
Samir Hussein via Getty Images

My favourite ever Strictly routine is…

I’ve got two – the one I absolutely love and still watch to this day is Faye and Giovanni’s ludicrous Charleston to The Lonely Goatherd. It’s just fantastic – it’s funny, it’s hilarious and brilliantly executed. But I think the one that will always stick in my mind is Danny and Oti’s Tango to Heard It Through The Grapevine.

The weirdest place I’ve ever busted out my Strictly moves is…

In my stage show – it’s amazing the reaction it gets. It was just a tiny bit of the show and I was talking about the dance of the bird of paradise and I incorporated a couple of the moves and people went crazy! I got to the end of it, and they were like, ‘Do it again!’

Bill’s En Route To Normal tour kicks off in Plymouth on 12 December. Tickets and dates can be found at www.BillBailey.co.uk

The Strictly Come Dancing final airs on Saturday at 7pm on BBC One.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan Cole

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