Serena is approximately half a day into the pro rehearsals for the launch show when it becomes very apparent that the newest professional to the show, Leah Faulkner, is completely besotted by her. The pros are going to be opening the launch show with a huge dance number, part of which will be to Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae) and part of which will be to Airplanes. For the bulk of the faster group part it’s been fine, but now they’re blocking the slower part to Airplanes and it’s obvious to all involved that the professional new to this series is angling for the choreographer to pair her with Serena. Serena is thankful when, for this dance at least, the choreographer pairs Serena with Raf and Leah with Dom. Serena is all for mentoring the dancers when they’re new to what is an incredible but exhausting opportunity. Morven has now been on Strictly for three series and is going from strength to strength. Serena does not have the time to be dealing with infatuations from her co-stars though. She’s going to get through this series romance-free and claim the glitterball for her own. Mixing work and pleasure only ever leads to trouble. And trouble doesn’t win trophies.
Bernie isn’t entirely sure how they’re now in the middle of August. She’s suddenly found herself in a large dance studio in London, where she’s going to meet the rest of the Strictly celebs and pros for this year. She’s very, very nervous.
As is her custom, she’s arrived early and is currently waiting for others to appear. Soon enough, she’s joined by Henrik Hanssen and Bernie is more than happy to engage him in a conversation about the translations of Swedish language into modern linguistics. She makes a mental note to make an episode of Letters and Numbers with the TV dragon as her guest. She could have the language section focusing on Swedish/English terminology crossovers and the numerical part focusing on business rates and the stakes a show like Dragon’s Den involves.
Bernie has been so pre-occupied talking with Henrik that she hasn’t realised that most of the others have arrived. In fact, it is only the loud and cheerful arrival of Mo Effanga and Derwood Thompson, two of the professionals who are one of the nation’s favourite married couples, that she realises they’re almost all present. Her gut lurches at the thought that soon they’ll all be required to rehearse a group dance together. Suddenly, Strictly has become very real.
They’re informed that the group dance will be to Let’s Shut Up & Dance. Bernie’s never heard of the song. At least it looks like some of the other celebs haven’t either. The choreographers inform them it’s by Jason Derulo, LAY and NCT 127. The extra information still doesn’t help. Bernie thinks if they’d said it was Dusty Springfield she could have had a guess. When they’re first played the song, Bernie’s initial response is panic. The song has a lot of trumpets and what she guesses is a Latin sound. She hasn’t a hope in Hell of moving as fast as this song requires.
Bernie assumes they’ll just be given moves and they’ll learn them but that isn’t the case. First, they’re given a series of dance exercises and tasks to do in order to learn some basic steps. They’re partnered with different pros each time in an almost speed-dating like way as the production team hover round the edges watching their every move like hawks. Bernie assumes this will help with how the producers pick the partners for the series.
Bernie is first paired with Oliver Valentine. He’s sure of himself and whilst Bernie respects him she’s not sure he’s the sort of person she could put up with for however many weeks she is in the competition. Oliver is followed by Matteo and then Xavier and Bernie considers those two to be far too self-absorbed. There really is no connection which makes her want to dance with them. Perhaps, Bernie considers, she’s simply too gay for Strictly.
That thought is quickly chased away when before lunch she is partnered with Dom. Dom is camper than a retro VW and, to her surprise, Bernie finds herself getting along with him famously. Together they’re coordinating a rumba step which is far more difficult than it looks but Dom makes tutoring her fun and Bernie is able to relax under his instruction. All too soon, Bernie is surprised to find that it is lunch time and they’re free to relax for an hour.
Predictably, Serena starts her day partnered with Angus who is even duller than Serena thought it possible for someone to be. He’s sweet and gentlemanly but it seems the only thing he really knows how to talk about is football (and a bit of golf to really add some excitement) and whilst Jason is a fan of the Premier League, Serena really could not cope with a whole series of this. Angus can’t even dance: For all he keeps reminiscing about his fancy footwork on the pitch, he certainly has two left feet here in this studio.
Angus is followed by Lofty and then Fletch. Lofty is young and keen and, as a member of a successful boyband, very nimble on his feet. Serena can definitely see him going all the way to the final. She finds herself overexaggerating her emotions with him, laughing louder and smiling wider than she might be inclined to. Whilst Lofty isn’t ever going to be best friend material (he’s practically the same age as her daughter, for goodness sake), he is finalist material and Serena is definitely going to be in the final this year even if she has to drag her partner kicking and screaming into rehearsals at all hours. She’s hoping that if she can appear to be having the time of her life with the young pop star, the producers will pair her with him rather than someone as interminably dull as Angus Farrell. After Lofty, Fletch is clearly a weaker dancer. However, Serena finds her laughter and joking comes much more easily with the consumerism expert. He has a Cockney charm and enough cheek to win over an audience. Serena wouldn’t be disappointed if she was paired with Fletch.
Serena’s biggest disappointment comes before lunch. When she’s paired with Roxanna, Serena finds herself internally cheering. Roxanna is tall and sexy and everything a young Serena ever wanted. Now’s her chance. However, for reasons unknown, Serena finds she simply doesn’t feel a strong connection with the rock star as they work on the rumba step. Roxanna is a quick study, she picks up the step well enough, that’s for sure. But beyond that it appears they simply have nothing in common to talk about – Roxanna is interested in up and coming rock and indie bands and Serena wouldn’t know her Odd Morris or The Struts from her elbow; the only music she really listens to is that she dances to. When lunchtime comes, Serena is happy to have a period of rest. Anyway, she’s got business to sort out.
Bernie is just tucking into her sandwich when somebody else sits beside her. She looks up and her breath catches when she realises who has joined her.
“You must be Berenice Wolfe, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Bernie’s brain short-circuits. She recovers enough to shake her new companion’s hand and respond with a breathy “Bernie’s fine.”
“Oh, but Berenice is such a pretty name,” her conversation partner pouts. “So elegant.”
“Serena’s a pretty name too,” Bernie smiles. “I expect you know it means tranquillity? Berenice actually isn’t all that elegant, it means ‘to bring victory’, which in my book means to fight hard for what you want no matter how inelegant you look in the process.” She pauses. “Sorry, I’m rambling. Find it hard to stop talking about words and maths, sometimes.”
Bernie looks at her feet awkwardly but Serena’s eyes sparkle.
“Oh, so you do recognise me then? And bringer of victory? It looks like you’re going to win this series then, doesn’t it?” Serena raises an inquisitive eyebrow. Bernie bows her head.
“I very much doubt that. Just being here is victory enough for me.”
“How very polite of you. Now, onto business. Please can I ask you a favour?”
Bernie’s brow furrows. What sort of favour could Serena Campbell, dancer extraordinaire, want from Bernie?
“I suppose so.” Bernie’s mouth answers before her head can think over the suggestion. It would appear Bernie Wolfe has an inbuilt reaction which means she cannot refuse Serena Campbell anything.
“My nephew is a massive fan of your podcast; he listens to it religiously. Could you maybe sign him something?”
In all of the videos Bernie has seen online (and Bernie has seen many videos of Serena Campbell in her own private research beyond the clips Charlotte showed her), Bernie has never seen the dancer look as genuine as she does now. Bernie smiles.
“I’d love to. I’ll bring in some merchandise for you to give him later this week.”
“You’ve a heart of gold, Berenice.”
“Not at all. If anything, I’m flattered that he’s such a fan. Why don’t you tell me about him?”
As the rest of the celebrities and professionals mingle and get to know one another, Serena Campbell and Bernie Wolfe spend their entire first lunch break with eyes only for one another, absorbed in their own private conversation about one Jason Haynes: Serena’s nephew and Bernie’s biggest fan.
Once their allotted break is over, Bernie is thrilled that she’ll be partnered with Serena for the first activity of the afternoon. They’re learning a jive sequence and what should be a fast-paced and fairly complex move becomes fun and manageable with Serena guiding her through it. Bernie thought she had laughed a lot with Dom but it’s nothing compared to what she’s feeling as she dances with Serena. Her whole body is alive and filled with a sense of possibility. With Serena by her side, Bernie feels like Strictly is becoming a whole lot more enjoyable.
At the first touch of Bernie as they begin to dance, Serena feels the connection. Bernie is unsure and inexperienced but she’s willing to learn and oh how her body fits so perfectly with Serena’s. They’re rehearsing a jive step so there’s a lot of kicks and twists but already Serena can see a wealth of possibility before her, imaging just how well they’d fit together in a tango or rumba, how carefully Bernie would hold her. As she laughs and dances and helps Bernie to master the move, Serena thinks she may never have had as much fun with a Strictly contestant before.
When it’s time to switch, Bernie reluctantly moves on from Serena to work with Raf. Raf is the champion of the previous series and is a perfect dancer and teacher. But as Bernie goes through the motions of the waltz step they’re learning with him, her body cries out for the touch of Serena.
The next day, Bernie arrives at the rehearsal studio with a bag of Letters and Numbers merchandise. Inside the Letters and Numbers branded tote bag there’s a mug, a signed photo and a copy of each of Bernie’s books, both of which she’s signed. Bernie has also taken the time to write Serena’s nephew, Jason, a letter thanking him for being such a dedicated fan of her podcast. After everything Serena told her about him yesterday, Bernie already feels a kinship with the young man.
Serena arrives holding a tray with two coffees on and immediately heads towards Bernie through the rest of the people gathered. She holds one of the coffees out and Bernie blushes as she realises that Serena has brought her a coffee.
“Strong and hot, just how we both like it.” Serena winks and Bernie’s stomach flip flops at the realisation the dancer was paying attention to what she was drinking yesterday. In return, Bernie holds up the bag of podcast merchandise.
“And here is a very special Letters and Numbers goody bag for one of my most dedicated fans.”
Serena glances in and notices the envelope containing the letter which Bernie has written.
“Did you write him a letter?”
“That’s… That’s so unbelievably sweet of you, Berenice. He’ll love it, thank you.”
Bernie smiles and sips her coffee and doesn’t question why she doesn’t hate her full name when it falls from Serena’s lips.
Today is the day they’re starting to block the main group dance. Bernie finds herself struggling to keep pace sometimes and feels a little foolish as she attempts to manage some of the faster steps. Looking around her, it seems that some of the younger celebrities have picked up the moves much more easily than she has and Bernie grits her teeth and vows to master them. She won’t be beaten in anything, including dance.
Whenever they get a break, Bernie finds herself drawn to Serena, who helps her to refine the steps she’s been trying to learn. Serena is a caring tutor who knows exactly when to offer a comforting smile or some competitive talk to get Bernie motivated. The more time they spend in rehearsals, the more Bernie longs to be paired with Serena.
Firstly, I want to thank you for listening to Letters and Numbers. It makes me very happy to know that people enjoy all of the material which I spend so long researching.
Secondly, I hope you enjoy the merchandise. The mug is identical to the ones me and any guests I have drink out of and they can’t be bought anywhere, so it’s very special. We are hoping to get reusable water bottles with the Letters and Numbers branding made too and when we do, I’ll be sure to find a way to send you one.
Your aunt tells me that you love trivia so I thought I’d share some of my favourite facts with you:
- Contranyms are words which have two meanings which are opposites of one another – for example, ‘dust’. If one dusts an item of furniture, you are removing small particles of a substance off it. However, if one dusts a cake, you are adding small sprinklings of a substance to it. I plan on doing an episode about contranyms one day – one to look out for!
- The word ‘hundred’ originates from the Old Norse word ‘hundrath’ which means 120, not 100.
- PEZ sweets are named after the German word for peppermint – Pfefferminze. They were invented by an Austrian, not a German, though.
I want to close off this letter to you by saying that I hope you achieve all you wish to in life, Jason. From everything your aunt has told me I know you are a fine young man who works hard. If you ever feel able to come to the Strictly studios (on a week while I’m still in the competition), I will be more than happy to come and chat in person.
With very best wishes,
Jason finishes reading his letter and smooths it out carefully on the coffee table.
“Auntie Serena?” He says politely.
“Yes, Jason?” Serena tries not to let the lump in her throat she’s got from reading the letter herself show.
“Tomorrow I am going to go and buy a frame for this letter so I can put it on my wall.”
Between the rehearsals for the celebrity group dance, Serena and the rest of the professional dancers have continued rehearsals for their group dances. They also have rehearsals for the dances they’ll be doing with the judges and special guest performers. It’s a lot of work and Serena loves it. She can’t help but think as she’s in the arms of Raf or Matteo or even Donna that all she wants is to dance again with a certain blonde podcast host who has the longest legs and the smallest smile.
Filming her pre-recorded celebrity introduction for the launch show isn’t as bad as Bernie feared it would be. She simply sits and has an interview in front of a camera then they make her do some silly moves they’ll insert around her soundbites. Bernie’s main focus is answering the questions without saying something stupid.
To make her relax before they begin, the producer simply asks her some silly questions which are nothing to do with the show. She’s only aware the camera has been rolling for the whole thing after she’s informed that her opening shot is going to be her honking laugh and playful “Ding dong!” in response to a tongue-in-cheek question about pelvic thrusting.
“Now, Bernie, what makes Strictly special?”
“Strictly is a unique show in that it’s for all generations. It’s aimed at everyone from the grandchildren through to the grandparents. And I think Strictly is a show which is really trying to be inclusive with regards to all types of family, which is important.”
The production crew nod and she breathes a sigh of relief that she seems to have got through the first important question.
“Why did you decide to take part?” The next question makes Bernie smile, it’s an easy one.
“My children. They’re both big fans of the show, my daughter especially so. Doing Strictly is a way of me doing something for them, in a way. I also want to do it for myself. I want to push myself out of my comfort zone and do something that scares me. Strictly is exactly that, I’ve never done any dancing before in my life!”
“What sort of costumes are you hoping to have?”
“Something functional! I tend to wear shirts and jumpers and jeans which I somehow don’t think meet the sparkle criteria for Strictly.” Bernie pauses momentarily and thinks of all of the costumes she’s seen in the clips from previous series. “The more I think about it the more I’m quite excited about wearing something a bit jazzy and fun. Though I wouldn’t say no to a classic tux, either!”
“Which dance do you most want to learn?”
“Something graceful, perhaps a waltz? I think I’m a little long in tooth to be any good at all the fast-paced salsa type things but if I can nail something like a waltz then I’ll be happy, at least I’ll have one dance under my belt!”
One of the production assistants scribbles something down and Bernie wonders if she’s just committed them to giving her a fast dance as her first one. The interviewer must sense her nervousness as she smiles and continues.
“What song would you choose for yourself to dance to?”
“Oh, I’m rubbish at music! Perhaps something by Lily Allen, I know my children like her music. Or that duet Dusty Springfield does – I Got You or something like that?” Several of the crew facing her appear to be stifling laughter and Bernie realises her lack of awareness about music may have made itself alarmingly obvious. “Isn’t that Dusty Springfield? No? Oh, well, perhaps not that one then.”
After her questions are over, she twirls about in some confetti and feels a little bit ridiculous doing so. They also get her to pose in front of a dictionary and a chalkboard covered in equations wearing her glasses, which Bernie thinks is a bit odd too, despite the young production assistant squealing “oh the fans will LOVE that look on you!”. But then Strictly isn’t necessarily supposed to make sense, she muses.
With a week to go before the launch show is filmed, Bernie goes to her dress fitting for her first Strictly Come Dancing outfit. What she sees she’s going to be wearing makes her nearly run to the airport and book a flight to somewhere far away (perhaps Ukraine?) just to get away. It’s a dress and one which is far shorter than anything she can ever remember wearing. It’s royal blue in colour with delicate white detailing across the front. The material is very thin and when she tries it on Bernie feels horrendously exposed. The phrase ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ springs to mind. The costume designers fuss over her and make tiny alterations but declare she’s going to look stunning on the night. Bernie is not sure she agrees.
It’s only when she’s left the building that Bernie remembers she’s got to actually dance in that outfit. Yikes.
The end of August brings with it the days when they film the pre-recorded launch show. Bernie wakes up feeling more nervous than she thinks she’s ever felt in her whole life. She arrives early to the studio and spends far too long being ushered around hair and make-up and costume until she’s deemed to be fully Strictly-fied. Her fake tan makes her think of far too many synonyms for ‘tangerine’ and her long glittery false nails are wholly impractical from a lesbian perspective. It’s a good job she’s not getting any action at the moment or her partners would have to be grateful she’s good with her mouth. Bernie certainly wouldn’t be getting any thanks for releasing these nails on anyone. Ouch.
Before the show is the Strictly red carpet, where all the stars of the series parade in front of hordes of reporters and photographers. Whilst they’ve been rehearsing, Bernie has almost been able to forget that the outside world exists and that millions of people will be watching her dance very, very soon. Now she’s got to face the reality.
When Bernie gets her first glimpse of Serena’s red-carpet look, she’s sure time stands still. Serena is in a dip-hemmed dress in a deep red shot through with glitter which shimmers as she moves. Whilst not plunging, the neckline of the dress is certainly more than flattering and Bernie’s mouth goes dry. Serena Campbell is the most beautiful woman ever to walk or dance across the face of the Earth. Bernie wishes she could kiss the matching red lipstick off Serena’s lips.
Serena has done more Strictly red carpets than she dares to number. She is a natural, she poses and pouts and plays the press like they’re her puppets. They are her adoring crowd and she is their star. As she reaches the end of the red carpet outside the studios with the professionals, she looks to see the celebrities making their way along the walkway. Her eyes are immediately drawn to Bernie, who looks unbelievable. Her hair has been carefully styled about her shoulders, the messy waves working well with the smoky eyeshadow and dark lips. But the dress… Oh the dress. Serena ought to thank whoever in the costume department designed that outfit because it’s positively sinful. Deep blue with delicate white details on the front, it emphasises the length of Bernie’s legs and how toned her arms are. When Bernie turns around, Serena thinks she may be tachycardic because it transpires that the dress is backless, with only some straps edged in the delicate white embroidery keeping the garment upon the woman’s body. Serena has the urge to touch Bernie’s back, to touch her everywhere in fact. Instead she smiles at the official photographers and makes her way into the studio, ready for filming the show.
The launch show, being pre-recorded, can be filmed out of order. The filming is split into three blocks, each with a separate audience. The last part of the filming will be the partnerships. This year, the launch show officially begins with a performance of Everything Has Changed by Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. Serena is partnered with Raf for this dance, which she’s pleased about. The bulk of the dance is focused on Mo and Derwood however, who have been chosen to dance as the main couple in the front of the performance as Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran sing and the crowd go wild. Really, the song lends itself to ballroom so while there’s all the technical details for broadcast, the moves themselves are not particularly taxing, which makes it all the easier to focus on enjoying the moment dancing with her dear friend Raf to such an incredible live performance.
After the duet has finished, Taylor does a performance of her song The Man, which is the dance Serena is most excited about. She and the other female pros are in tailored suits for this dance and it exudes power. Whilst she loves sparkle and sequins, Serena thinks there’s a lot to be said sometimes for wearing a killer power suit and heels. Especially as she and the rest of the female pros absolutely look incredible when they surround Taylor Swift and simultaneously slowly lower themselves down whilst staring directly down the camera.
From the side-lines, Bernie nearly chokes on her own tongue when she sees Serena Campbell in a closely fitted black suit. When she realises the dance is basically a female power-suited two fingered salute to the patriarchy Bernie isn’t sure she’s going to survive the performance. Bernie had never thought a squat could be sexy or sassy but my word, during the bridge Serena proves that a squat can indeed be both of those things. The other dancers and Taylor Swift probably look good too, but Bernie only has eyes for Serena Campbell. Bernie is still thinking about the strength of Serena’s thighs to perform such a series of powerful moves so close to the floor when she realises Taylor Swift has finished and Ed Sheeran is now performing Galway Girl as Antoine Malick and Leah Faulkner are doing some incredibly beautiful dancing across the studio.
Before the end of the song, she and the celebrities are encouraged up onto either side of the stage with the rest of the pros and Taylor Swift to finish the opening of the launch show.
Whilst she’s there physically, in the back of Bernie’s mind, she’s still replaying the images of Serena Campbell descending down towards the floor in that suit and those heels. And absolutely not wishing Serena Campbell could do a more private session of that performance in Bernie’s bedroom…
Bernie has got no time to dwell though because now it’s the moment she’s been dreading: they’re filming the celebrity dance.
They’ve rehearsed this what must be a thousand times, including in this very studio. But the fact that there’s a ticketed audience present makes Bernie nervous. That and the fact that the cameras are now going to be recording her every move, including a close-up shot of her legs as she opens the number with Roxanna and Ange.
They take their positions and Bernie takes a deep breath, looks to where Serena is waiting further down the dancefloor and out of shot, now wearing a short silver dress edged with fringing which Bernie knows shimmers and sways as the woman moves. As if sensing her nerves, Serena looks at her and smiles, mouthing ‘you got this, Berenice’ at her. Bernie nods and smiles, focuses on just what she needs to do as the director announces they’re about to begin.
Bernie, her right-side facing the camera, bows her head and thinks of all the times they’ve rehearsed this opening. Ange is ahead of her and Roxanna behind. The music begins and she makes her legs follow the simple salsa steps. When the bass drops, that’s the cue for Serena, Jasmine and Leah to stride forward and circulate their partners for this section of the dance. Serena only places her hand on Bernie’s waist momentarily, as Leah does to Roxanna and Jasmine to Ange. All too soon, she’s sauntering away and across the floor to where Henrik, Fletch and Guy are waiting. As she leaves, Bernie swears Serena’s hand briefly touches her back, bare in the dress she’s in. She has no time to dwell though, she needs to move into her next position for the rest of the group number.
It has to be said that the song lends itself well to a group piece and Bernie is pleased that they’ve rehearsed it so much. The professionals make it easier too, her nerves less apparent as she switches partners from Zosia to Xavier to Derwood to Oliver as the dance picks up pace.
As the performance nears the end, Bernie finds herself part of the ensemble part of the dance. It’s thankfully nothing too taxing, she can just about manage the steps in time with everyone else. The magic of the piece will be how in synchronisation they all look on television, she’s sure. The dance floor is filled with contestants and professionals and she’s sure the camera angles will all be spectacular. After the final pose when they’re told they can relax, a shimmer of fabric beside her notifies Bernie to Serena’s presence.
“Well done, Berenice,” the dancer whispers before hurrying away to change into her next costume. Bernie freezes for a moment, the little comment warming her and filling her with a sense of confidence and acceptance that her time on Strictly won’t be too bad, no matter what happens.
They get a bit of a break then whilst this audience exits and the next one is filtered in. Bernie rejoices in the fact that for the next session, she can simply sit and watch the professionals do their thing.
Serena watches Raf and popular actress Connie Beauchamp rumba to How Deep Is Your Love with mixed emotions. Raf is one of her dearest friends and Connie was certainly a worthy winner of the previous series. But Serena wishes that one day she could perform a winner’s reprise at the opening of a series. She knows she’s getting older and won’t be able to stay in this job forever, but she can’t give it up without a win. Last series she’d crashed out in week 6 with her dull celebrity partner Dan Hamilton, a television chef who really couldn’t make anything sizzle on the dancefloor. This year she really wants a partner she can go all the way to glory with. Without thinking, her eyes track across to where Bernie Wolfe is sat watching Raf and Connie dance. Serena sighs and feels a deep sense of longing in her stomach. She’s had enough of dull middle-aged men, what Serena really wants this year is Bernie Wolfe. She can only hope the producers want her to have her too.
Following Raf and Connie’s performance, the many technical staff prepare the studio for the judges and professionals to perform their launch show dance. There’s a lot of waiting and Bernie can see why they film in three blocks. Soon, the lights dim and the Strictly band start to play out the introduction to High Hopes.
The Strictly powers-that-be have pulled out all the stops for this dance. Imelda and Tristan make their entrance down a set of sweeping stairs, whilst Abigail and Fleur descend down from the ceiling on a giant glitterball. It’s obvious that Imelda and Tristan are perhaps the judges who will be retiring soon, Bernie thinks, as it becomes apparent that it’s really Abigail and Fleur who are doing the bulk of the advanced dancing with the professionals.
The next day, Bernie arrives ready for block three of the filming. She never realised just how much filming and work goes into one launch episode of Strictly Come Dancing. She has no idea how they manage the live shows. Today’s filming opens with the professionals doing their dance. Bernie finds herself transfixed at the ability of Serena (and the rest of the professionals) to switch so seamlessly from the fast-paced moves of Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae) to the softer and more traditional ballroom dancing they’re doing to Airplanes. They’re all back in their red-carpet outfits for this dance and Bernie finds herself jealous of Raf as he spins Serena around the dancefloor, the swirling skirt of her red dress calling to Bernie like a siren song.
The couples reveal is going to be done in three parts. For the first couples reveal, the producers line up Jasmine Burrows, Zosia March, Dominic Copeland, Matteo Rossini and Oliver Valentine. Each dancer stands on the dancefloor with a single spotlight shining on them.
“Our first celebrities finding out their partners tonight are: Sacha Levy, Roxanna MacMillan, Ric Griffin, Nicky McKendrick and Lofty Chiltern!” Tess Daly announces cheerfully. Bernie looks at the line-up and realises at a similar time to everyone else that this means there’s going to be a same-sex pairing announced. Three male celebrities and three male dancers mean one of them is going to be the first same-sex couple to be announced on Strictly. Given he’s in the pro line-up, Bernie rather thinks the perpetually camp Dom will be the pro in the pair. And out of Sacha, Ric and Lofty, Bernie’s fairly certain who will get paired with the young Dom.
“Sacha Levy, the nation’s favourite weatherman,” Claudia smiles at Sacha, who grins haphazardly in his extremely glittery Hawaiian shirt. “Jasmine, Zosia, Dominic, Matteo and Oliver stand in the spotlights. Who will your partner be?” The lights flicker on and off above the dancers as Claudia, with a level of exuberance Bernie could only dream of having, declares: “Sacha Levy, your partner this year is Jasmine Burrows!”
The spotlight stills on Jasmine who grins and dashes over to Sacha, who she hugs fiercely. Sacha offers her a high five as they leave. Next Roxanna, looking dashing in a short metallic silver dress with glitter shot through her spiked-up hair, is paired with Matteo; swiftly followed by Ric being partnered with Zosia. That leaves Nicky McKendrick and Lofty Chiltern waiting to be partnered with either Dom or Oliver. Unsurprisingly, Nicky is partnered with Oliver, leaving Lofty and Dom to be announced as the first ever same-sex pairing on Strictly Come Dancing. Dom looks thrilled and Lofty also seems excited. Whilst she’s happy for them, Bernie can’t help but feel a little worried, concerned she now won’t be part of a same-sex pairing. A small voice reminds her that was never a guarantee, in fact, it would make more sense to have a young couple with thousands of fans as the landmark couple; they’ll generate enough positivity to cancel the inevitable discriminatory backlash the move will face.
The next group of celebrities to find out their partners are announced and Bernie is not in the group. Her stomach is filled with butterflies, all she wants is for the agony to be over and to know who she’s got at least two weeks of dancing with. When the professional dancers are called to stand under the spotlights and Serena is not one of them, Bernie feels a little flicker of hope. It’s soon quashed when all of the pairings announced are mixed-sex. Perhaps they have only gone for one same-sex pairing after all.
Serena watches her potential dance partners get paired up with a sense of joy. Henrik Hanssen is paired with Mo; Guy Self with Donna; and Fletch with Morven. As she goes to stand under her spotlight when the final pairing round occurs, she looks at the celebrities waiting optimistically. Her stomach sinks. Angus Farrell is still there. A man so boring that she’d completely forgotten he was even in the competition. Looking at the rest of her fellow dancers, she sighs, knowing she’s going to get paired with the dullest man in the competition. Raf will likely get partnered with Bernie Wolfe and win two years in a row whilst she is once again destined to crash out early with a man who does not meet any of her needs and wants in a partner. As the lights go down and the cameras roll, Serena pastes on the smile she’s known for, the smile she’s perfected over the years. All she has to do now is wait for her inevitable fate to be revealed.
“Leah, Meena, Serena, Raf and Xavier are all waiting for their partners. Now, who will they get? Essie, you are the first to find out who your partner is.” Tess beams at the camera and Essie stands beside her, her face full of hope. Bernie looks at the line-up of pros and her heart yearns for Serena. She hopes at the very least she gets Raf; Meena and Leah are far too young for her to feel comfortable with and Xavier is far too egotistical for her to ever realistically consider getting along with.
“Essie, your partner is Raf di Lucca!” Essie cheers as Raf slides across the floor on his knees to greet her. Bernie feels a sense of disappointment then trepidation as it’s announced she’s next.
The lights dim once more and Bernie goes to stand next to Claudia, hoping she’s arranged her face into something which doesn’t reveal how sick she’s feeling.
“Bernie Wolfe, you’ve got a way with words but which dancer will you be hoping to reach those higher numbers with?”
A pause which seems to drag on for eternity ensues. Tess takes over the narration.
“Xavier, Serena, Meena and Leah are all waiting to be named as your partner.”
The spotlights flicker on and off above them. Bernie ducks her head and looks from under her fringe. The lights are bright and dazzling but she could swear she sees Serena bite her lip and glance her way, with something written across her features which Bernie can only wish is hope.
“Bernie Wolfe,” Claudia announces, “your partner is…” The lights flash on and off above the dancers before settling on one. “Serena Campbell!”
In a single moment Bernie feels a thousand different emotions but she has no time to process any of them because Serena has run across the studio and launched herself into her arms. Bernie knows she has the biggest smile on her face and she’s laughing jubilantly with Serena. She’s actually going to be dancing with Serena Campbell! As the audience stop clapping and cheering, Tess asks them how they feel.
“Ecstatic!” Serena beams, her arms firmly wrapped around Bernie’s right bicep. Bernie nods, her brain too busy having a party to really say anything coherent.
“What she said. I’ve got a brilliant teacher for this series, I know it.”
They’re ushered to stand with the rest of the pairs whilst the other celebrities and pros are partnered up but Bernie no longer cares about them. All she cares about is that she’s stood with Serena close to her, hand rubbing across her bare back so gently Bernie feels like a well-loved cat. She’s going to be dancing with Serena Campbell! Bernie could weep with joy.
She’s so absorbed in gazing at Serena beside her that Bernie doesn’t realise that they’ve finished. Everyone is partnered up and there is nothing else to film for the launch show. Serena takes her hand and Bernie lets herself be guided off the set, every point of contact between them a spark of hope and electricity.
Bernie doesn’t remember giving Serena her number, the launch show filming had left her drunk on a mixture of happiness, hope and social anxiety.
But she wakes up the morning after to a text from Serena which simply says ‘hello my dear Berenice, let me know when you’re ready to rumba-l… Serena x’
Bernie snorts at the pun, saves the number to her contacts and presses the call button. Serena picks up on the third ring.
“Hello Berenice, how are we this morning?”
“What time is it? I’m still in bed.”
“And what are you wearing?” Serena has dropped her voice a bit and Bernie thinks it really is too early in the morning for her to be dealing with potential flirting from such a gorgeous woman.
“And here I was assuming you’d be eloquent at all hours!” Serena laughs and then begins to ask Bernie when she’s available for rehearsals, says she’d like to fit in as many as possible around their photoshoots and talks with the production team and the television magazine interviews they’ll have to do in the lead up to the show being broadcast. Bernie agrees to all of it, aside from making clear she wants two afternoons to research, rehearse and record her podcast. She said from the beginning she wouldn’t pause her podcast for Strictly and she’s going to stand by that.
“Don’t worry about that, Berenice. I have a nephew who would be mightily aggrieved if I was the reason for there being no episode of Letters and Numbers one week.”
Serena video calls her later to finalise arrangements. They agree to maximise rehearsal time, Bernie should work on her podcast whilst Serena is in rehearsals for the group numbers. Bernie surprises herself when she tells Serena that she wants to fit in as much time as possible rehearsing their dance. Serena beams so brightly that Bernie thinks she could do a whole podcast episode simply describing her smile.
Their first couples’ photoshoot and interview go much better than Bernie expected. Serena makes it fun and enjoyable and Bernie cannot help but laugh as she chats and twirls with Serena. Part of these clips will be used in the opening credits of the Strictly shows and a little thrum of excitement goes through Bernie that one of these shots of her dancing with Serena will be broadcast with her name under it. The thought of being associated with Serena in such an obvious way makes Bernie very happy indeed. The other parts will be used as the introductory reel for their dance and Bernie is once again so glad that she’s been partnered with Serena. She knows that without the feisty brunette beside her the interviews and set-pieces would have been so much duller than they will be.
Their first dance is a foxtrot and Bernie’s glad. She was worried the producers would pick a fast dance after her initial interview but thankfully they’ve had mercy on her. That being said, the slower pace does not make it any easier. Serena’s a professional and soon learns which moves make Bernie uncomfortable and which she’s happier doing with a bit of encouragement. She changes the choreography with each rehearsal so that they can fine-tune it into a respectably-scoring dance (they hope). Bernie’s very grateful that they have two weeks to learn this dance. She really has no idea how she’ll cope when there’s only a week between each show. She’s exhausted as it is.
Bernie watches the launch show with Cameron and Charlotte. They both come round to her flat with pizza and wine and cram themselves onto her sofa in front of her TV.
They both know it’s been filmed and have been trying to get her to tell them who she’s partnered with. Bernie’s managed to keep it quiet but only because she’s been so busy rehearsing that she’s not had chance to properly see them. She has no idea how they’ll react when they see their mother has been paired with one of the show’s best loved dancers (and a female one at that).
Bernie’s phone beeps with a message as the show is about to start. She shields the screen from her children to see Serena’s message.
‘Enjoy your last moments of not being attached to me 😉 x’
It’s swiftly followed by another.
‘Asked Jason who he thought I’d be paired with and his response was: “I’m not too bothered, Auntie Serena. I just need to know that Bernie is paired with somebody competent.” – we have standards to meet, my dear x’
Bernie replies with a smiley face and follows it with
‘I always said I liked Jason. Sat with my two preparing for our own mini watch party since it’s the only one I’ll be doing (for a few weeks)’
Gets an immediate reply.
‘For 13 weeks, Berenice – we’re winning this thing x’
Bernie smiles and a small voice in her head tells her that she’ll try her damned hardest to win it for Serena. Whilst she’s on her phone, she composes a tweet.
@WordsWithWolfe: Tonight’s the night - @bbcstrictly launch show on ASAP!
She notices Serena has also tweeted.
@SWCampbell: Which lucky celeb will make my acquaintance tonight? It’s @bbcstrictly launch show time!
Bernie’s pulled from her phone by the BBC One announcer declaring that Strictly is the next show on. Charlotte is practically vibrating with excitement beside her and Cam is looking at the screen with such focus that cheese from his pizza has caught in his little furry half-beard which Bernie is still unsure about him growing.
The music starts (Charlotte and Cam enthusiastically singing along to the “BAM BAM daaaaAAAHHHHH da dada da da da daaaa da dada da da!”) and Bernie realises this is it. The world is about to know.
The opening performance by Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran is beautiful but Bernie knows what’s coming. Sure enough, after Everything Has Changed, the performance of The Man begins and Bernie focuses very hard on the television to ensure that she didn’t imagine just how sexy Serena looked strutting around the studio.
It turns out with the camera angles and high definition it’s even more seductive. There’s one shot as Taylor is singing her chorus about ‘The Man’ where the camera focuses fully on Serena slowly descending towards the floor, her eyes looking right down the camera. Bernie didn’t notice it when she was watching, but Serena actually winks and mouths ‘I’d be the man’ at the camera and Bernie has to remind herself that her children are sat right next to her as she feels her pulse skyrocket at the image.
Bernie watches the bulk of the launch show through watching her children. Charlotte is in her element, soaking it all in and beaming at all of the sparkle. Cam’s also highly invested. Bernie, having seen the production of the judges’ and professional dances, simply watches for any glimpses of Serena in between seeing her children’s reactions.
It’s only the celebrity dance where she’s more than a little bit apprehensive to see just what an old fool she looks hopping about a dance floor in a ridiculous frock.
When the celeb dance is announced, her children look at her and she resolutely focuses on the screen, unable to see their pity at her looking stupid on national television.
The opening shot of the dance is a close up of her legs and Bernie wants to hide behind a cushion as she watches her own legs do a salsa step before the shot changes and she can see Serena, Leah and Jasmine stride forwards towards herself, Ange and Roxanna. Bernie watches carefully and notices that Serena did indeed likely touch her back as she sauntered over to her next partner in the dance.
Bernie has to admit that watching the group dance isn’t as bad as she thought it would be. Yes, it’s obvious that she’s not a born dancer but at least she participated and gave it her best shot. The angles and cuts are well done and are made to show everybody in the best possible light. It’s actually quite interesting to watch how Bernie interacts with all of the different partners she has in the group shots. In Bernie’s mind, it’s clear that out of all of them she dances best with Serena. She’s glad the producers must have thought so too.
When the dance has finished, both of her children whoop with excitement and Bernie looks at them, confused.
“Mum, you were AMAZING!” Charlotte exclaims, throwing her arms around Bernie. Cam nods enthusiastically.
“Honestly Mum, you’re not bad at all, I reckon you could go really far!”
Bernie laughs and thanks them before they all turn back to the screen to carry on watching.
When it’s the partner reveal, Bernie swears it seems like the whole country, not just her sitting room, goes silent with anticipation. Bernie can feel herself reliving the moment as she watches the other celebrities get paired up until it is her turn.
“Bernie Wolfe,” Claudia announces, “your partner is…” Beside her, Bernie hears either Cameron or Charlotte (or possibly both) inhale sharply. “Serena Campbell!”
Bernie watches her own immediate grin and sees Serena bound across the studio to throw herself at Bernie, their joy evident. Actually, Bernie thinks they may have had the most jubilant reactions out of all the couples. Beside her, Charlotte squeals. They watch Angus get paired with Leah; Ange get paired with Xavier and Arthur get paired with Meena before the show finishes.
As soon as the television is off, Charlotte turns to her.
“OH. EM. GEE. MUM!! You’re partnered with SERENA CAMPBELL??!”
Bernie nods her head and hopes she’s not blushing too much. Cameron nudges her.
“Try to focus on the dancing, yeah, Madre?”
Bernie’s phone is awash with notifications but one stands out.
It’s a thread of tweets all by Serena.
@SWCampbell: And my partner is… #Strictly
@SWCampbell: Bernie Wolfe, of all people! #Strictly
@SWCampbell: Podcasting, eh? Shut up and dance with me, @WordsWithWolfe #Strictly
Below the tweet are thousands of likes and replies from Serena’s many adoring fans. Bernie also finds her notifications are filled with tweets about Strictly.
FINALLY MY GAL @SWCampbell GETS A GOOD PARTNER #Strictly @WordsWithWolfe
LOOK AT THE JOY ON SERENA’S FACE WHEN SHE GOT PARTNERED WITH @WordsWithWolfe #Strictly
Ok but was anyone ever gonna tell me that that @WordsWithWolfe has amazing legs or??? #Strictly
Bernie gulps at that one. Perhaps it’s time to close twitter for now.
She’s just putting her phone down when she gets a text.
‘Jason says he’s pleased I’m partnered with you and has asked that I make sure you get the best score possible. Get your dancing shoes on, Berenice x’