Chapter 1: first step is the hardest one you'll ever take
‘Bernie Wolfe GAY?’
Serena raises an eyebrow at the tabloid headline screaming at her as she scrolls through her feed. She pauses as she tries to place the name she’s definitely heard of to the distinctly unflattering photo of a blonde woman hurrying into a car. The brief article summary provides more clues.
‘Letters and Numbers star Bernie Wolfe revealed as gay: Former lover reveals all in WORLD EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW.’
Ah. That explains it then. Letters and Numbers is one of Jason’s absolute favourite podcasts. She doesn’t click on the article. As far as she’s concerned if a former partner has sold out Bernie Wolfe’s sexual orientation then she’s a partner not worth having. Serena herself knows just how vicious the paps can be when they get their teeth into a storyline; she had a horrible time fighting them off the year she had her ‘EXPLOSIVE DIVORCE’ from Edward when she discovered her long-time dance partner had been cheating on her with other professionals on the hit BBC show Strictly Come Dancing. Not that it matters anymore, Serena was the only one who kept her job and she’s now the show’s longest-serving female professional. Serena continues to scroll down her feed and soon enough, the article is forgotten.
The Bernie Wolfe story is one the tabloids cling to for weeks and there’s no escaping it. Bernie’s ex-husband gives interviews and Alex Dawson (the woman who sold out Bernie Wolfe’s sexual orientation) is rumoured to be a contestant on the next series of I’m A Celebrity (Get Me Out of Here!) despite the fact that her only claim to fame is that she says she once slept with the podcast host. Bernie Wolfe herself remains silent about the matter. She’s still recording and releasing her weekly podcast though so Jason’s happy. And if Jason is happy, Serena is happy. The world can go round.
Once the original sensation has run its course, Bernie Wolfe becomes a regular fixture in various celebrity gossip magazines, linking her romantically to all kinds of people. Serena sighs at every single one of the mentions she sees in her Twitter feed from the gossip magazines she follows (and she only follows them because she occasionally has to do interviews for them). As far as she’s aware, Bernie Wolfe is a private person and must be hating all of this attention. After the divorce, Serena used the attention to make a name for herself. But then she’s always been a born performer, ever since her mother (the world-famous ballerina Adrienne McKinnie) first sent her to dance classes when she was three years old. Serena certainly wouldn’t call someone who records a weekly podcast a performer. In fact, what is Bernie Wolfe, exactly? That question leaves Serena stumped, so she sets about finding the woman’s Wikipedia page.
‘Berenice (“Bernie”) Griselda Wolfe is a linguist and mathematician, most famously known for her successful podcast series Letters and Numbers which explains mathematical concepts and the evolution of language, often with celebrity guests.
A former teacher, Wolfe quit her job after divorcing her husband and began writing a blog to fuel her passion for linguistics and mathematics. This led to her becoming a guest columnist for publications such as The Guardian, TES and The Times. Wolfe also briefly worked as a lexicographer for Oxford English Dictionaries during this time.
In late 2016, the BBC approached Wolfe about making an educational podcast series. Letters and Numbers has gone on to become a global success with millions of regular listeners. Wolfe has also appeared on television shows and at educational events for schools. She has written two books: Word Soup and Linguithmetic. Both of these books had popular accompanying book tours.
Despite being a private person, Wolfe has recently been the subject of much press coverage after Alex Dawson (a furniture restoration and upcycling expert based in Yorkshire) revealed that she was in a six-month relationship with the linguist and mathematician.’
Serena raises an eyebrow. As far as she can tell Bernie Wolfe is dedicated to her podcast and prefers to keep a low profile. There’s nothing wrong with that. Closing the tab, she assumes that’ll be the last time she thinks about Bernie Wolfe.
“Hello, Clem?” Bernie addresses her agent and makes a shushing gesture to her children who are sat on the sofa opposite her.
“Hi Bernie, I just wanted to ask if you’d be happy for me to pass on your details to the producers of Strictly? They’ve approached me about booking you for their next series but say they’d like to discuss it in person with you first.” Bernie laughs.
“Strictly? I doubt it, it’s only February – this’ll be someone out for a laugh because of all this tabloid ridicule.”
“No, Bernie, they really do cast this early. There’s a long way to go before your first appearance in September. It’s one of the best opportunities out there and I think you’ll be brilliant at it.”
“You’ve got to be joking Clem, I’d be terrible at that show!”
Opposite her, she notices that both Cam and Charlotte’s jaws have dropped.
“It’s not about doing well, Bernie, if that’s what’s worrying you. You’d get paid very well for it and it’s good publicity.”
“I don’t know, I don’t think it’s really me,” Bernie begins then notices Charlotte practically vibrating in her seat as she mouths ‘say yes’ repeatedly at her. Bernie sighs. This whole tabloid drama has caused both Cam and Charlotte a lot of hassle and she’d really rather not lose contact with them. The only reason they’re both visiting now is so that they can ask her all the questions they have regarding which details reported in the press are true and which are not. Bernie looks at her children and then thinks about the offer.
“Actually Clem, tell them to be in touch with me and I’ll talk through the logistics and whatnot with them. I can’t stop recording Letters and Numbers for this show.”
Cam and Charlotte’s smiles at the news their mother might be going on Strictly are the biggest Bernie has ever seen them.
“Ms Wolfe?” The voice addresses her over the intercom to her apartment.
When the speaker identifies themselves as a member of BBC’S Strictly Come Dancing team, Bernie buzzes them up, welcomes them in and sits down on her sofa so she can process what they say. Whilst the dancing show is the furthest thing from enjoyment she can imagine, she knows how much her children want her to take part. Bernie sits and listens to the person sat opposite her detail filming schedules and fees and the possibility of appearing on the live tour if she’s either good enough or a fan favourite. Bernie thinks it all seems a bit full on, especially as she won’t make it past the second week.
She agrees to everything being said, remembering the delight on Charlotte and Cam’s faces when they were faced with the possibility of their mother being a contestant on what is arguably the biggest celebrity competition on television.
“How much does learning to ballroom dance mean to you, Ms Wolfe?” The question makes Bernie pause. She hadn’t actually considered that.
“Well, uh, I guess it means a great deal. I’ve never had the chance to properly learn and it would be something that I think would make my children very proud of me. I think it’d also take me out of my comfort zone a fair bit. I only really do my podcast and the occasional live event at the moment, I’ve never had a live audience as big as Strictly, especially not when I’d be doing something that’s so alien to me.”
Her answer must pass muster because it triggers the most genuine smile Bernie’s seen throughout the whole chat. When they’re reaching what Bernie assumes will be the end of the conversation, the TV exec pauses and clears their throat, looking down at the floor awkwardly. Bernie is immediately on edge.
“And, um. Ms Wolfe? Strictly Come Dancing is rejuvenating its image this year to be more in touch with a modern and diverse audience. Therefore, we’re going to have a couple of same-sex pairings. Would you be willing to be part of one?”
Bernie sits and stares at the wall ahead of her, deliberately choosing not to look into the face of the casting director. She has no idea what to say. The casting director must worry they’ve offended her because they cut in again hastily.
“Obviously there’s no obligation and you won’t know properly until the launch show so it’s a genuine surprise, but we want to ensure that celebrities are comfortable with the possibility.”
Bernie’s first thought is indeed to be offended since this whole invite is clearly stemming from the huge tabloid hype around her sexuality over the previous year. Really, on principle, she should turn down the show. However, the more she thinks about it, the more she thinks she’d have a better chance of doing better if she was paired with a woman. Thinking of dancing with a man had made her feel awkward and foolish. Thinking of dancing with a woman allows her to picture an alternate universe where there’s the possibility of perhaps making it to one of the later weeks of the competition.
“Ms Wolfe?” The voice sat opposite her pulls her out of her musings and she smiles.
“Yes please, I’d quite like to be part of a same-sex pairing.”
“In that case, Ms Wolfe, welcome to this year’s Strictly Come Dancing family. We’ll be in touch with your agent regarding the formal arrangements. Please don’t disclose any of this to anybody before the official press launch.”
When Bernie attempts to subtly ask Charlotte to fill her in on exactly how Strictly works, her daughter beams.
“You’re going on then, Mum?!”
“Shhh, Lottie. I may be. But nothing’s formally announced yet.”
Charlotte simply smiles and loads up the first of the many episodes and clips she’s got queued up for her mother to watch.
Bernie’s initial feelings of optimism have faded once again by the third video. It’s all very over the top and everyone appears to be so damn good. Bernie knows for sure she’ll never be anywhere near as coordinated as the couples on the screen. Beside her, Charlotte is giving her a running commentary on everything from the costumes to the music to the professionals. Bernie knew her daughter watched the show but had not realised that Charlotte was such a superfan. At least her appearing on the show will make her daughter happy, even if she does make an utter fool of herself when the world sees her dancing abilities (or lack thereof).
They’re watching some clips of Series 15 when Bernie finds herself captivated by a rumba. The professional dancer has the most entrancing hips, Bernie can’t keep her eyes off them. What’s really upsetting is that it’s obvious the celebrity partner has very little ability. All of the magic of the dance is the work of the professional. Bernie licks her lips as she follows the figure-of-eight motion of the dancer’s hips. Glancing at Charlotte, she aims to sound casual.
“So, ah, who’s that then?”
“That’s Robbie Medcalf, he plays a bobby in the ITV crime drama Nicked. God, I’d forgot how rubbish he was.”
“No, um, who’s the dancer?”
Charlotte gasps and turns to face her mother, a scandalised look on her face.
“Who’s THAT?! Mum, you’ve got to be kidding! That’s only Serena Campbell, the longest serving dancer on the show. She’s absolutely my favourite even though she’s never won. She’s always paired with rubbish celebs. Though actually she was rumoured to have fallen victim to the ‘Strictly curse’ with Robbie, heaven knows why. Serena Campbell is a thousand times better than Robbie Medcalf.”
Bernie looks at her daughter quizzically. She’s heard of the ‘Strictly curse’ and knows how much the press try to predict which partners will hit it off year on year. But surely Serena Campbell – gorgeous, curvaceous, talented Serena Campbell – can’t have been attracted to this overweight actor relying far too heavily on a beard and the fact he plays a man in uniform? Bernie’s only just become aware of Serena Campbell but she knows she deserves better than that.
Later, when Charlotte has gone home with promises to return and continue Bernie’s Strictly Come Dancing education later on in the week, Bernie opens up her laptop and searches for Serena Campbell. She ends up on the dancer’s Wikipedia page.
“Serena Campbell (née McKinnie) is a professional dancer, most well known for being the only professional dancer who has been in every series of the BBC programme Strictly Come Dancing. Campbell is the daughter of world-renowned ballet dancer Adrienne McKinnie and has been dancing since the age of 3.
Alongside dancing, Campbell has her own YouTube channel, Take It To The Grave, where she posts dance tutorials and behind-the-scenes clips of the shows she works on. Campbell has additionally released a workout DVD (Raw and Sweaty), a range of exercise clothing and her autobiography: Unadulterated, Vigorous Passion.
At the beginning of her career, Campbell was married to her dance-partner and fellow Strictly Come Dancing professional Edward Campbell. After it was revealed he had affairs with other professionals on the series, the pair divorced and all involved had their contracts terminated by the BBC, aside from Serena. The pair had one child, Elinor Campbell, who is an actor in the BBC medical drama Holby City. Campbell also has a nephew who is not in the public eye. During series 15 of Strictly Come Dancing, Campbell was reported to have fallen victim to the ‘Strictly curse’ with her partner Robbie Medcalf, an actor in the ITV police drama Nicked. The two have not been romantically linked since this period.
Campbell is openly bisexual and is one of the leading voices in the campaign to allow same-sex partnerships to feature on Strictly Come Dancing. She regularly releases videos, tweets and appears on television shows to advocate for same-sex partnerships on the show, alongside fellow professional dancer Dominic Copeland and one of the show’s judges, Fleur Fanshawe.’
The article goes on to list Serena’s achievements on the show alongside the rest of her dance career. Bernie’s mind is in overdrive as she absorbs all of the information. Serena – beautiful, sexy Serena – is one of the reasons that Bernie may very well end up with a female partner this year. Bernie gulps. What if she’s paired with Serena Campbell herself? She’s not sure she could cope. Serena is talented and deserves a partner who is not all gangly limbs, two left feet and bookish awkwardness.
Bernie suddenly finds herself fitting in medical tests and costume fittings and a whole host of other administrative tasks which are required by a show as huge as Strictly. She makes sure to stick to her weekly podcasting schedule. Letters and Numbers is her main focus and she will not let her fanbase down. She’s now amassed an audience in the millions and she’s humbled that so many want to listen to her talk about origins of words and mathematical theorems on a weekly basis. She finds out that her Strictly code name is Persimmon (all of the celebrities are given code names – this year it is fruits - to prevent their names being leaked beyond the Strictly executives). The closer it gets to summer, when the big reveal is going to be, the more nervous Bernie finds herself getting.
“And that is how to perfect your polka! Thanks so much for watching today’s video and don’t forget to subscribe if you want more where this has come from. And if you want to see more guest appearances from the dashing Raf here then send him lots of tweets begging him to come join me again sometime, I’ll put his handle in the description.” Serena winks to the camera before going to turn it off. She’s just finished recording a new video for her YouTube channel in a London dance studio she often uses for her videos. When the camera has stopped recording and all there’s left to do is go home and edit it, she turns and high-fives Raf who has joined her all day.
“Thanks so much Raf, I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“No, thank you Serena for letting me have a guest slot on your legendary YouTube channel.” Raf laughs, his soft Scottish brogue echoing in the empty studio.
“Well, the people need their fix of you whilst you’re not on their televisions on a weekly basis. Strictly Come Dancing’s Favourite Male Pro three years in a row and reigning Strictly champion.” Serena laughs, patting him on the back as they leave.
“You say that like you’re not the favourite pro of all time! Honestly, if you don’t win a series soon there’ll probably be riots.”
“Like there’s much chance of me winning with the partners I get stuck with every year. Ah well, I’ll just try and teach whoever I get to dance well enough to at least get me to Blackpool.”
As they part ways, Serena sighs longingly. She does really want to win the show one year. Hopefully this year will be her year.
Serena gets called in for a meeting with the Strictly executives in June. She sits before them and smiles, waiting to hear them run through the logistics of this series.
“So, we’re making some slight changes to the format this year.” There’s a pause. “And they’re changes which may affect you.”
Oh. Serena’s stomach sinks. Are they telling her she’s not going to have a professional partner? That she’s only going to be needed for group dances?
“This year for the first time we are going to introduce same-sex pairings into the mix.”
Serena has no idea what emotions cross her face as she digests the information but she ends on joy. Finally, all the campaigning has been successful.
“That’s wonderful news!”
“Yes, we are catering to all families. Are we right in assuming you would not mind being partnered with a woman?”
“Not at all, I’d thoroughly enjoy it.” Serena grins. “Any info on the celebs you can slip me?” She winks to soften the blow. The producers know her well enough by now to know she’s joking.
“Wait until the announcements. Only in the launch show will you know if you are to be partnered with a male or a female contestant. Thank you for coming today, Serena.”
The powers that be at Strictly contact Bernie to inform her that they’d like to announce her as the first celeb of this series of Strictly and they think it’d be novel to do it via a special Letters and Numbers podcast. Bernie agrees. She feels much more at home in front of her podcasting microphone than she ever would on a national television chat show or breakfast programme. She puts together the material for the podcast and records the announcement parts to the precise instructions sent to her by the BBC. She then signs over the content to the BBC Sounds producers who will withhold posting it until announcement day arrives.
@BBCSounds: This week our podcast of the week is #LettersAndNumbers with everyone’s favourite host @WordsWithWolfe – keep an eye out for a special podcast release at 3pm today! 👀
Bernie retweets the official BBC Sounds tweet and waits for the podcast to appear on the official BBC Sounds page for her podcasts. She’s a bag of nerves all day, even Charlotte coming around with prosecco can’t take her mind off the fact that after 3pm today her life will no longer be quiet. It will be filled with press calls and interviews and more dancing than Bernie’s ever done in her life. At 3pm, Charlotte plays the special edition of Letters and Numbers through her smart speaker.
“Hello and welcome to this very special edition of Letters and Numbers. I’m Bernie Wolfe and the theme of this podcast is dance. Is it cha-cha or cha-cha-cha? Do the origins of the name Viennese Waltz really lie in Austria or are the dance and the name from different places entirely? What is the maths behind the counts of 8 in dancing? And, most importantly, will I be able to show that I have rhythm when I participate in this year’s series of Strictly Come Dancing?”
Bernie doesn’t get to hear the rest of her very well-researched podcast episode as, beside her, her phone explodes with notifications.
@bbcstrictly: We had a word with Bernie and she’s ready to add some number to our rumba! Our first #Strictly celeb this year is @WordsWithWolfe!
Bernie retweets the announcement, pleased they’ve chosen a flattering photo of her to use as their introduction gif. Underneath, as she scrolls, she sees plenty of responses already and the enormity of the show she’s signed up for begins to sink in.
OMG @WordsWithWolfe doing @bbcstrictly I CANNOT
Having listened to #LettersAndNumbers for years I’ve just realised I have no clue what @WordsWithWolfe looks like now’s my chance @bbcstrictly
Tenner says she’s paired with @RafdiLucca and makes it to week three max
When within half an hour of her being announced, her phone becomes positively unusable thanks to the sheer volume of people suddenly following her on twitter and the notifications filling her screen continually, Bernie wonders if she’s already more than a little out of her depth.
Serena’s just coming out of the studio where she’s been rehearsing for a stage show she’s in with a couple of the other Strictly professionals when her phone rings. Noticing it’s Jason, she quickly finds a quiet spot and picks up the call.
“Jason? Is everything okay darling?” Serena is expecting something to have gone wrong which requires her assistance. What she is not expecting is the excited chatter which fills the line.
“Auntie Serena! Auntie Serena! Today there was a special edition of Letters and Numbers and in it Bernie announced that she’s going to be on Strictly Come Dancing this year. Bernie Wolfe, Auntie Serena! The actual Bernie Wolfe! She’s going to be on the show you work on and you’ll get to meet her! You’re so lucky Auntie Serena! Please can I come and meet her too? I’ll be ever so good and even though I don’t like the crowds and noise and heat of all the lights and things I’ll do it for Bernie Wolfe. Please?”
As her nephew pauses to take a breath Serena manages to get a word in.
“We may have very different schedules depending on who we are partnered with Jason but yes, I will try and arrange for you to meet her.”
Jason rings off after some more excited babbling and leaves Serena to her thoughts. Bernie Wolfe, now there’s a name Serena would never have picked as a potential Strictly contestant. Knowing how much the linguist and mathematician means to Jason, Serena vows that she’ll try and persuade the woman to give him a couple of minutes of her time. But that’s all. When it comes to Strictly Come Dancing, Serena has her eye on the glitterball trophy and she’s going to give every single second she’s got to train whichever celebrity she gets paired with so she can finally be crowned Strictly champion.
She just about manages to ignore the small voice in the back of her mind which reminds her that given the new changes, there’s every chance Serena could be partnered with Bernie Wolfe…
Bernie figures she may as well follow the BBC Strictly twitter page now that her participation is public knowledge. At least if she does that, she’ll be able to see who the rest of her fellow celebrity contestants are. That way she can work out just how badly she’s going to be showed up by the youth and energy she’s sure most of them will have.
It’s only two days later when she gets a text from Charlotte which simply reads ‘Just been listening to the Radio 1 announcement and Lofty?? The ACTUAL Lofty?? OMG Mum!!!’ that Bernie figures another celebrity must have been announced. She opens twitter and her suspicions are confirmed.
@bbcstrictly: From the boyband Technicolour to the colourful world of #Strictly – it’s only @LOFTY!
The photo is of a young man with curly hair and a beaming smile. And this is a young man who has experience at being in a boyband so doing choreographed numbers in front of adoring crowds. Bernie knows he’s going to be brilliant.
The announcement of Lofty as a contestant doesn’t surprise Serena in the slightest. He’s the stereotypical young pop star with millions of fans who will win the votes of the younger audience. He’s also exactly the sort of contestant who will get paired with one of the newer professionals. If she had to guess, Serena would say Lofty will get paired with Meena or Leah.
At this point, Charlotte has become Bernie’s personal organiser for Strictly. Bernie never knew her daughter was so enthusiastic about the show but it turns out she absolutely is.
“Mum, you need to watch BBC Breakfast tomorrow morning, rumour has it that’s when the next announcement is going to be!”
Bernie sighs but makes sure she has the breakfast television show on. She suspects her daughter will be right about this.
She sits through news bulletins and sports recaps and some random schoolchildren talking about their appearance on one of the numerous television talent contests Bernie has absolutely no interest in. The presenter, Ange Godard, turns to the camera and smiles.
“Coming up, we speak to TV supernanny Essie Harrison about just how to keep your family entertained in the evening. Stay right where you are!”
As the weather plays, Bernie’s phone pings with a notification from Charlotte:
‘Twenty quid says Essie Harrison is the next Strictly contestant.’
“And now in the studio we have Essie Harrison, TV’s favourite supernanny! And she’s here to tell us something which is strictly between us, isn’t it Essie?”
The small blonde woman next to Ange smiles and looks at the camera.
The two look at one another then directly down the camera then speak in perfect unison.
“We’re both going on Strictly!”
Bernie wonders how long it took them to rehearse saying that in time with one another.
She assesses both Essie and Ange and is less worried than she was when she saw Lofty announced. They both look younger than Bernie but Bernie isn’t sure they’re as athletic as she is. Whilst she’s not convinced she’ll be a good dancer, Bernie feels more than comfortable on a 5k run or in the gym. That should give her enough of an edge to perhaps be the third contestant to leave after the two on her screen. As these thoughts go through her head Bernie mentally checks herself. It turns out her competitive side is already coming out and she’s nowhere near a dance studio yet…
As she watches, her phone pings with two new twitter notifications.
@bbcstrictly: Will Essie earn a star for her chart or will her #Strictly routines put her on the naughty step? @DarlingEssie
@bbcstrictly: She’s used to early starts on @BBCBreakfast so Ange should have no trouble with the #Strictly rehearsal schedule! @BreakfastAnge
Serena reads the twitter announcements and is silently pleased. She doubts that either Ange or Essie will manage to make it to the final, so they’re at least less competition for her good self and whoever she gets paired with.
The next three contestants are all revealed on the popular daytime consumer investigative journalism show Know Your Onions as part of a fake special segment on creating your own property business. Bernie sees all the announcements on twitter.
@bbcstrictly: He knows his onions but will his samba be a scamba? Strutting his stuff on #Strictly this year, it’s @Fletch!
Bernie’s pleased Fletch is in the mix. He’s appeared on her podcast as a celebrity guest when the episode theme was Cockney rhyming slang. He’s down to earth and knows a lot of helpful money-saving tips. He should be amusing to chat to, at the very least.
@bbcstrictly: Here on #Strictly to put his money where his mouth is, it’s everyone’s favourite Swedish dragon and entrepreneur Henrik Hanssen! @HHanssen
Bernie’s rather surprised that Henrik Hanssen has agreed to do Strictly. He’s very reserved and a shrewd businessman who knows just what sort of projects to invest in. It’s why he’s so successful on Dragon’s Den. Bernie thinks Henrik may be a bit like she is: fairly reserved and completely new to the whole ballroom dancing game. Hopefully they’ll both do themselves proud.
@bbcstrictly: Here’s hoping her #Strictly routines are as fiery as her hair… It’s national treasure and property queen @MsJacNaylor!
Bernie looks at Jac’s promotional image with interest. She thinks she’s caught part of one of her shows before but hadn’t really acknowledged just how spectacular the woman’s cheekbones are. She reckons Jac will be the winner of the series, she has grace and perfection written all over her.
Jac has got Serena worried. Serena has met Jac Naylor once before at a television awards ceremony. In hindsight, she blames the Shiraz she’d been consuming from the free bar but as she looks at the promotional image now, her first impression is still that the property expert has fantastic cheekbones. Serena just hopes she won’t say the fact to the woman’s face again. Jac is graceful and glamourous and just a little bit scary. Serena thinks she’s going to be serious competition.
Bernie’s daughter once again gets wind of the next announcements and messages Bernie informing her to tune into The One Show that evening. When Bernie asks how her daughter is finding out this information Charlotte simply responds with ‘when you love a show this much, you become a super-sleuth. There’s no way all tonight’s guests would go on together if they weren’t doing Strictly.’
Sure enough, the episode airs and all three guests announce their participation. The Strictly twitter account also makes it official.
@bbcstrictly: He can pack a punch in the ring but will Ric’s #Strictly dance moves be a knockout? @ROCKYGRIFFIN
@bbcstrictly: We used to love him as a baddie in @bbceastenders and now @GuySelf is coming out of retirement just for #Strictly!
@bbcstrictly: Nicky McKendrick is one of the best new stand-ups on the scene and now she’s putting the ha ha has into our cha-cha-chas! Welcome to #Strictly @Nickayyy
Bernie assesses the new candidates. She knows who Ric is. Ric ‘Rocky’ Griffin was the country’s leading boxer for a number of years until his retirement. Now he makes his money by doing charity events and owning a chain of specialist boxing gyms. Bernie rather thinks he’ll be one to watch.
Guy Self on the other hand is the classic Strictly Come Dancing recruit. Aging actor from a well-known soap or drama who wants to remain in the limelight. Another Robbie Medcalf. Bernie hopes he doesn’t get paired with Serena because she knows Serena deserves much better (or, Bernie thinks hopefully, herself).
Nicky McKendrick seems very excited about appearing on Strictly during her interview on The One Show. She’s bubbly and funny and Bernie thinks that she’ll give the show absolutely everything she’s got. Nicky reminds Bernie a bit of Charlotte and how her daughter’s eyes light up at the mention of sequins and dancing and glitterballs. Perhaps it’s the motherly instinct in her, Bernie thinks, as she finds herself rooting for Nicky before they’ve even begun.
Serena groans. Ric ‘Rocky’ Griffin and Guy Self? She’s absolutely going to get partnered with one of those, they’re exactly the sort of celebrity she’s been given in all recent previous series. If someone forced her to pick one, she’d probably choose Ric over Guy – at least he has an athletic background.
The next announcement comes a few days later on BBC News at 10, where the nation’s favourite weatherman Sacha Levy announces that he’s going to be a contestant on this year’s series of Strictly Come Dancing. Bernie likes Sacha, she thinks he’s amusing. In fact, both of them doing Strictly at the same time would be a good chance to see if he’d like to appear on her podcast if she ever writes an episode of Letters and Numbers based on the weather.
@bbcstrictly: Welcome to the #Strictly family @SachaLevy, we can’t wait for you to bring the sunshine to our studio!
Whilst being older, Sacha Levy is known for his bright and bouncy personality. Therefore, he absolutely will not be paired up with Serena, the dancer thinks. Instead he’ll be paired with one of the younger dancers who will do cheesy dances to modern pop songs for as many weeks as he’s able to stay in the show. As she closes twitter, Serena sighs. She really hopes she gets paired with somebody who will want the trophy as much as she does.
‘Mum! I don’t know if you were listening to Radio 2 just then but they literally just announced another act!’
The text from Charlotte is accompanies swiftly by another.
‘I wasn’t expecting that! Frieda Petrenko doing Strictly? I am SHOOK!!’
The only reason Bernie knows what ‘shook’ means is because she recently did a podcast episode on modern slang. She’s very grateful for that right now as her daughter’s message would make no sense otherwise. That still doesn’t mean Bernie has any idea who Frieda Petrenko is. She opens the twitter app on her phone, hoping the announcement tweet will lend her more clues.
@bbcstrictly: From global catwalks to the #Strictly ballroom, we just know Frieda’s going to SLAY! @PETRENKO
Frieda Petrenko has a striking image. She’s a world-renowned model who has modelled for the likes of Chanel, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Versace. She also owns her own fashion house which specialises in high-end alternative clothing. It doesn’t matter who she is partnered with, Serena knows the Strictly costume department are going to be fighting over Frieda.
It’s on Good Morning Britain that the shy and awkward television historian Arthur Digby announces his participation in the dance show. Despite not knowing him, Bernie already feels a kinship with the young man. They’re both bookish types for whom the glittery world of Strictly seems like an entirely different planet. At least she won’t be alone in how overwhelming it all is, Bernie thinks.
@bbcstrictly: My, my! Napoleon expert and TV historian @ArthurDigby is the latest recruit to our #Strictly family!
If she’s honest, Arthur Digby reminds Serena of Jason. The maternal instinct in her immediately wants him to go far in the competition (though not as far as winning the glitterball, that’s hers and hers only).
When that short message appears on her phone, Bernie knows her daughter is about to tell her of another Strictly announcement.
‘I’D HEARD THE RUMOURS BUT NEVER THOUGHT THEY’D BE REAL’
The presence of all capitals tells Bernie her daughter is incredibly excited.
‘SHE LITERALLY JUST ANNOUNCED IT ON HER ROCK RADIO SHOW’
It’s a she then, this new celebrity. That narrows down the options Bernie has to choose from.
Bernie sucks in a breath when those texts come through. Roxanna MacMillan was the biggest rock star of the 80s, Bernie can well remember bopping along to the hits of Questionable Ethics, the rock band which Roxanna MacMillan fronted (and made famous after the infamous bust-up after which the former – much duller - singer John Gaskell left the band). If she’s being truly honest, Roxanna MacMillan was a younger Bernie’s secret crush. In hindsight, she’s not sure how anyone believed she was just a fan of rock music when she had that many pin-ups of the punky blonde singer.
@bbcstrictly: She may have @QuestionableEthics but let’s hope Roxanna MacMillan doesn’t have questionable dance moves! @Rockxana
Serena involuntarily licks her lips at the announcement photo of Roxanna MacMillan. Oh, the singer most definitely still has it. Serena is more than happy to admit that for a long time when she was younger, post-Gaskell era Questionable Ethics were her favourite band for reasons other than their discography. There’s something to be said for a rock band fronted by a confident woman with a powerful stare and striking haircut. Serena rather hopes she’s paired with the rock star.
The final contestant is announced on Lorraine. Football pundit Angus Farrell sits on the ever-cheerful Scotswoman’s famous sofa to tell her all about how thrilled he is to be going on Strictly. Bernie rolls her eyes. He seems spectacularly dull.
@bbcstrictly: Straight from #MatchOfTheDay, here’s our catch of the day, @AngusFarrellTV. Welcome to #Strictly!
Serena groans. Boring middle-aged male who probably has two left feet and no personality? That’s exactly the sort of person she gets partnered with. She resigns herself to a series spent with either Angus Farrell or Guy Self.
Once all the celebrities are announced, the BBC Strictly social media and webpages are updated with photos of all of the contestants. Bernie looks at the collection and mentally tries to work out where she’ll fit in with all of them. She takes a breath and tries to remind herself that it doesn’t matter where she places, she’s not entered this competition to be competitive. She’s entered to make her kids happy and challenge herself to something new. That’s all. Bernie nods resolutely to herself. That’s right. The only things she’s going to get out of her appearance on Strictly Come Dancing are some new dance skills and a sense of satisfaction at doing something out of her comfort zone. Nothing more. That’s not what Strictly is for.
Chapter 2: your touch is all that's on my mind
Bernie starts rehearsals and the launch show is filmed. But who will Bernie be partnered with?
Now that berena tbc is over (what an awesome event that was last weekend!), it's launch show time!
First of all, shoutout to the BBC who are having their first ever same-sex (all-female) couple on the show this year! And shoutout to spilled_notes, Wonko, batnbreakfast, fortytworedvines and Persiflage who have all made comments about how real life Strictly is making them excited for my fic. Extra special thanks to every single person who commented on chapter 1, it's made writing more of this a lot easier!
Further shoutout to ProfessorFlimflam who (with Wonko) said some very kind things about this fic. And finally, huge thanks to daisydoctor13 for helping me out when I was possibly medically unstable and singing Tainted Love on repeat.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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’
Launch Show Songs:
Guest Performance: Everything Has Changed – Taylor Swift ft. Ed Sheeran
Guest Performance: The Man – Taylor Swift
Guest Performance: Galway Girl – Ed Sheeran
Celebrity and Pros Launch Dance: Let’s Shut Up & Dance – Jason Derulo, LAY, NCT 127
Previous Series Winners’ Dance - Raf and Connie (Rumba): How Deep Is Your Love – Take That
Judges Performance: High Hopes – Panic! At The Disco
Pros Performance: Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae) - Silentó
Pros Performance: Airplanes – B.o.B feat. Hayley Williams
Chapter 3: show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Two weeks after the launch show airs, it's time for the first live show of this series of Strictly Come Dancing.
Thanks so much to everyone for your continued support and encouragement and comments. Once again, huge thanks to @spilled_notes who has been my constant source of knowledge. If any songs don't match a dance or any parts of a dance are inaccurate, they'll be the parts I wrote without consulting her. She's the expert and the best.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
After the broadcast, rehearsals seem to have a new layer of energy to them. The first live show is in two weeks and Bernie wants to make Serena proud. She also wants to defy the trolls online who have been making some rather horrendous comments towards them after people realised that there were two same-sex pairings in this series of Strictly. And, perhaps most of all, Bernie wants to make her children proud. She wants them to be able to watch and feel the joy she feels whenever they turn their hand to a new experience or skill.
Serena’s an amazing teacher and an even better choreographer. She’s brimming with ideas of steps and sequences and a whole manner of ways they can bring their song to life. Their song is one Bernie has heard of: Dance Me To The End Of Love by Leonard Cohen. It’s a classic song for them to dance to and Bernie’s more than pleased that the foxtrot doesn’t have to be too fast. The opening celeb dance in the launch show may have been rather up-tempo but she barely did anything in that and certainly wasn’t judged on it. In this foxtrot she feels a bit like a horse in a show jumping competition. Whenever Serena tries to incorporate a move which pushes Bernie too far out of her comfort zone, she baulks and the rest of the steps suffer. Serena is patient and adaptable. They focus on perfecting the simpler steps, the ones Bernie is happier with, so that they can give the smoothest performance possible.
They’re nearing the end of their rehearsals now; the dress rehearsal is only two days away and then it’s the live show. Bernie’s trying not to be too nervous but it’s a difficult task. There’s still a series of steps she’s fumbling over in her heeled dance shoes and she desperately wants to get them right. They spend the day in the studio repeating the same few bars again and again, Serena coaxing her through it gently.
“Look at me across the room now side step, side step, forward gently, arms around me and spin me underneath your arm… Then I flick my heel out and you reel me back in.”
Serena repeats the steps as a mantra all day until Bernie finally manages to lead her through the steps successfully on multiple run-throughs. They then rehearse the whole dance and miraculously, they manage that successfully too. Bernie beams.
“Thank you so much, Serena!”
“I’ve been led round a dancefloor by much worse than you in my time, Berenice.” Serena winks, then grabs her phone from her bag at the edge of the room. “Come on, squish in, twitter can have a selfie.”
Bernie grimaces down at her sweaty leggings and loose-fitting top then looks at Serena who seems effortlessly graceful in her rehearsal attire (from her own exercise range, of course). Sensing her hesitation, Serena touches her arm gently.
“You look beautiful, Berenice.” She pauses then grins wickedly. “And one thing you should know about me before we get too far into this competition is that I’m a horrible show-off on social media. Come on!”
Serena holds up her phone and snaps a photo of the two of them together before immediately uploading it to twitter.
@SWCampbell: Putting the foxy (or should that be Wolfey?) in foxtrot! Can’t wait for @bbcstrictly on Saturday @WordsWithWolfe
Bernie smiles at Serena, happy to see her so happy. She can only hope she manages the steps on the night.
When she discovers that she and Serena are the first couple to perform on the night, she panics. Bernie is regretting ever signing up to the dancing competition, it’s pushed her so far out of her comfort zone that she’s completely ill-at-ease. Being first means they’ll be forgettable and everyone else after them will show just how mediocre Bernie is at dancing. She’s sure the producers must hate her.
Serena, on the other hand, is thrilled at being the first to perform.
“We can get it out of the way then watch everyone else,” she enthuses. “The later in the running order we are, the higher your anxiety levels would be.”
Bernie can see that she’s got a point but is still uneasy about it. Even when she’s at home she finds herself running over the steps and holds in her flat, imagining the feeling of having Serena in her arms as she dances around the furniture.
The worst part of the dress rehearsal is that Serena is not by her side for all of it. Serena is briefly in the group opening number before she has to dash off to change into her outfit for their dance. Bernie wishes she had Serena by her side as she goes through hair and make-up and watches backstage as the pros do their number. She does take a long moment to appreciate Serena’s costume though. Serena is in the first part of the mashup, which is to Cheerleader (a song Bernie is only aware of because it was played non-stop in every shop and on every radio station in existence for one summer before disappearing into the back of people’s memories). Of course, that therefore means that the female pros are wearing glittery cheerleader outfits.
As her dance finishes, Serena dashes backstage and briefly winks at her as she passes. Bernie watches the other pros complete the mashup opener – in this section, they’re dancing to Come by Jain, which has a distinctly different feel than the first part. Nonetheless, it is spectacular.
Faster than she’d have expected, Serena is beside her and Bernie feels a sense of calm wash over her.
“You’re going to be brilliant, Berenice,” the dancer whispers as they’re introduced first in the line-up of couples walking on for the first time.
After the introductory parade of all the couples, it is soon time for their dance and they go to take their places.
They’re starting at opposite ends of the studio, each on one of the sweeping staircases which make up the Strictly set. As the camera crew line up the shot, Bernie meets Serena’s eyes and smiles softly. They’re going to be fine.
The Strictly band play the opening bars of the song and Bernie looks at the woman opposite her, the woman who for the last two weeks has helped Bernie to realise what she can do and coax her into trying some moves which are beyond what Bernie would have thought possible. The rest of the studio, the lights and the crowds and the judges, they all disappear. Suddenly, they’re back in rehearsals and Bernie only has eyes for one woman.
She descends the staircase and steps across the floor towards Serena, side by side swishing their skirts as they face the cameras. As the singing starts, Bernie takes Serena in her arms and they begin to move across the whole space of the floor, fluidly rising and falling and swinging outwards to gaze at one another. Bernie can’t take her eyes from Serena, is taking all of her courage to complete this dance from the woman she’s dancing with.
She even manages the move which she’d been struggling with for so long and when soon after she pulls Serena close to her for their series of spins Bernie cannot help but smile brightly. She’s done it, she’s successfully managed to ballroom dance with a woman in front of the entire nation and now here they are, their skirts swirling and blending as one being as they finish the dance together.
When they’re done, Serena pulls her forward and kisses her on the cheek.
“I’m so proud of you, Berenice.”
The studio lights shine in her eyes and as Bernie looks back at her smilingly, her heart does a little skip in her chest.
Bernie doesn’t really pay attention to the remainder of the dress rehearsal. Beside her she can hear Serena muttering a running commentary of everything from the songs to the steps to the shoes the contestants are wearing. Bernie’s too preoccupied. Her mind is suddenly clearer and she’s a little more confident in herself. Despite being a podcast host with hundreds of thousands of fans, Bernie has never been confident. For all her life, she’s known she was different to others in a way which society and her parents would disapprove of so she worked hard to become as average as possible so as not to draw attention to herself. Yes, she excelled in school and she is more than happy to speak to large audiences about words or numbers; she knows she knows her stuff in that area. It’s safe. It’s what’s expected. But since she started embracing her sexual orientation, she’d found herself trying to hide again. Alex, the woman from Yorkshire with the soft voice and cropped hair, the woman Bernie had thought trustworthy, had sold her story to the tabloids and with it had smashed through all of the walls Bernie had built. Bernie Wolfe had found herself centre stage with a wholly different audience. An audience Bernie did not know how to handle. But now, with the help of Serena, Bernie Wolfe has shown the world that there is absolutely nothing wrong about wanting to hold a woman close and dance with her to romantic music. Bernie Wolfe, with the help of Serena, has shown the world that she matters. And that’s quite the feeling.
Charlotte calls Bernie later that evening to ask all about the dress rehearsal. Bernie tells her that it went better than she expected it too and that she’s actually sort of looking forward to the live show. Charlotte cheers down the phone and tells her she and Cam are having a viewing party.
“We’re supporting you every step of the way Mum!”
Bernie carries those words with her all the way into the live show.
Just before she and Serena walk down the steps as part of the introduction of couples, Bernie feels her throat tighten. She’s about to walk arm in arm with a woman down the Strictly staircase in front of a live television audience of millions. It’s a far cry from anything she could ever have imagined herself doing as a scared and confused teenager. Sensing her apprehension, Serena simply smiles up at her and links their arms tighter as the Strictly announcer declares it’s their turn to enter the studio.
“Letters and Numbers host Bernie Wolfe, and her partner Serena Campbell.”
The cheers which explode in the studio can only be attributed to Serena’s large fanbase. The feelings which explode inside Bernie’s chest can only be attributed to how right it feels to have someone introduce her with “her partner Serena Campbell.”
Bernie is glad for the dress rehearsal as it means that when the live show happens, she can forget it is being broadcast to millions of people. Instead she focuses on the grace of her steps, the fluidity of her movements, and how beautiful Serena looks in her dress. The costume department have excelled, even Bernie can see that. The podcaster’s dress has a black bodice and white skirt; and as she spins and it flares out the black lining underneath the white skirt becomes apparent. Serena’s dress is the exact opposite: white bodice, black skirt with a white lining. Bernie hasn’t seen what it looks like on camera but she knows that the shots they’re aiming for will be beautiful, especially at the end when they hold each other and spin around the dance floor. Bernie’s sure that the blending of the skirts and will frame their bodies in a beautiful monochrome masterpiece. If it looks as good as she’s imagining it will, Bernie’s considering setting a still from it as the wallpaper on her laptop.
It is only when their dance is over that Bernie realises that she’s going to be scored. She pulls Serena to her as they work towards the judges, trying to leech as much confidence as she can from her partner.
Tess smiles at them and asks how they feel. Bernie ducks her eyes behind her fringe and looks at Serena.
“A thousand times better than I would have done if she wasn’t by my side.”
Tess and some of the crowd make a collective “aww” noise and Bernie tenses a little. She never intended to say anything so saccharine but nonetheless, it’s true. Beside her, Serena smiles softly.
“You did it all yourself, Berenice. You put in all that work to do that.”
“You certainly did, both of you. Now, what did our judges think?” Tess turns towards the panel and Bernie’s stomach twists itself in knots.
“As far as foxtrots go it wasn’t all that adventurous,” Imelda begins. Bernie’s thinks she’s going to be sick. “However, you were clearly nervous about it which is understandable; it’s week one, and I think Serena probably didn’t want to overwhelm you.” Beside her, Serena nods. “I think, as an opening to the show, it was a very special dance. Thank you, ladies.”
Fleur is next and as soon as she’s asked to speak, she’s stood leaning across her desk, blowing kisses to Serena.
“Ladies, you were beautiful!” Fleur punctuates her remark with an over the top chef’s kiss. Bernie laughs and Serena beams. “Serena darling you’ve finally got a woman on your arm and are giving the world some serious girl power! In future I’d like to see it have more fire but as far as first dances go, it was a solid start. Don’t you agree folks?” Fleur turns to the audience and they all cheer, clearly adoring the flamboyant fun-sized judge. Bernie smiles, feeling a little more reassured that it wasn’t completely disastrous.
Next, it’s Tristan’s turn to comment.
“I found it boring.” He looks down at his paperwork as the crowd boos him. Without thinking, Bernie puts her arm on Serena’s back, needing to touch her to ground herself against the onslaught she can feel is coming. Tristan continues. “It was simple, it was basic and it was exactly the sort of first dance you could picture at any sort of ballroom event. You held yourself well and you did complete the moves to a good standard but it simply wasn’t engaging.” Bernie presses her hand closer into Serena’s back, trying to convey how sorry she is that she’s let her partner down with her inability to do any complex moves.
Finally, Tess invites Abigail to speak.
“Am I going to be the only one who mentions those DRESSES?!” Abigail leans forward onto the judges’ table and gestures at their gowns. “The steps may have been basic but when you came together and they blended? That was theatre!” Serena claps at the comment and Bernie joins her. “You’ve got the basics and you’ve got the chemistry. If you can make your dances that bit jazzier then you guys could be serious competition!” Bernie beams at Abigail, deciding she likes her and Fleur best. Tess thanks the judges and then Bernie and Serena are heading off up to the green room to join Claudia for some small talk.
“Bernie! What amazing comments,” Claudia’s fringe wiggles as she talks and Bernie finds it a welcome distraction from her nerves.
“They were okay, weren’t they?” Bernie acknowledges.
“They were! Serena, how does it feel after campaigning for so long to finally be in a same-sex Strictly partnership?”
“It feels like a huge moment in the show’s history. And what a woman to make history with,” Serena wraps her arms around Bernie’s waist. “She’s so, so strong and hard-working. I believe in her.”
Claudia smiles at them and then turns to the camera, announcing the scores are in. Bernie pulls Serena close to her side.
Serena, Bernie and the crowd gasp. That’s a high score from the notoriously cruel judge in week one.
Bernie can’t believe her ears. Seven is an amazing score, higher than she could have hoped.
Seven from the head judge too?! Bernie grins, pleased she’s done a good job.
“Eight!” The red-head brandishes her paddle with flair and Serena cheers, pulling Bernie into a hug.
“29! What a debut score, surely that’s a number you’re happy with, Bernie?”
“I’m thrilled, honestly. Thank you.”
Bernie, a woman who rarely smiles, cannot stop doing just that as she and Serena go to join the other celebrities to watch the rest of the show.
Following Bernie and Serena, Nicky and Ollie do a cha-cha-cha to Icona Pop and Charli XCX’s hit song I Love It. Bernie loves it. It’s fast paced and joyful and filled with enthusiasm. Bernie is pretty sure that she did not smile as much in her dance as Nicky is during hers. Nicky McKendrick is a woman of heart and she’s put everything she’s got into this performance, it’s clear to see.
Bernie turns to Serena and whispers as much to her from their viewing platform. Serena makes a noncommittal noise.
“It’s fun, yes, but the footwork is all wrong and her timing is off. Ollie’s not helping her reach her full potential.”
Bernie thinks that’s a bit harsh but when the judges repeat everything Serena has said and only give it a combined score of 20, Bernie decides to defer to Serena from now on when it comes to judging dances.
Fletch and Morven follow with a Viennese waltz to the song Suffer by Charlie Puth. Serena watches with pride as Morven’s choreography plays out across the dancefloor. She’ll always have a soft spot for the young dancer who she took under her wing when she first joined the show. Fletch has good posture, Serena notes, and is cheeky enough that he can work the cameras. Serena’s still glad that she got Bernie. She glances at the woman beside her. Bernie, her Berenice, who has done so well already and Serena knows they can go far together. The podcast host must feel Serena’s eyes on her as she turns and meets her gaze. They stay looking at one another until it’s time for them to go and greet Fletch and Morven with the rest of the contestants.
Bernie finds she rather enjoys watching the other couples. Arthur and Meena’s quickstep is passable, as is Roxanna and Matteo’s Viennese waltz. Bernie thinks that perhaps Roxanna and Matteo haven’t got on as well as some of the other couples though, as there are times when it is stilted and awkward, which is reflected in their final score of 17.
Their first major competition, as far as Serena is concerned, are Jac and Derwood. The pair are doing a jive to Fats Domino’s Be My Guest and whilst it is not technically perfect, Jac hasn’t been afraid to embrace Derwood’s bold choreography so the overall effect is mesmerising. It’s a perfect show, filled with humour and talent and Serena vows to push herself and Berenice so that when it is their turn to do a jive, they do better than this one. When Jac and Derwood score 26, Serena cannot help but breathe a sigh of relief. It’s a respectable first score but clearly she and Bernie were just that bit more spectacular.
Following Jac and Derwood is Frieda and Antoine. Bernie is mesmerised. Whilst Jac and Derwood were fast-paced and joyful, Frieda and Antoine are the opposite but still equally as talented. Their Viennese waltz to Maria Mena’s Am I Supposed To Apologize? is filled with emotion and grace. Frieda and Antoine have clearly got on with one another; they complement one another perfectly. The costume department have also embraced having such an imposing figure as the model Frieda Petrenko at their disposal. Her outfit is true to her gothic style but has a level of elegance to it which Bernie thinks others would struggle to pull off. Bernie thinks it may have been the best dance of the night so far and isn’t surprised when the judges shower it with praise.
Serena feels a little sorry for Sacha and Jasmine. After following the likes of Jac and Frieda who were exuding quality, it is obvious that their samba is not making the mark. Though it has to be said that the weatherman is clearly having the time of his life shimmying along to the Chaka Khan classic Ain’t Nobody, which is nice to see. The audience are still loving it despite the lack of technical skill, the classic song helping to put them in a good mood. Serena is still inordinately glad that she wasn’t paired with the bumbling weatherman. Once again, she thanks the powers that be for giving her a chance with Bernie.
The only other foxtrot of the night comes a few dances later. Serena is a little nervous since it’s Essie and Raf doing it. Serena suspects they’ll be tough competition; Raf’s a great dancer, he won last series for heaven’s sake! Serena is desperately proud of Bernie and their foxtrot though and she’s always been fiercely competitive. She’d love to have the highest scoring dance on opening night; that’s something she’s never had before.
Essie and Raf foxtrot to Harry Connick Jr’s A Wink and a Smile. It’s everything Serena and the Strictly fans would expect from Raf. They’re in period costumes and Raf is playing the role of a cheeky chappie in a piano bar. Serena’s a bit glad that this live show doesn’t have a public vote as she knows that housewives up and down the country would vote for Raf’s wink and smile at the camera alone. To her credit, Essie isn’t a bad dancer. Raf’s also persuaded her to try some of the more complex steps which Bernie shied away from. It’s a solid effort and Serena thinks it might score similarly to her and Bernie’s effort. When the judges give it a combined score of 27, Raf whoops and spins Essie round. Serena cheers with him, it’s certainly a respectable score, up there with Frieda and Antoine. It also means that the judges liked she and Bernie better. It gives her a tremendous feeling of hope.
Samba has definitely not got off to a good start this series, Bernie thinks. The penultimate performance of the night is a samba from Guy Self and Donna. Similarly to Sacha and Jasmine, this samba is also done to a classic song (Earth Wind & Fire’s Fantasy). Also similarly to Sacha and Jasmine, the dance is absolutely excruciating to watch. Bernie doesn’t know much about dance but even she can see that the dance is out of time. At least Sacha looked like he was enjoying his moment on the dance floor. Guy Self looks like the sequins on his trousers are itching him in uncomfortable places. Even Donna’s megawatt smile and over the top kicks can’t really save the dance from a grilling from the judges. When Guy and Donna score the same as Sacha and Jasmine, Bernie feels a little sad on behalf of Sacha. He was at least enjoying his performance. Compared to the weatherman’s sunny smile, the retired soap actor looks like he’d rather have a go at brain surgery than spend a minute longer on Strictly.
The final dance of the night is Lofty and Dom’s quickstep. Bernie wonders if it was a tactical move by the production team to open and close with the same-sex couples. Bernie also acknowledges that Serena was right. If they’d have performed last, she’d have been much more nervous having seen the likes of Jac and Frieda perform.
Lofty can dance and he can dance well, that much is immediately clear. He and Dom move around the floor to Tape Five’s blues number A Cool Cat In Town with some pace, their tail coats flapping as they step in synchronisation. Serena scrutinises it to the best of her ability. Whereas she and Bernie have played it safe but executed it well, Dom and Lofty have gone for broke in their opening dance. There are some steps in there which Serena would never suggest to a beginner. That being said, Lofty’s background in performance clearly serves him well as he does manage to carry off a lot of them with flair. Sometimes, Serena thinks, it doesn’t matter if you can’t get the steps right as long as you can sell your performance with a smile. Lofty does exactly that.
When it comes to the judging, Serena is the most nervous about Lofty and Dom’s.
Bernie turns to her, her mental maths having done the sum immediately.
“28! Does that mean… We got the highest?”
“It does Berenice, it does!” Serena beams, hugging her partner close. What a perfect ending to the first week! Serena hopes this score will give Bernie the boost she needs to be more adventurous for their next dances.
Serena snaps a selfie of them both after the broadcast finishes and uploads it to her twitter page.
@SWCampbell: Isn’t she fantastic??? Hope your first time was as special for you as it was for me @WordsWithWolfe 😉
Bernie laughs when she sees it and hopes that all the make-up she has on hides her blush as the thought of having a first time with Serena. She retweets it and adds her own comment.
@WordsWithWolfe: I have a good teacher. Thank you @SWCampbell
As soon as she’s changed, Bernie calls Charlotte, hopes she’s still with Cam. Her daughter picks up on the third ring.
“Mum you were INCREDIBLE!” Charlotte yells down the phone. Bernie thinks her daughter may be a little tipsy. “And your tweet! You and Serena are basically this year’s power couple already!”
Bernie laughs and talks some more with her daughter before heading home, exhausted.
She wakes late on Sunday morning to a text from Serena.
‘Jason says he’s very proud of us. I’m proud of you too, Berenice x’
The words are a balm to Bernie’s soul. She feels herself glowing inside. Serena is proud of her and that’s the best feeling in the world.
Whilst having her breakfast, she scrolls through her twitter notifications. There’s a lot more tweets than she was expecting, a large proportion of which are very positive.
Whoever designed Bernie and Serena’s dresses needs a raise #Strictly @bbcstrictly @WordsWithWolfe @SWCampbell
Can you believe @SWCampbell got her first ever opening show high score? She and @WordsWithWolfe are QUEENS #Strictly
I’ve always loved #LettersAndNumbers but never realised @WordsWithWolfe has a figure as sexy her voice! She and @SWCampbell are stunning together #Strictly
Bernie likes some of the tweets and feels a sense of joy that other people are supporting her in this adventure.
However, there’s always going to be hatred and some of the tweets are less then complimentary.
Notice how the same-sex couples got the highest scores? #Strictly is rigged
Jac and Frieda were clearly the better dancers and if they’d been paired with women they’d have got the highest scores too, you can bet on it #Strictly #fix
Bernie hadn’t really noticed that; she’d just seen all the couples as couples, their genders not a relevant point. But now she wonders if that’s true, if the judges were told to be deliberately nice to she and Serena to support the show’s new venture into same-sex couples. She sends a text to Serena, voicing her concerns. Serena calls her back immediately.
“Ignore the bastards on twitter, Berenice. There’ll always be trolls out there. We got that score because we deserved it, as did Lofty and Dom. Look up the full scoreboard online and see how close they were. There’s nothing in it. Next week Jac or Frieda or even Sacha could come top. It’s all down to each dance. Don’t listen to them. Block them, mute them, don’t scroll through your notifications, whatever works for you. We’ll focus on giving them the best dances we can to prove them wrong, okay?”
“Okay.” Bernie smiles down the line, her anxieties lessened. Serena’s right. Their dance was good. The judges were fair. There’s everything to play for.
Just to be certain, Bernie watches their foxtrot on YouTube and it takes her breath away just how beautiful they looked together. Bernie smiles at the memories of having Serena in her arms, their monochrome skirts swirling around them.
She then looks up the week one score table and delights at seeing herself at the top with Serena.
- Bernie and Serena – Foxtrot – Dance Me to the End of Love – 29
- Lofty and Dom – Quickstep – Cool Cat In Town – 28
- Frieda and Antoine – Viennese Waltz – Am I Supposed To Apologize? – 27
- Essie and Raf – Foxtrot – A Wink and a Smile - 27
- Jac and Derwood – Jive – Be My Guest – 26
- Ange and Xavier – Waltz – Game of Thrones Theme - 25
- Fletch and Morven – Viennese Waltz – Suffer - 24
- Arthur and Meena – Quickstep – Home – 22
- Nicky and Oliver – Cha-Cha-Cha – I Love It – 20
- Henrik and Mo – Jive – Goody Two Shoes - 18
- Ric and Zosia – Tango – Bad - 18
- Roxanna and Matteo – Viennese Waltz – Burn – 17
- Angus and Leah – Waltz – A True True Love - 17
- Sacha and Jasmine – Samba – Ain’t Nobody – 12
- Guy and Donna – Samba – Fantasy – 12
Seeing all the performances listed does also highlight just how right Serena is. It’s very close, there’s still all the play for.
Bernie looks at the scores once more and vows that she will do all she can to keep Serena’s name at the top of that leader board for as long as possible. Serena is an amazing dancer who deserves to be recognised for all she has given to the show. The judges may have called her dance simple this week but Bernie decides that she’s now going to go into rehearsals with a fresh mindset. She, Bernie Wolfe, will rise to the challenge. She will make Serena as proud as she possibly can.
Week 1 Running Order and Songs:
Pros Performance: Cheerleader - OMI
Pros Performance: Come - JAIN
Bernie and Serena (Foxtrot): Dance Me to the End of Love – Leonard Cohen
Nicky and Oliver (Cha-Cha-Cha): I Love It – Icona Pop feat. Charli XCX
Fletch and Morven (Viennese Waltz): Suffer – Charlie Puth
Arthur and Meena (Quickstep): Home – Tim McGraw
Roxanna and Matteo (Viennese Waltz): Burn – Phillipa Soo
Jac and Derwood (Jive): Be My Guest – Fats Domino
Frieda and Antoine (Viennese Waltz): Am I Supposed To Apologize? – Maria Mena
Sacha and Jasmine (Samba): Ain’t Nobody – Chaka Khan
Ange and Xavier (Waltz): Opening Theme – Game of Thrones
Henrik and Mo (Jive): Goody Two Shoes – Adam Ant
Essie and Raf (Foxtrot): A Wink and a Smile – Harry Connick, Jr.
Ric and Zosia (Tango): Bad – Michael Jackson
Angus and Leah (Waltz): A True True Love – Bobby Darin
Guy and Donna (Samba): Fantasy – Earth, Wind & Fire
Lofty and Dom (Quickstep): Cool Cat in Town – Tape Five
Chapter 4: but one look and that was it
Week 2 brings with it a new dance and new challenges. But can Bernie overcome them and help she and Serena to score as highly as last week?
It's week 2!
Thanks once again to everyone who has been so lovely about this fic so far, it's what has been keeping me going.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
This week’s dance is a salsa. Bernie’s already tempted to head to Heathrow and board a flight to literally anywhere else in the world. Perhaps she could go on a tour around Africa. The BBC bosses would never know where she was at any given time then. They could just pick an African country at random and tell the British public that’s where she was whenever they felt it necessary to do so. It certainly seems preferable to doing a salsa on live television right now.
Rehearsals for the salsa are tougher than the ones for their foxtrot. There’s only a week until the next live show so Bernie needs to learn to salsa (and salsa well) quickly. It’s a good job she’s got Serena motivating her.
Bernie’s leading again for the bulk of this dance, something she’s happy about. She’s also trying to be braver and is focusing on mastering the steps which Serena is asking her to do. Bernie’s just getting comfortable when Serena turns to her and smiled wickedly.
“How are your muscles, Berenice? Think you could manage a lift?”
Bernie’s first thought is to flee but instead she looks at Serena and tries to assess if there’s any way she could pick this woman up gracefully.
Serena laughs at her response.
“Always the eloquent one, eh, Berenice? For a supposed woman of words you seem to be at a loss for them often enough.” She winks to show she’s teasing. “Look, I’ll show you what I mean and then we can try it, okay?”
Serena goes through the move with one of the choreographers they have with them, a young man named Lee who is apparently a professional salsa instructor (who even knew that was a job? Bernie thinks. What a learning experience Strictly is for her.) Bernie watches as he places his arms around Serena’s waist then lifts her above his shoulders, Serena folding one leg under herself and extending the other outwards. Bernie’s throat goes dry as she gazes at the long expanse of toned leg on display to her, defined through the clinging material of Serena’s workout clothes. Bernie shakes her head to clear the path her thoughts are going down and tries to focus on the technical details of the dance move rather than how splendid Serena’s leg looks in her Lycra rehearsal leggings. Serena and Lee demonstrate the move a couple more times until Bernie decides she’s ready to give it a go. Serena beams.
The lift is difficult. On the first attempt Bernie barely gets Serena anywhere off the ground.
“You’re trying to pick me up as if I’m a baby, not a woman, Berenice,” the dancer laughs, then drops her voice. “Treat me like a lady, Berenice. Not too rough, now.” She pauses, thoughtfully. “Not the first time, anyway.”
Bernie clears all inappropriate thoughts from her mind just long enough to have Lee help her through the move. Eventually, Lee steps back and Bernie manages the lift with a suitable level of skill. Serena whoops with joy.
“Perfect, Berenice! Now let’s focus on fitting it in with the rest of the choreography.”
Bernie finds that under Serena’s tuition she becomes more confident in her dancing and is able to act a bit more relaxed in rehearsals. It’s a sunny day, a rarity at this time of the year, and Bernie feels a sense of complete happiness as she spins Serena round the studio, her legs now naturally moving in the fast-fast-slow-fast-fast salsa rhythm. Bernie’s getting a greater appreciation for how dance uses numbers, how different dances need different counts, how it’s the numbers which guide the dancers through the moves. In her head as she moves she’s already formulating a special episode of Letters and Numbers dedicated to dance counts.
They’ve just finished the routine and for the first time all week, Bernie feels confident. She didn’t put a foot wrong and now they can work on refining it and making it less awkward and more entertaining for the viewer. In a rare moment of spontaneity, Bernie drops to her knees and skids across the room into the rectangle of sunlight spilling onto the floor from the window at the end of the room. Laughter bubbles up inside her chest and she falls back into the sun, feeling warm and joyous in a way she never has before.
Serena looks at Bernie, sprawled backwards on the floor in a patch of golden sunlight, her hair fanned around her head like a halo in a religious painting. The dancer quickly grabs her phone from the side of the room and snaps a photo, unable to stop herself from laughing alongside her companion. Bernie’s eyes snap open at the sound of the phone camera shutter going off and she looks at her bemusedly. Serena grins and opens the twitter app on her phone.
@SWCampbell: Rehearsals going well… @WordsWithWolfe appears to have been floored by my talents 😉
Bernie knows that Serena is going to tweet the photo and finds she doesn’t care. She’s happy in a way she never thought she’d be when she signed up to the dancing show. Serena puts her phone away and Bernie sits up on the floor.
“Any chance we can change the ending of our dance? I think I’d rather like to slide across the ballroom floor.”
She’s only half joking. Serena raises an eyebrow in response.
“If you did that this week you wouldn’t be able to use your knees for the foreseeable future. And that would be a crying shame; I’m growing rather fond of your legs. We’re both in very short dresses, remember?”
Bernie freezes. The costume revelation making her forget the dancer just complimented her legs.
“Are we? I, uh, I assumed I’d be in trousers since I’m, you know, um, leading.”
“No, why should whoever’s leading wear trousers? We both wore gowns last week. And this week we’re both in short dresses. What a treat for the viewers, eh?” Serena’s more than comfortable in short frocks; in her profession she wears enough of them. Bernie is evidently not though and Serena goes to sit with her on the floor in the patch of sunlight.
“Does wearing a short dress worry you Bernie? You looked lovely in the one you had for the launch show.”
Serena tries not to dwell too much on just how lovely she thought Bernie looked in that dress. Bernie’s very attractive but Serena can’t afford to get distracted by her partner’s looks; she’s got a competition to win.
“Well, yes. But I wasn’t properly dancing in the launch show, it was a big group piece. Now I’ve got to wear it and get judged. My legs are too gangly.” The woman pouts down at her legs, currently covered by the leggings she wears to rehearsals.
“You’ve got lovely legs, Berenice.” Serena pauses. “But if it’d make you feel better, why don’t you practise getting used to your legs being on display at home?”
Bernie looks at her quizzically.
“What do you mean?”
“Where a short dress or skirt around the house, where nobody can see you. Just get used to the feeling of your legs being on display. It’ll make it less alien during the show.”
Bernie contemplates a moment then looks at Serena sheepishly through her fringe.
“I’m, uh, I’m not actually sure that I own a short dress or skirt.”
Serena laughs and pats Bernie on the arm.
“Do it in your underwear then,” she pauses slightly the leans forward, her voice dropping to a low husk “and send me a video if you like.” Winking mischievously, Serena hops up and holds her hands out to Bernie, who sits looking poleaxed on the floor. “Come on, Berenice, we have a salsa to rehearse.”
Bernie follows Serena’s advice. She actually finds it’s quite liberating, dancing around her empty flat in her underwear. It makes her feel less self-conscious. She’s started playing the song they’ll be dancing to on repeat so that she can go through the steps as best she can without Serena there. It’s not perfect, she’s having to play the original Ke$ha version of the song rather than the shorter rework of it that they’re dancing to (all songs get adapted for the Strictly band). It’s good enough though.
It’s Thursday afternoon. Bernie has recorded the next episode of Letters and Numbers and her rehearsals are going well. She’s actually discovering that she prefers the salsa over the foxtrot; the fast pace of it means she needs to be on the ball and focus on what she’s doing at every single moment - it makes her a better dancer as a result. In a good mood, she’s wearing just a ratty old and shrunken t-shirt with her briefs and is dancing round the kitchen as she makes herself a cup of tea. She’s decided she likes the song. She had never heard of it before it was chosen for their salsa but actually, Bernie thinks she might listen to some of Ke$ha’s other music.
She’s just putting the milk back into the fridge, moving across the tiled floor as if she’s on the dance floor but singing along tunelessly to the music as she goes.
“Just wanna dance with you, just wanna dance with you, just wanna dance with you, oh, oh oh-”
Bernie looks at the bottle of milk which is now on the floor, having slipped from her grasp at the exclamation from her son. She hastily picks it up then gestures towards her bedroom and looks back at where both of her children are stood in the doorway, apparently frozen to the spot with horror.
“I’ll, uh. I’ll just go and pop some trousers on.”
Bernie returns in some tartan pyjama bottoms and finds her children have sat down on her sofa and poured themselves some whisky from her not-so-secret stash. They’ve also turned the music off. She sits down and looks at them. Charlotte breaks the silence.
“What, pray tell, was THAT?”
Bernie flushes and looks at anything but her children.
“It was Serena’s idea.” Opposite her, Cam and Charlie raise their eyebrows. “She um, said it’d be a good idea to get used to dancing with my legs exposed so I don’t feel like an idiot when I’ve got my salsa dress on.”
“Is that so? Are you sure we won’t find her hiding in a wardrobe or something in an equal state of undress?” Cam grins wickedly.
Bernie blushes bright red at the thought.
“Cameron! We, um, our relationship is totally professional.” Bernie is aghast at the thought that her children might think she’s being anything other than friendly with her professional dance partner. Charlotte snorts into her drink.
“Yeah, right Mum. Tell us that again in 12 weeks.”
Bernie spends the remainder of the evening laughing and joking with her children, who had decided to pay her a surprise visit to wish her luck for the weekend. As they leave, she hugs them goodbye.
“Thank you, both of you.” She hopes they understand just how much they mean to her.
“Don’t worry about it, Mum,” Cam says, pulling her into a hug. “Give our love to Serena, or let her out of her hiding place in there so we can tell her ourselves.”
He dashes out of the way as Bernie goes to affectionately cuff him round the shoulders. As she listens to her children laughing their way down the stairwell, she shuts her door and smiles. She’s actually quite excited about this week’s live show.
Friday arrives and Bernie finds herself once again at Elstree Studios ready for the dress rehearsal. She’s got a long time in hair and makeup this week, where they cover her in fake tan and apply false nails and tease her hair into waves about her shoulders before covering her in hairspray to keep them in place.
She’s sat in a dressing gown mentally going through her moves when Serena sits next to her. Serena’s got darker, smokier makeup on which makes her eyes seem to glitter. Her short hair has also been teased and sprayed so it looks stylishly rumpled, as if someone has been running their hands through it. Bernie rather wishes she could run her hands through it.
“How are you doing, Berenice?” Serena asks gently, aware that the podcast host can be overwhelmed with how enormous the production is on a show like Strictly Come Dancing.
“Okay. I look like a tangerine though,” Bernie scowls and gestures at her orange-tinted skin. Serena laughs and reaches out to tap Bernie’s glittery nails.
“These are nice.”
“Not very practical though.” The words slip from Bernie’s mouth before she can stop them and she hopes she has enough fake tan on her face to cover her blushes. Serena raises an eyebrow wickedly.
“Oh really, Berenice? I can’t think why long pointy nails would be undesirable.”
“It’s a good job I’m single,” Bernie mutters to herself and Serena laughs some more.
“I’d still recommend taking them off before you have some quality alone time.”
With a final wink and cackle, she disappears to get her costume on for the pros’ opening dance. Bernie pulls herself out of the chair and goes to find where her costume is waiting to be put on.
Bernie’s not really heard anything about the dance the pros are doing this week. Serena hasn’t mentioned it because they’ve been so focused on their own salsa. She’s excited to see it though.
The dance is to a song virtually nobody has heard of, which is a bit bold. Surely it’d be better to use music from Elton John or a boyband or some other well-known artist?
The lights in the studio are red and black and the dancers all take their positions. Bernie gulps. They’re all in black. Black leather. Black lace. Black net. Bernie wonders if whoever designed the dance has remembered that Strictly is a family show. They’ve not even started and she can see the Ofcom complaints and tabloid headlines already.
There’s a screen backstage showing what the cameras are filming so Bernie decides to watch that; it’ll give her a better view, anyway.
The music starts, a dark beat (which, at a later date, Charlotte will inform her is traditional Inuk throat singing), and the dance begins. Bernie’s mouth goes dry.
The professional dancers all start piled into each other in what appears to be a tangle of fishnet-clad limbs. They’re swaying to and fro in synchronisation and it’s one of the most erotic things Bernie thinks will ever be shown pre-watershed on the BBC.
There’s a lot of cutaway shots as the dancers break apart (how do they do it without ending up in a post-Twister-like mess on the floor, Bernie wonders) and Bernie finds herself waiting until one individual appears.
She gets her first glimpse of Serena when the beat picks up and the dancers start pairing up. She’s dancing with Matteo, who is shirtless and wearing tight black trousers. He could be naked for all Bernie cares; her eyes are drawn to Serena and Serena alone. Serena Campbell is a vision in black leather and lace. What she’s wearing is essentially a corset, black lace wrapping around her torso and barely shielding the skin underneath. But at the top is a meshwork of leather straps, forming a choker around the dancer’s neck and criss-crossing across her chest. Bernie’s never really thought of leather beyond shoes and jackets before but suddenly she finds herself very interested in the material.
Serena is clearly in charge of this partnership, she’s striding towards Matteo in the tallest of black heels, pushing him backwards and stepping over him in artfully choreographed moves. Bernie thinks she may die right here watching this dance. She can’t help but wish that it was her in Matteo’s position. Bernie Wolfe is more than ready to kneel down and worship the leather-clad deity that is Serena Campbell doing this dance. Bernie’s always considered herself a Pride and Prejudice-style romantic. Looking at this dance, her heart thrumming in her ears as Serena grabs Matteo and drags him towards her, Bernie thinks she’d rather like to star in a brand-new story with the professional dancer. Forget Pride and Prejudice, forget Sense and Sensibility. Bernie’s now very much interested in Sense and Sensuality.
Later in the dance, all of the professionals line up and lean over the backs of one another, stroking down one another’s legs. Bernie is convinced this dance may well be the end of the BBC broadcasting the supposed ‘family entertainment’ show; there is absolutely no way this can be considered family viewing. Bernie is sure as hell enjoying it though. Serena looks like she’s enjoying this move less. Behind her is the newest dancer to the show, Leah Faulkner, who seems to be relishing her positioning in the choreography. Serena’s a professional and the looks she’s giving to the camera are filled with heat and seductiveness. But Bernie thinks she’s getting to know Serena now and is sure she can sense some discomfort in the woman’s gaze which disappears as soon as the dance moves on and she’s away from the young blonde.
She and Serena are last on this week but it’s not a big deal, Bernie finds. The dress rehearsal gives her the opportunity to watch some of the other dancers and see how they look. She doesn’t want to sound big-headed but she rather thinks that she’s not as bad as she feared. As she watches the renowned boxer Ric ‘Rocky’ Griffin attempt to jive with his partner Zosia, Bernie feels rather relieved that she’s definitely not the worst dancer on the show.
Ange and Xavier are just completing their American smooth when Serena appears next to her, all the leather and lace gone and replaced with a dress to match the one Bernie’s wearing. Bernie had felt a little foolish when she first but on the short sleeveless dress (well, the illusion of being sleeveless, anyway – to ensure there’s no embarrassing wardrobe mishaps the dress is held securely across the back by some clear straps which will look invisible on television). It’s entirely covered in rainbow sequins and whenever she stands near a light she sparkles like a pride-filled glitterball. Looking at Serena though, Bernie’s not as concerned. Serena looks absolutely gorgeous and Bernie knows she’d wear anything just to see Serena in this dress.
“What do you think?” The dancer grins and twirls, the dress flaring up slightly around her thighs. “I’m thinking of asking if I can keep this to wear next year on the BBC’s float at Pride. We could do it together and match!”
Bernie looks at the woman in front of her who is just casually mentioning that they attend a Pride event together. Bernie’s been in the closet all her life, has kept away from Pride events lest she give away that she wants to be there as herself and not an ally. Bernie would have been happy to keep her sexual orientation secret, to never mention it. It wasn’t until Alex sold her story to the tabloids that Bernie was forced to embrace who she is in front of a national audience. Serena’s so confident, so sure. Bernie looks at her fondly. In short, Serena is everything.
Their dress rehearsal is a success. Bernie finishes the dance on a high, buzzed by the cheers of the crowd and the rest of the contestants and Serena’s beaming smile and the hug she gives her as they’ve done, a hurried “Berenice, you’re incredible” whispered in her ear.
This week is going to be the first week with a public vote and elimination. They’re talked through the logistics of what will happen and how the results show will be filmed after the broadcast ends and won’t be shown on TV until Sunday night. The producers stress the importance of not letting slip the results of the dance-off before the Sunday evening broadcast. Bernie takes it all in and hopes that she and Serena won’t be in the dance-off. She knows she’s giving her all to the competition and knows Serena deserves to go far. She just hopes the public agree.
They’re also informed that, having seen the professionals’ dance fully put together with the costumes, lighting and choreography, it’s being removed from the main show to the results show and will have modified lighting and costumes to try and make it less controversial for a family show. ‘Lighten it up’ are the exact words of a frazzled looking producer. Bernie can see why they’ve made the decision they have and she’s very glad she got to see the dress rehearsal version in all its leather-clad glory. Beside her, Serena mutters about how that’ll mean spending some of Saturday in extra rehearsals and costume fittings and filming the new take for that dance, which doesn’t please her.
Bernie tries very hard to not make a comment about how good Serena looked in leather. Only just about succeeds in keeping her mouth shut.
The dress rehearsal is over and Bernie is walking back towards the changing areas with Serena when Angus Farrell approaches them. Bernie tries to remember what dance he did, can vaguely remember he and Leah doing something slow around the ballroom (a waltz, maybe?) when he speaks.
“Hi. You did really well tonight.” He only looks at Serena as he talks and Bernie tries not to be insulted.
“Thank you, Angus. Your American smooth was lovely.” Serena smiles at him courteously. Bernie nods to herself. Not a waltz then, an American smooth. Serena’s being polite when she says ‘lovely’, Bernie knows it. She can remember Serena making several comments under her breath about how clumsy Angus was during the performance.
“That’s so kind. Leah’s nice but she’s rather young. And, well, sometimes you want to company of a mature woman who has seen a bit of the world, don’t you?” Bernie’s senses are suddenly on high alert, she can see where this is going and it is not somewhere she wants it to go. “So I was just wondering, well, would you like to go for a drink?” Angus smiles gently at Serena and Bernie feels a white-hot stab of jealousy shoot through her, even though she was expecting him to ask the question. She goes to move away but Serena tightens her hold on her arm.
“That’s a kind offer but no thank you Angus, I’m not actually looking for anything like that at the moment.”
If seconds ago she’d been burning, Serena has just submersed her in cool, refreshing water. Bernie’s never been so relieved as she is when Angus walks away looking more than a little like a forlorn puppy which has lost its favourite chew toy.
“He seems nice,” is what she says to Serena weakly. Serena just laughs.
“I’m sure he is but he’s so dull. I imagine being with him would involve lots of polite dinners and sporting trips to watch golf and football and the like. He certainly wouldn’t have the passion or flair I’m looking for in a partner. I’m looking for someone funny, athletic and sharp.” Serena looks down at Bernie’s hands and grins naughtily. “Not sharp in the sense of those nails though, Berenice. Ouch, it doesn’t bear thinking about.”
As she sashays into her dressing area Bernie watches her, rooted to the spot. Serena Campbell is going to be the death of her, she’s sure of it.
Bernie finds herself with some spare moments before the live show on Saturday. She looks around her and sees various other contestants sat around in their outfits, Arthur in his gangster costume and Ric in his sailor suit standing out the most. The majority appear to be on their phones so Bernie figures she may as well do the same. She thinks she might look on twitter and perhaps post something; it isn’t fair if it’s always Serena who does all the social media on their behalf.
@WordsWithWolfe: Did you know that ‘salsa’ is Spanish for sauce? Looking forward to dancing on #Strictly with the saucy @SWCampbell herself tonight 😉
Almost immediately she gets a reply from the dancer herself, imagines Serena scrolling through her feed where the professionals are getting ready for their opening dance.
@SWCampbell: @WordsWithWolfe let’s turn up the heat, darling x
Underneath are hundreds of replies which have all come in within a couple of minutes of her sending the tweet.
@WordsWithWolfe @SWCampbell SPICYYYYY
@WordsWithWolfe @SWCampbell omg I love you guys I’ll be voting for you
@WordsWithWolfe @SWCampbell QUEENS QUEENS QUEENS
All the positivity makes her feel fuzzy inside; she’s still not used to it. She keeps scrolling and suddenly finds herself seeing some less than positive remarks.
@WordsWithWolfe @SWCambell @bbcstrictly has been ruined with the likes of you, no longer family viewing #BoycottStrictly
@WordsWithWolfe @SWCampbell gonna get another massive score because of political correctness #BoycottStrictly
The comments are endless, the vitriol in them becoming worse and worse as she sees more and more of these #BoycottStrictly tweets. Bernie closes the app and closes her eyes, trying to forget about them but she can’t, they’re gathering in her head like little black clouds, pressing down on her mind and her confidence. She shouldn’t be on this show. She was never meant to be on this show. She’s a terrible dancer.
The show begins and Bernie still can’t find it in herself to believe that she deserves to be here.
As promised, the show now opens with a live guest performance from Coldplay, who are singing Champion Of The World as the opening slot instead of performing on the results show later, as was originally scheduled. The professionals dance to the song and the theme of bullying and rising above hate is clear. The BBC are clear in their message: they’re here to promote equality and they will not tolerate hatred. It’s a message Bernie tries to get into her head as she watches but she finds she can’t. Maybe all those people online are right, maybe it is just a big sham and she’s not as good as she thought she was.
Being last in the running order means that she has lots of time to sit and brood as she watches the other dances. Serena is beside her for the most of it, wearing her rainbow dress and it’s clear she can tell that Bernie’s mood is off-kilter. She doesn’t probe, she just whispers encouraging comments to her, tells Bernie she’s amazing and they’re going to be fine.
This week the show opens with Guy and Donna, who are dancing an American smooth to Tony Bennett’s I’ve Got The World on a String. It’s a classic Strictly song, made for the ballroom. Both Guy and Donna are in monochrome outfits and their set is made to look like an old black and white movie. Donna has glitter in her hair and Serena will acknowledge that the professional is working tirelessly to make the dance a success. Serena knows what she’s going through all too well; for so many years Serena has had to overcompensate her own dancing to try and downplay how wooden her partner’s movements are. When the song ends and the judges award it a combined score of 12, it’s clear Donna is disappointed. Serena can’t say she’s surprised at the score, though.
Bernie has retreated into herself and Serena can’t work out why. She wishes she knew, hates seeing her partner so dejected. She keeps whispering to her and stroking her arm, trying to pass on some comfort to her. Nothing seems to be working though, Bernie is clearly too trapped inside her thoughts to really notice what is going on.
Jac and Derwood provide the first absolutely breath-taking moment of the night. They’re doing a Viennese waltz to Enya’s song Caribbean Blue and it is the dreamiest dance Serena thinks she’s ever seen on the show. Jac is wearing a gauzy ballgown in a shade of pale blue which complements her bright orange hair tremendously. The costume department have worked wonders on it; the dress appears to ripple and sway and move like the sea as Jac spins and steps her way around the dancefloor gracefully. The combination of the music and the costumes and the choreography provide a masterpiece which Serena is sure will go down in Strictly Come Dancing history. When it’s over, the audience and judges go wild and for good reason. Jac and Derwood get awarded a combined score of 32, the highest of the series so far. Serena is really beginning to think that the property expert is going to be one to watch for the series.
After Jac and Derwood is the pairing which Serena has been most intrigued by all week. Nicky and Oliver are doing a tango but the song which was announced for them is one which Serena would never in a million years have chosen for that dance. Called Cola Song, Serena understands the joke – a tongue-in-cheek reference to Tango being the name of another fizzy beverage. It’s a good job Nicky is a comedian because to tell the song as a tango, a lot of comedy is required. To her credit, Nicky makes a good job of selling the amusing side of the dance (with the use of plenty of props). Oliver spends the whole dance looking as though he’s a moment away from kicking up an almighty fuss. Serena doesn’t blame him, it’s a cruel choice on behalf of the producers to choose this song for a tango and she finds herself silently wishing that the dancers had more choice over their songs.
The biggest surprise of the week is bumbling weatherman Sacha Levy. After last week’s samba catastrophe, this week he and Jasmine do an elegant American smooth to the song Juke-box by Dimie Cat. It’s well done and Serena thinks the young Jasmine has done a good job in refining the moves of the weatherman. They’ve clearly put in the work and that’s reflected when they get a respectable score of 25, the shock and elation on both of their faces evident.
For some reason known only to them, the producers have selected a lot of couples to do the American smooth this week. It’s a fairly simple dance, granted, but Serena still thinks the organisers could have mixed it up a bit. It’s a relief when there’s anything remotely different to watch.
Currently, that something is Ric and Zosia’s jive. The choice of Lou Bega’s I Got A Girl is a genius one, Serena will credit the production team for that. Ric Griffin is well known amongst the general public for going through wives as quickly as he does boxing gloves and he’s more than happy to play to that image during his dance to this song. The song choice may be excellent but the jive is anything but brilliant. Ric Griffin is wearing a sailor suit and is clearly having a lot of fun, hopping about with Zosia around barrels and a big ship’s wheel which have been used to decorate the stage. It’s a fun number and one which Serena is sure with garner votes from the public. It’s not destined to do well with the judges though, who give it a combined score of 13 after critiquing the majority of the boxer’s moves.
Much like Sacha and Jasmine, Roxanna and Matteo have also stepped up their game this week. They’re doing a Charleston to Carsie Blanton’s Baby Can Dance and it is filled with energy and enthusiasm and more than a little seduction down the camera on the part of the rock icon. A younger Serena would have been knocked down by such sultry looks from the rock singer but now she finds that she’s more concerned with getting a more cheerful look on the face of the podcast host beside her.
Angus and Leah are another couple doing an American smooth. Their song choice is a little left-field for the dance, with Nick Waterhouse’s Say I Wanna Know. Serena can imagine the choreography she’d do to this song, it calls for drama and passion, neither of which Angus has. Serena is so glad that she’s turned him (and Leah, actually, who invited her for cocktails after a group rehearsal) down. They’re simply not what she’s interested in. She turns to look at Bernie beside her, who still seems lost in her thoughts. Serena’s heart breaks. Leaning across, she pats Bernie’s thigh.
“Berenice, darling? It’s nearly us.”
Frieda Petrenko was born to do the Paso Doble. It’s a tricky dance and an ambitious one so early in the series but the model and fashion designer is absolutely killing it. She and the young Antoine make a striking couple and Serena is immersed in their dance to Mama by My Chemical Romance. Frieda’s dramatic looks and attitude lend themselves well to the expressive nature of the dance. Following on from the poor attempt of Angus and Leah only serves to emphasise just how good Frieda and Antoine are. Antoine, known and respected for his daring choreography choices, has included lots of fast steps and there is no denying as they move across the floor that Frieda is a powerful woman. As she stalks towards Antoine, flicking and shaking her long black skirts, Serena is reminded of some sort of territorial bird ruffling its feathers. The dance ends with Antoine lying on his back on the floor, Frieda towering above him and staring straight down the camera. It’s sensational, powerful viewing and Serena is not surprised when Frieda and Antoine score 32, the same as Jac and Derwood. For all that Jac’s dance had been dreamy and whimsical, Frieda’s has been dangerous and striking. Both ends of the spectrum, same quality result. As much as she wishes they weren’t as good as they are, there’d be no competition without them. Serena is ready to take on the challenge of beating these two couples.
Following Frieda and Derwood is yet another American smooth (this time from Fletch and Morven). Serena spends the dance trying to coax Bernie back out of herself. They’re up next and Serena knows that if she doesn’t find a spark of her partner before they start, Bernie won’t be able to focus on the dancing. As much as Serena wants their dance to go well and wants to win, she finds she wants Bernie to be happy more.
Bernie makes her way with Serena down to the dance floor, having not really taken in any of the rest of the show. She knows the mindset she’s in is unhealthy but she can’t bring herself out of it. She goes to stand at her starting mark and looks at Serena. Serena meets her gaze and smiles and Bernie is transported back to when Serena was first picked as her partner and all the rehearsals since. Serena has faith in Bernie and when she’s dancing with her, Bernie feels such joy. Dancing with Serena Campbell is a privilege. Serena seems to remember all of the happiness they’ve shared too because she mouths “You’ve got this, Berenice” across the space at her. Bernie, feeling encouraged, offers a small smile back in return. The music begins.
The start of their dance is a mock-up of when they were first selected as a pairing. A spotlight is above each of them and they step in synchronisation, facing the camera as they carry out the dance. Bernie’s legs appear to go on autopilot, her hands pointing outwards at her sides. She’s done this step so many times now around the rehearsal studios and her own flat, she knows this dance inside out. She reaches out a hand as the vocals start, spins Serena into her so they can continue their salsa in one another’s arms. The music fills the studio and Serena fills her arms and memories of all the previous times they’ve done this dance fill Bernie’s head. They’re stepping and sliding and spinning and Bernie lets the bad comments filling her head go: this moment is between herself and Serena and she’ll be damned if anyone is going to ruin it for her. As she lifts Serena over her shoulders, she can feel her face breaking out into the biggest smile she’s ever had on her face, a smile that is matched by the dancer herself as they shimmy together, kicking their legs and stepping across the floor in perfect synchronisation. Almost as soon as they’ve started it’s over and Tess is calling them over to where the judges are. Bernie wraps her arms around Serena’s shoulders and they laugh delightedly, thrilled that it’s all gone according to plan.
Bernie grips Serena’s hand tightly as they await judging. Tristan is asked for his comments first.
“It was a really good example of a salsa. Not the best I’ve ever seen but by no means the worst. Your footwork is still a little messy in parts but it was a good effort.”
“Ladies, you brought it!” Abigail exclaims excitedly. “Sure, in places the footwork wasn’t all there but compared to last week you were daring! That lift was executed brilliantly, it was so graceful. Thank you for going outside your comfort zone this week, Bernie.”
Head judge Imelda also has some technical feedback.
“I was a little concerned after last week that your salsa would be a bit tame but I have to say I’m impressed. You included some technically difficult moves there and executed them well.”
Fleur, on the end of the judging table, is practically vibrating in her seat.
“My darlings!” She yells, leaping out of her seat. “That salsa was sizzling hot and your outfits are sublime. I’m feeling a rather strong desire to taste the rainbow because you both looked delicious on that dance floor.”
Imelda and Tristan roll their eyes but the majority of the audience roar with laugher; they all adore the smallest judge who has the biggest reactions to every dance.
Bernie hugs Serena and they head back up to wait with Claudia and everyone else until the scores come in.
That makes their total 31, another remarkable result. Serena flings her arms around Bernie and whoops with delight when the scores come in. Bernie feels elated, riding on the joy of Serena’s happiness, unable to stop laughter from bubbling up inside her.
The live recording ends and Serena goes to find her phone, Bernie by her side. They’ve got to wait a bit until the scores are verified and they can film the results. She snaps a selfie of the two of them on set, big smiles filling their faces. As is her custom, she uploads it to twitter.
@SWCampbell: So proud of @WordsWithWolfe tonight, thanks to anyone who votes to keep us safe x
Bernie spends her time looking up the results table of the week, eager to see how everyone did since she wasn’t paying much attention during the show.
- Jac and Derwood – Viennese Waltz – Caribbean Blue – 32
- Frieda and Antoine – Paso Doble – Mama – 32
- Bernie and Serena – Salsa – Only Wanna Dance With You – 31
- Lofty and Dom – Charleston – That Man – 30
- Roxanna and Matteo – Charleston – Baby Can Dance – 29
- Arthur and Meena – American Smooth – Capone – 28
- Ange and Xavier – American Smooth – Why - 27
- Fletch and Morven – American Smooth – Jump - 26
- Sacha and Jasmine – American Smooth – Juke-box – 25
- Nicky and Oliver – Tango – Cola Song – 24
- Essie and Raf – Cha-Cha-Cha – A Deeper Love - 20
- Henrik and Mo – Waltz – Beautiful Brown Eyes - 15
- Ric and Zosia – Jive – I Got A Girl - 13
- Angus and Leah – American Smooth – Say I Wanna Know - 13
- Guy and Donna – American Smooth – I’ve Got The World on a String – 12
On the webpage underneath the table is the combined scores for both weeks, which Bernie looks at with interest.
- Bernie and Serena (29 + 31): 60
- Frieda and Antoine (27 + 32): 59
- Jac and Derwood (26 + 32): 58
- Lofty and Dom (28 + 30): 58
- Ange and Xavier (25 + 27): 52
- Arthur and Meena (22 + 28): 50
- Fletch and Morven (24 + 26): 50
- Essie and Raf (27 + 20): 47
- Roxanna and Matteo (17 + 29): 46
- Nicky and Oliver (20 + 24): 44
- Sacha and Jasmine (12 + 25): 37
- Henrik and Mo (18 + 15): 33
- Ric and Zosia (18 + 13): 31
- Angus and Leah (17 + 13): 30
- Guy and Donna (12 + 12): 24
As Bernie looks and realises that she and Serena have got the highest combined score over the two weeks she grins and pulls Serena close to her to see. Serena squeals delightedly and kisses Bernie on the forehead.
“I told you you were brilliant, Berenice! And before you say anything, it’s not a charity vote because we’re a same-sex couple. Otherwise Lofty and Dom would be up there too.”
Bernie nods, believing her dance partner.
“Come here,” Bernie tugs Serena down and takes a wonky selfie of them, their faces pressed close and filling the screen. Serena looks at her quizzically. “You’re not the only one who can tweet, you know,” she grins, composing the message to accompany the image.
@WordsWithWolfe: That moment when you realise you’ve got the highest combined score over the first two weeks of #Strictly! Thank you @SWCampbell and @bbcstrictly
Despite the high score, Bernie still feels nervous when they start filming the results show. Lofty and Dom are the first couple to be announced as safe; followed by Frieda and Antoine. Next to be announced as safe are Sacha and Jasmine who are clearly thrilled; their American smooth has clearly compensated for their disastrous samba the week previously. Next, Angus and Leah are announced as the first couple in the dance-off. Bernie wishes she felt sorry for them but she’s sort of gleeful: if they get eliminated, Angus won’t be able to make any more passes at Serena.
There’s a few more safe couples announced then the precious words are declared: Bernie and Serena are safe. Without thinking what she’s doing, Bernie turns and picks Serena up, spinning her round. They’re safe, thank goodness. Bernie reflects on when she first got picked for the show and how she thought she’d be glad to be eliminated in the first week. Now, looking at Serena, she can’t cope with the thought of not getting to dance with the wonderful woman next to her every single week. Serena is joy and sensuality wrapped up in a perfect glittering rainbow package and Bernie never wants to stop being allowed to learn to dance with this woman.
In the end, Angus and Leah face Guy and Donna in the dance-off, surprising absolutely nobody. The judges opt to save Angus and Leah so everyone bids goodbye to soap star Guy Self. Serena hugs Donna and offers her condolences. Donna is a great dancer who just happened to be stuck with a terrible partner. It happens to the best of them and Serena more than most. Across the crowded dance floor, Serena looks to see where Bernie is stood chatting to Henrik and Fletch, her rainbow dress catching under the lights. Serena smiles. She and Berenice are going to go far, she’s sure of it.
Week 2 Running Order and Songs:
Guest Performance: Champion Of The World – Coldplay
Guy and Donna (American Smooth): I’ve Got the World On a String – Tony Bennett
Lofty and Dom (Charleston): That Man – Caro Emerald
Jac and Derwood (Viennese Waltz): Caribbean Blue – Enya
Nicky and Oliver (Tango): Cola Song – INNA feat. J Balvin
Arthur and Meena (American Smooth): Capone – Ronan Hardiman
Essie and Raf (Cha-Cha-Cha): A Deeper Love – Aretha Franklin
Sacha and Jasmine (American Smooth): Juke-box – Dimie Cat
Ric and Zosia (Jive): I Got a Girl – Lou Bega
Ange and Xavier (American Smooth): Why – JoJo Effect
Henrik and Mo (Waltz): Beautiful Brown Eyes – The Brothers Four
Roxanna and Matteo (Charleston): Baby Can Dance – Carsie Blanton
Angus and Leah (American Smooth): Say I Wanna Know – Nick Waterhouse
Frieda and Antoine (Paso Doble): Mama – My Chemical Romance
Fletch and Morven (American Smooth): Jump – Paul Anka
Bernie and Serena (Salsa): Only Wanna Dance With You – Ke$ha
Pros Performance: Black Leather - KEiiNO feat Charlotte Qamaniq
Chapter 5: and though I see the danger, still the flame grows higher
It's Movie Week and there's no surprises regarding which film their dance is themed around. Speaking of their dance... This week it's a tango.
Massive, MASSIVE Movie Week shout-out to @spilled_notes who gave me a whole selection of movie songs for different ballroom dances. She's been an absolute saint to me whilst I've been planning and writing this and I'm forever in her debt.
Thanks to once again to everyone who continues to leave such beautiful comments. You're all the best cheerleaders I could ever ask for when I'm finding the motivation to write more of this monster.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Bernie spends Sunday morning scrolling through twitter. Charlotte has helped her to mute certain words so her feed is a little less distressing now. She smiles as she sees some of the tweets and is also a little concerned that her emotions were clearly so obvious during the broadcast.
omg Bernie looks so upset I hope she’s ok @WordsWithWolfe #Strictly
look at how Serena’s looking after Bernie in the background I CANNOT 😭 @SWCampbell @WordsWithWolfe #Strictly
The tweet is attached to a photo of a television screen during Claudia’s post-dance interview with Jac and Derwood. Whilst they’re all gathered round and Bernie is looking at the couple, it’s clear her eyes are not really seeing anything. Beside her though, Serena’s attention is wholly upon the linguist. Bernie’s heart swells when she sees the look of fondness and concern upon Serena’s face. Serena is a gift Bernie does not deserve but that she wants with all of her heart.
Can we appreciate the fact that with one look at @SWCampbell Bernie’s mood has shifted to one of pure joy @WordsWithWolfe #Strictly
LOOK AT HER HAPPY LIL FACE SHE’S A HUMAN PUPPER I SWEAR @WordsWithWolfe #Strictly
This tweet is attached to another still from the show. This time it’s of herself and Serena post-salsa and it takes Bernie’s breath away. She knows she felt elated after they had finished but the photo shows Bernie in a state of euphoria she doesn’t think she’s ever witnessed in herself before. Her arms are wrapped around Serena and her mouth is split into the widest grin. Put simply, she looks happy. Bernie likes the tweet and continues to scroll.
What did we do to deserve the iconic partnership that is @WordsWithWolfe and @SWCampbell #Strictly
Bernie sits and looks at that tweet for a while before quote tweeting it with her own comment attached.
@WordsWithWolfe: More like what did I do to deserve the iconic partner that is @SWCampbell? Thanks for the kind words everyone ☺️
Later, Charlotte sends Bernie a message.
‘HAVE YOU SEEN SERENA’S TWEET? YOU GUYS ARE ADORABLE’ is all it says, alongside every different heart emoji which seems to exist. Bernie opens up twitter and navigates to Serena’s account. When she sees what her daughter is referring to, Bernie laughs.
Serena has retweeted the fan comment about Bernie being a ‘human pupper’ and added her own comment.
@SWCampbell: SHE’S A GOLDEN SAINT NO FURTHER QUESTIONS ❤️
Bernie thinks a crossbreed of a golden retriever and a St Bernard is a very specific choice but chooses not to question it. Before today, she’d only ever thought of herself as a Wolfe, not a dog.
Monday means the start of the rehearsals for Movie Week. She and Serena are doing a tango to Kiss of Fire from the movie Carol. When Bernie expresses her thoughts on their choice of song and movie being a cliché, Serena laughs.
“When the producers asked if I had any thoughts on numbers we could do, I did mention how you had the look of Cate Blanchett about you. They clearly agreed.”
Bernie blushes and demurs, says there’s no way she looks anything like Cate Blanchett. Serena disagrees.
“Blonde and willowy with a beautiful smile? You’re absolutely in the same mould as her.”
“I take it you’re being Rooney Mara then?”
“Oh absolutely,” Serena purrs. “I’ve waited years for my chance to seduce my very own Cate Blanchett.”
Bernie gulps. She’s not sure her poor heart is going to be able to cope with a tango.
Serena is not holding back with her tango choreography. It’s a dance which is made to be sensual and with Bernie she knows she can pull of an amazingly sensual Carol-themed dance.
“The trick,” she addresses Bernie as they’re in close hold during rehearsals, “is elegance. Your posture needs to be perfect and every kick and turn has to be as rigid as it is graceful. The tango is all about power, drama, sensuality. Every little thing adds up to make it an overall masterpiece.”
Bernie nods at her. Tries not to think about how right it feels to be pressed this close to Serena.
There’s a move where their faces are close together, noses almost touching as they step in perfect unison across the floor. Up close, Bernie can see how Serena gets lost in the music, her eyes fluttering as she is led around the floor. Bernie tries very hard to focus on the steps but it’s increasingly difficult when a voice in her head is telling her just how easy it would be to dip her head and kiss Serena on the lips from the position they’re in. Bernie finds herself daydreaming about what Serena’s lips taste like. Wishes she was able to find out.
As the song reaches its crescendo, Serena is desperate to include a complex series of swivels and flicks and hooks.
“It’ll look marvellous, Berenice!” She sighs, picturing exactly how it’ll look in her mind’s eye. She and Bernie, fluidly moving across the dance floor, their posture perfect and their legs in perfect unison. It’s the sort of move she’d never have been able to attempt with her previous partners; too sure they’d have got tangled and bungled the entire sequence. With Bernie, she’s confident that the elegant linguist and mathematician has just what it takes to make the dance a roaring success.
She can tell her partner is nervous, still a little unsure about her dancing ability despite their high scores so far. Nonetheless, Bernie nods.
“Okay, Serena. Let’s give it a go.”
Bernie only agreed to try the moves because she doesn’t think it’s possible for her to say no to Serena. Doing them, however, is nearly killing her. It’s fast and precise and if she puts a foot wrong, they stumble and almost fall, ruining the whole piece. As the day comes to an end, Serena sighs. Bernie worries she’s upset her partner with her lack of ability but Serena simply looks up at her, fire in her eyes.
“You’re not doing anything this evening, are you?”
“Um, no. Why?”
“You can come back to mine then. I have a rehearsal space, converted one of the spare bedrooms when I divorced my idiot husband all those years ago. You can do this, Berenice.”
Once again demonstrating how she is unable to say no to Serena Campbell, Bernie nods.
Going back to Serena’s house is a mistake. As soon as she’s through the door Bernie gets an overwhelming sense of home. Serena turns to her and gestures through to the cosy looking sitting room.
“Make yourself at home, I’ll just let Jason know you’re here. He doesn’t normally like surprise visitors which is why I’ve never brought a celebrity partner back before. I’m sure he’ll make an exception for you, though.” Serena gives her another sunny smile then leaves.
Bernie sits on the edge of the sofa and looks around the room, patting her hands on her thighs awkwardly. There’s photos and trophies in the cabinets and on the mantlepiece; a coffee table with a scrabble board laid out ready for play; a stack of books each with a bookmark in marking out where they’re ready to be continued. It’s homelier than Bernie’s flat will ever be.
Bernie isn’t alone long before she hears bounding footsteps along the hallway outside and a tall, gangly young man enters. He stops in the doorway and stares at her, almost as if he can’t believe what he’s seeing.
“Bernie Wolfe!” His expression is one of wonder and Bernie isn’t sure she deserves to be on the receiving end of it. She smiles.
“You must be Jason.”
Jason comes and sits next to her and begins telling her how much he loves her podcast.
“And when Auntie Serena brought home the goodie bag you gave me, I was so happy, Bernie. It’s amazing. The Letters and Numbers mug is now my exclusive tea mug. I don’t like coffee. Do you like coffee?”
“She likes it strong and hot,” Bernie’s head snaps up and she sees Serena entering the room, a wicked grin on her face. She sits herself in an armchair and soon Jason takes over the conversation once more. He talks about linguistics and nature programmes and how he thinks they’re the best couple on Strictly Come Dancing this year.
“You’re by far the best partner Auntie Serena has ever had. Usually she’s paired with clumsy old men. Your hair is also a lot better than theirs. Auntie Serena does nothing but talk about your hair.” Serena coughs and Bernie looks at her curiously.
“Is that so, Jason?”
They’re interrupted by an alarm going off and Jason springs up happily.
“That means the lasagne is ready! I’ve made it all by myself, I’m becoming a very good cook nowadays. Much better than Auntie Serena. In fact, I’m head chef in this house. I even have an apron which says so.”
He leaves the room and Serena looks at Bernie, a gentle smile playing about her lips.
“Come on, you. That’s our cue to go and set the table ready for dinner.”
The lasagne is delicious and Bernie makes sure to tell Jason of the fact.
“Did you know that the origins of the word lasagne are actually in Latin, Jason? Originally, the Italian word lasagna – that’s with an ‘a’ rather than an ‘e’ on the end – came from the Latin ‘lasanum’, meaning chamber pot. It’s also thought it was used to refer to cooking pots, hence how it got to be associated with the pasta dish we know and love.”
Jason looks at her, open-mouthed.
“I didn’t know that, Bernie. That’s fascinating.” He turns to his aunt. “Bernie can come for dinner every night. She’s very interesting.”
Serena simply nods at her nephew and turns to look at Bernie. Bernie gulps. It looks like she’ll become a regular guest at the Campbell-Haynes household from now on.
For movie week, the professionals are going to be dancing to a range of songs from the film Les Choristes. Serena is delighted. It’s a beautiful film with an even more stunning soundtrack and the choreography is going to be spectacular. They’re just coming to the end of a morning of rehearsals and Serena is excited to go and spend the afternoon rehearsing with Bernie; she’s rather hoping she can persuade her dance partner back to her home for dinner again later.
They’ve finished the final rehearsal to La Nuit. Serena is busy packing her things away and heading for the exit when Leah approaches her.
“Serena, hi!” The young dancer looks up at her and Serena smiles.
“I, um, was just wondering, if I’ve not made it clear. When I’ve been asking if you’d like to go for a drink or for dinner or whatever, it’s because I really admire you.”
“That’s very kind,” Serena chooses to try and pretend she’s none the wiser as to what the young woman is talking about. Best to let her down gently. “Maybe we can arrange a group meal with everyone sometime?”
“No, Serena, that’s not what I meant. I, well, I fancy you.” Leah says, looking her in the eye. Serena sighs. Leah’s not unattractive and it is certainly flattering to have so much of someone’s attention focused on you. In another life, Serena might succumb and fall into bed with Leah. As it is, she smiles and pats the woman’s arm softly.
“I’m very flattered but no, thank you. Keep waiting for someone who wants you as much as you want them.”
As Serena leaves the building and continues on her way, Leah is soon forgotten. Serena’s thoughts are entirely on Berenice Wolfe.
Their tango rehearsal today goes brilliantly, Serena’s thrilled. In fact, after they’ve gone through the whole dance a couple of times Serena grins at Bernie then takes five deliberate steps away from her. Bernie looks at the professional dancer, her brow furrowed.
“Now, Berenice,” Serena smiles. “You’d better catch me when I run up to you now or I’m out of the competition.”
Before she really knows what’s going on Serena has started a slow run towards her and is leaping towards Bernie who catches her around the waist. Serena wraps her legs around her torso and leans backwards, her arms elegantly arcing above her head. Without being prompted, Bernie spins on the spot, looks down at Serena and sees her smiling as they turn. Bernie stops for fear of getting dizzy and Serena folds herself back in towards Bernie before hopping back down to the floor. She looks up and pats Bernie’s face.
“Beautiful, Berenice. We’ll make a dancer of you yet.”
“Um.” Bernie says, confused. “I thought you said a good tango shouldn’t have any lifts in it?”
“It shouldn’t,” Serena agrees. “And extra brownie points for showing you were listening to me. That lift is going nowhere near our tango. I just thought it would be a good idea for us to start lifting one another more often to keep in good practice for when we do other dances which involve them.”
“Right.” Bernie says. She supposes that makes sense.
“For example,” Serena continues. “We might do this!”
She bends down and places one arm through Bernie’s legs and the other round her back, pulling the linguist onto her shoulder with more ease than Bernie would have thought. The podcast host reminds herself that Serena is a serious dancer. Of course she’s going to have amazingly muscular arms. Also, Bernie thinks, it’s quite nice from her perch here up on Serena’s shoulder. Serena lets her down with a whoop.
“That’s enough for today, I think. Now you are coming back to mine, aren’t you? Jason’s anxious to have words with you over dinner. Quite literally. I suspect they’ll all be long and complex and too much for my little brain.”
Serena winks then raises an eyebrow quizzically.
There’s nothing Bernie can do but nod.
Jason is ecstatic that Bernie has come round again. The podcast host finds his enthusiasm delightful and is more than happy to talk about anything and everything with him. He’s a charming young man and Bernie is sure that he has a big future ahead of him.
After they’ve eaten, he acknowledges that they need to rehearse so he disappears into the sitting room to catch up on his favourite shows. Bernie follows Serena into the kitchen, decides she may as well help her to wash their dishes before they rehearse. They’ve just finished up and the sun is shining through the kitchen window, catching specks of dust in its rays. In the light, Serena looks even more beautiful than ever. Bernie is hit with an impulse to do something spontaneous and reckless.
Without really thinking she strides over to Serena and lifts her onto the countertop. The dancer shrieks before settling and looking down at Bernie, wrapping her legs around her shoulders. Bernie looks up at her and is struck again by how much she wants to kiss Serena so very, very badly. Time seems to stand still as Bernie internally wars with her own lustful impulses. Kissing Serena would be wrong and unprofessional. There’s no way they could go anywhere. If anything, giving into the desire she’s feeling would ruin their partnership. Bernie looks up at Serena and smiles gently before stepping away from the counter.
Serena isn’t aware of what’s happening until she’s on top of her kitchen counter and has Bernie between her legs. Looking down at the mathematician and linguist, Serena is struck by how beautiful her dance partner is. Her hair is golden and Serena wants nothing more than to run her hands through it, messing the waves further. Bernie looks up at her, her eyes filled with emotions which Serena doesn’t dare to name. A voice at the back of her head reminds her how romantic this is; how Serena has always fantasised about having a partner who would sit her on the counter or the table and they could kiss in that position for hours. Could she kiss Bernie, Serena wonders. She looks at the woman’s lips and remembers just how well their bodies fit together when dancing. Yes, Serena thinks. She could kiss Bernie. But that doesn’t mean she should. Before she can make a decision either way, Bernie is stepping away from her. Serena hops down and they head to the spare room to rehearse their tango.
Things continue like nothing has happened. Their tango continues to be sensual and Serena is confident that they’ll score highly. By the end of the rehearsal they’re suitably buzzed from another great practice. Heading back into the sitting room, they collapse against one another happily.
“Do you know, the strangest thing happened today.” Serena is sat on her sofa with Bernie’s head on her shoulder. Serena is slowly running her fingers through her dance partner’s hair. It feels nice.
“Mmm?” Bernie says, sleepily.
“Leah Faulkner told me she fancies me.”
Bernie sits bolt upright at Serena’s declaration, nearly headbutting Serena’s nose in the process. Her emotions are suddenly on high alert, adrenaline rushing through her veins.
“You what? You and… Leah Faulkner?”
“Yes. Well, no, not really.”
Bernie stares at Serena, dumbfounded. If she had to put a name to the raging emotion swirling inside of her, Bernie would say it is jealousy. But she doesn’t quite know why she should be jealous. She finds Serena attractive (of course she does, she’s human) but that’s all there is to it, her feelings don’t run any deeper than a bit of lust fuelled by their close proximity – the tango isn’t helping anything either, all that being pressed close for long periods when they rehearse all day.
“Yes, she told me she fancied me. No, there’s no ‘me and Leah.’ I told her I was flattered but I didn’t want to go for a drink with her. She’s not my type.”
“And, uh, what is your, um, type?” Bernie asks haltingly, almost scared of the answer.
Serena looks at the woman before her, the words ‘what if’ floating across her mind. Instead of dwelling too long she coughs and answers quickly.
“Well, someone more my own age, for a start.”
Part of Bernie sighs in relief, happy she’s still got a chance. Another part of her tells her to drop the subject before she suffers the inevitable disappointment when it turns out that Serena wants someone athletic and confident and experienced in the world of showbiz and entertainment.
“Well, I’ll be heading home then,” Bernie says, hauling herself up from the sofa. “See you tomorrow, Serena.” She puts her coat on and stands at the foot of the stairs. “Bye Jason!” She yells up them, hoping the young man will hear her from his bedroom.
As the other woman leaves, Serena smiles. She didn’t forget Jason. None of Serena’s previous romantic partners have shown so much care towards Jason. Checking herself, Serena decides it’s time for bed before her mind continues considering impossible scenarios. Bernie isn’t her romantic partner and never will be. Bernie will want someone clever and educated and reserved. Serena knows she wouldn’t stand a chance. Besides, it would be highly unprofessional, her dating Bernie.
When she has her fitting for her Movie Week costume, Bernie is secretly thrilled. The dress she’s going to be wearing is her favourite of the show so far by far. Her outfit is a twist on what Bernie refers to as the ‘classic’ Carol outfit. She’s got a large fur coat and a red scarf and on her head will be a red headband (fastened securely, so it doesn’t fall off). Under the coat she’s going to be wearing a pale brown dress. It’s not as fitted as any of the suits Cate Blanchett pulls off so well in the film (“there’d be no room for movement whatsoever!” one of the costume designers laughs). Instead, it’s got a fitted bodice which mimics the one in the film but it flares out from her hips and hangs just at her calves. It’s still got the right vintage look but it is made with movement in mind. Bernie can already see how wonderful her kicks and flicks and sharp pivots will look in the dress. The icing on the cake for Bernie though is how comfortable it is. It is honestly the most comfortable item she’s ever worn. It fits like a second skin and she feels unbelievably graceful in it. Bernie can’t wait to dance their tango. In fact, she’s so excited she tweets about it.
@WordsWithWolfe: Costume fitting done! It’s going to be special this week @SWCampbell
Within moments she gets a reply from the woman herself.
@SWCampbell: I want to see you 😘
When she watches the professionals do their opening Les Choristes medley dance, Bernie finds herself having to surreptitiously dab at her eyes. It’s a beautiful film with a beautiful soundtrack and the dancers put on a stunning show. Bernie feels privileged to be able to watch them live in the studio.
Serena’s costume is adorable. She’s wearing a version of Therese’s waistcoat dress, the one she’s wearing when she sees Carol in her furs. But Bernie hadn’t realised that Serena would be wearing a bobbed wig. Unthinkingly, she reaches out to touch it. Serena smiles.
“Reminds me of back when I had longer hair.”
“You had long hair?” Bernie can’t imagine Serena with anything but her short hair. Serena laughs.
“I did. And if you play your cards right, I might try and find you some photos next time you’re round at mine.”
“You do know how to show a girl a good time,” Bernie winks then hastens to add something else lest Serena think she was flirting with her. “You suit it.”
Serena simply grins and snaps a close-up selfie of herself, uploading it to twitter with a very simple caption.
The first dance of movie week is Ange and Xavier attempting to do a Paso doble to Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On. It’s excruciating. Serena sits and watches it and hopes that tomorrow night she’ll be able to summon up enough fake smiles to disguise how much she hates it. If it’s this bad tomorrow night, they’ll need a miracle of titanic proportions to save them from elimination. The song choice is cliché and she’s really not sure that it’s the right song for a Paso. Someone really ought to have a word with the people picking the songs for the couples on this show, or perhaps hire someone who knows which songs work for which dances.
Next up is Angus and Leah attempting to cha-cha to True to Your Heart from Mulan. Serena’s been avoiding Leah since the younger woman made a pass at her. She watches the dance and she will admit that the young woman is talented (but then she wouldn’t be on Strictly if she wasn’t). Angus, however, is not. Serena thanks everything in the universe that she was spared the fate of another middle-aged man who can’t step in the right direction to save his life.
They’re next. Bernie makes her way down to the dancefloor with Serena and focuses on making this dress rehearsal go as smoothly as possible. Their set is beautiful. Bernie almost wishes it were real. She starts off on a vintage chaise with the camera pointing at her. Serena is going to walk across in front of her and Bernie has to obviously track her movements as the camera will be zoomed in on her face at this point.
After Serena has walked, Bernie stands and, in time with the music, takes off her fur coat and scarf before stepping behind Serena. This is where the dancing really starts.
Bernie is absorbed in the dance. Every turn, every flick, every dip. Serena’s body fits beautifully in her arms and their outfits add to the drama and romance of the dance. She’s no longer Bernie Wolfe: linguist, mathematician, podcast host and a bit of an awkward disaster. She is Carol and she is besotted with the brunette in her arms. Together, their passion and chemistry are undeniable. It’s over before she even knows it. Suddenly she’s Bernie again and they’re being ushered away ready for the next couple to rehearse their dance. Serena turns to her and beams.
“I couldn’t have wished for it to go better, Berenice.”
Their tango goes equally as well in the live show. Seemingly barely any time has passed and they’re stood before the judges awaiting their feedback.
“That’s possibly the best tango we’ve seen so far this series.” Tristan says. Serena and the audience cheer. Bernie beams. That’s high praise indeed coming from the ‘nasty’ judge. “Of course, it wasn’t perfect. So plenty of room for improvement for other couples.” There it is, the trademark snark. He goes on to detail a few technical faults he found but overall they seem to only be minor footwork and timing issues.
Judgement passes to Abigail.
“Wowee!” She fans herself with some paper. “The passion was certainly there! You guys have an amazing chemistry which is becoming more and more apparent as the weeks go on. And tonight, you absolutely sold it to us. Yes, there were a couple of slight errors, but overall, that was incredible to watch.”
Bernie claps as Tess asks Imelda to pass comment.
“When it started off, I wasn’t so sure, it seemed like a lot of padding with the fur coat and the scarf and the walking about. But when it got going it was mesmerising. It built and built and then there was that sequence where you were almost the same person.” She continues to praise the complex footwork and Bernie turns to Serena and smiles, glad all of their extra rehearsals at the dancer’s house have paid off.
Finally, it’s Fleur’s turn. She doesn’t disappoint.
“Ladies! Mwah! Mwah!” She blows exaggerated kisses at them and Serena laughs, pretends to catch one. “I want roses to throw at you both because that was THEATRE!” The tiny judge stands and applauds them. “I love Carol, how could I not? A movie where a hot middle-aged woman kisses another girl? Yes please! But you two just added a whole new layer to it! We have our very own Cate Blanchett right here! You should call me.” She winks at Bernie who blushes and stutters before being herded up the stairs to the rest of the contestants and Claudia with Serena.
It isn’t long before the scores are in.
Serena squeals and Bernie fist pumps.
All those practices at Serena’s insistence come in handy because Bernie is more than ready when Serena spontaneously leaps up onto her back and cheers.
After their scoring, Serena is walking on sunshine. She’s finally scoring well and can start to be seen as a serious competitor in the competition. It’s the best feeling in the world.
Straight after their Carol tango, Jac and Derwood do a quickstep to If My Friends Could See Me Now from Sweet Charity. It’s exceptional, even Serena will admit that. Derwood is known for his humour and his way of injecting comedy into his dances. His humour is how he won the heart of fellow pro Mo when he joined the show, after all.
Serena wouldn’t have pegged Jac as funny but it turns out she really can be. The lyrics of the song have been twisted slightly too, so instead of ‘Mr V’ the singer uses ‘Mr T’ and it’s an inspired choice. The quickstep is perfectly paced and Serena can’t fault it. When it scores 36, knocking she and Bernie off the top of tonight’s leader board, Serena can’t dispute it. She does take some pleasure from the fact that she and Bernie got a 10 though. Jac and Derwood got 9s across the board, no 10 in sight.
Straight after Jac and Derwood comes another tango, this time from Frieda and Antoine. It’s dramatic and the costumes are stunning. They’re doing a tango to Will Smith’s Arabian Nights from Aladdin. Bernie watches it in awe, completely sucked into the tale that the duo is weaving. It’s giving different vibes to the tango she and Serena did but nonetheless it’s good. Bernie wonders if it’ll score as highly as she and Serena. In the end they score 32 so she and Serena still have the best tango of the evening (so far). Bernie’s pleased. She’s happy Serena’s talents are getting the high scores they deserve. And the gleeful smile Serena has whenever they do well makes Bernie’s stomach flip so she’s desperate to ensure they keep on succeeding.
After last week’s jive to I Got A Girl, Serena didn’t think there could be a more perfect track for Ric to dance to. It turns out she was wrong. This week, Ric ‘Rocky’ Griffin, the country’s most well-known boxer, is doing a salsa to Gonna Fly Now, the theme from the films which inspired his nickname. Serena’s not entirely sure a salsa was the right choice for this track but it’s clear that this is Zosia’s speciality. Their dance this week is much better than their jive was. It also probably helps that Ric looks much more comfortable in his boxing attire than he did in his sailor suit last week. The audience is once again in raptures and Serena rather thinks that Ric and Zosia are going to become a fan favourite couple if they continue with such amusing dances.
One of the best things about movie week compared to other weeks, Bernie thinks, is seeing all the different films brought to life via dance. If she’d ever been told that she’d be watching the nation’s favourite weatherman Sacha Levy wearing a giant furry monster costume, she’d think it crackers. If she’d ever been told that Sacha, in said costume, would be doing a quickstep with Jasmine Burrows dressed as a glamourous Mike Wazowski, she’d have definitely thought it insane. If she’d been told she’d be loving every minute of the dance, she’d have wondered who she was. As it is, she whoops with delight and cheers when they’re done.
As the camera catches her reaction, both Cameron and Charlotte, sat viewing in front of Cam’s TV, share a knowing look with one another. Being on Strictly Come Dancing has brought joy back into their mother’s life. They couldn’t be more thrilled.
For Serena, the biggest surprise of the evening is perhaps TV historian Arthur Digby and Meena. He walks onto the floor fully transformed into Danny and proceeds to execute an amazing jive to Greased Lightnin’. Serena wouldn’t wonder if the young historian has a few new fans by the end of the evening from the look alone. Stood beside her whilst they watch the dance, Serena notices Morven paying very close attention. Somehow, Serena doesn’t think the young dancer is purely watching for the quality of the footwork.
Especially as when the scores are in and Arthur and Meena score a very respectable 32, Morven makes sure to go and personally congratulate Arthur on such a wonderful performance.
Nicky continues to look like she’s having the time of her life on the show as she and Oliver do a highly comical foxtrot to the theme from The Pink Panther. Alongside being comical, it’s well-executed too, going on to score 35. When she hears such a high score, Nicky screams in delight. Even Oliver manages to look less pissed off than he usually does when the scores are awarded.
Following Nicky and Oliver, Roxanna and Matteo do a passable cha-cha-cha to I Won’t Say (I’m In Love) from Hercules. Both Bernie and Serena share a muttered agreement that Roxanna looks far better in her Meg costume (including wig) than Matteo looks in his Hercules costume.
Lofty and Dom both look the part for their Harry Potter themed Viennese waltz to Hedwig’s theme. The dance is nothing short of faultless and the costume department have worked wonders. The insides of the robes the men wear have a slightly shimmering lining so that as they spin and the robes fly outwards it appears there’s a shroud of magic surrounding them as they dance. It’s a well-executed dance to a track from a movie that is sure to be popular with Lofty and Dom’s young fanbase. Serena has no doubt that their high score and popularity with fans will secure more good press than the inevitable hatred with comes when small-minded people watch a same-sex couple dancing.
The closing dance of the evening is a real showstopper. Fletch and Morven do a theatrical foxtrot to Ev’rybody Wants To Be A Cat. Fletch is clearly loving his role as Thomas O’Malley and Morven proves to be an elegant Duchess. Their make-up is borderline ridiculous but they make it work and the crowd in the studio are clearly loving the dance to such a popular song. Bernie even finds herself doing a little shimmy along to the music with the other stars as they watch the consumer rights presenter and Morven strut and spin their way around the dance floor at an alarming speed. When they end, they get a standing ovation from the majority of the crowd, even if the judges are a little harsh in their critique of Fletch’s posture in places.
As appears to have become Serena’s custom, whilst they wait for the results show to start filming, she takes a selfie of herself and Bernie. Looking at it, she frowns.
“No, we can’t use that on twitter, you can’t see all our costumes.” She looks around and spots Morven nearby. “Morven! Would you be an angel and take our photo?”
Morven agrees happily and snaps a couple of photos of them together in the studio. Serena thanks her then chooses her favourite to upload to twitter.
@SWCampbell: It’s going well, actually. @WordsWithWolfe #Strictly
Serena’s not in this week’s dance with the guest performer so she remains next to Bernie whilst Post Malone and Swae-Lee perform the song Sunflower from the film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. If she’s honest, Bernie didn’t even know that was a Spider-Man film. She’s woefully out of touch with popular culture, much to the dismay of her children. She thinks the last film she watched might well have been Carol. And that was on DVD.
It’s a nice enough song though and the dancers who are involved (Mo and Derwood; Donna and Xavier; Leah and Jasmine) all do a very good dance to it.
All too soon they’re being arranged to announce who is going to be safe this week and who will be in the dance-off. Bernie stands by Serena and feels the butterflies in her stomach as they await their fate.
The first couple to be announced as safe are Lofty and Dom. They whoop and grin at the camera. A further list of safe couples is announced: Frieda and Antoine; Roxanna and Matteo; Fletch and Morven. Next, Angus and Leah are announced to be in the dance-off. They smile and clap but Serena rather feels like it’s no surprise. Once again, she counts her blessings that she wasn’t paired with the wooden football pundit.
After Sacha and Jasmine are announced as safe, prompting the weatherman to lift his dance partner in a crushing hug, it’s Bernie and Serena’s turn. They’re announced as safe and Serena makes sure to mouth a ‘thank you’ to the camera so the viewers at home can see her appreciation. She’ll tweet her thanks later, of course, but she feels it’s always nice to acknowledge how grateful she is in the moment. She’s had to face far too many dance-offs in her time on this show.
In the end, facing Angus and Leah in the dance-off is Henrik and Mo. Their foxtrot to Love You I Do from Dreamgirls didn’t pass muster with the judges and clearly the voting public were not impressed either. Bernie feels a little sad. She has a sense of kinship with the Swede: both awkward and out of their depth with the scale of the show they’re on. When the judges opt to save Henrik and Mo (though it’s a close vote), Bernie smiles at Henrik and mouths a congratulations to him.
Always a woman of statistics, as soon as she is able to Bernie looks up the results from the week. She ponders plotting a graph which would showcase each couple’s journey through the show, wonders if that’s something her twitter followers would enjoy; it’s rather difficult to share a graph via the medium of podcast.
- Jac and Derwood – Quickstep – If My Friends Could See Me Now (Sweet Charity) – 36
- Bernie and Serena – Tango – Kiss of Fire (Carol) – 35
- Nicky and Oliver – Foxtrot – The Pink Panther Theme (The Pink Panther) – 35
- Lofty and Dom – Viennese Waltz – Hedwig’s Theme (Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone) – 35
- Essie and Raf – Paso Doble – Don’t Cry For Me Argentina (Evita) - 34
- Frieda and Antoine – Tango – Arabian Nights (Aladdin) – 32
- Arthur and Meena – Jive – Greased Lightnin’ (Grease) – 32
- Roxanna and Matteo – Cha-Cha-Cha – I Won’t Say (I’m In Love) (Hercules) – 29
- Fletch and Morven – Foxtrot – Ev’rybody Wants To Be A Cat (The Aristocats) - 29
- Ric and Zosia – Salsa – Gonna Fly Now (Rocky) - 27
- Ange and Xavier – Paso Doble – My Heart Will Go On (Titanic) - 22
- Henrik and Mo – Foxtrot – Love You I Do (Dreamgirls) - 21
- Sacha and Jasmine – Quickstep – Monsters, Inc (Monsters, Inc) – 20
- Angus and Leah – Cha-Cha-Cha – True to Your Heart (Mulan) - 19
She and Serena are still up there in the top scoring couples. Bernie has to say she’s more than surprised she is doing so well. One thing is for certain though, she knows she now can’t imagine a week going by where she doesn’t spend her time in the arms of Serena Wendy Campbell.
Week 3 Running Order and Songs:
Pros Performance: Pépinot (Les Choristes)
Pros Performance: Lueur d’été (Les Choristes)
Pros Performance: La Nuit (Les Choristes)
Ange and Xavier (Paso Doble): My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion (Titanic)
Angus and Leah (Cha-Cha-Cha): True to Your Heart – 98 Degrees & Stevie Wonder (Mulan)
Bernie and Serena (Tango): Kiss of Fire – Georgia Gibbs (Carol)
Jac and Derwood (Quickstep): If My Friends Could See Me Now – Gwen Verdon (Sweet Charity) - I know this is the from the musical not the film but it's the version I listened to whilst planning and writing this dance.
Frieda and Antoine (Tango): Arabian Nights – Will Smith (Aladdin)
Ric and Zosia (Salsa): Gonna Fly Now – Bill Conti (Rocky)
Sacha and Jasmine (Quickstep): Monsters, Inc – Randy Newman (Monsters, Inc)
Henrik and Mo (Foxtrot): Love You I Do – Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
Essie and Raf (Paso Doble): Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – Madonna (Evita)
Arthur and Meena (Jive): Greased Lightnin’ – John Travolta (Grease)
Nicky and Oliver (Foxtrot): The Pink Panther Theme – Henry Mancini (The Pink Panther)
Roxanna and Matteo (Cha-Cha-Cha): I Won’t Say (I’m In Love) – Susan Egan (Hercules)
Lofty and Dom (Viennese Waltz): Hedwig’s Theme – John Williams (Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone)
Fletch and Morven (Foxtrot): Ev’rybody Wants To Be A Cat – Charles Perry (The Aristocats)
Guest Performance: Sunflower – Post Malone, Swae-Lee (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)
Chapter 6: well I didn’t mean to do it
Another week, another song from a film. This one is very different to last week's though. But when the strength of it comes from how well they fit together, does the aesthetic even matter?
This chapter comes with a special shoutout to CommanderInChief who did some stunning artwork linked to the last chapter which was the most beautiful surprise in the world. Thanks to everyone who continues to cheer me on and leave excited comments about this thing, I'm overwhelmed by all the support. You're all the best.
Just as their first dance was a reference to the fabulous @spilled_notes Dance Me to the End of Love series, there's a song in here which references another iconic Berena fic.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Bernie turns up to their rehearsal on Monday morning to find Serena cackling into her phone. Bernie places a coffee next to Serena (how could she not buy one for her dance partner when she was getting one for herself?) and nudges her shoulder.
“What’s got you all amused?”
Serena turns and hands Bernie her phone.
“Read this article.”
Bernie looks down and sees the headline ‘24 Reasons Why Strictly’s Movie Night Was The Greatest Thing On TV Ever’. Huffing, she scrolls as she drinks her coffee. She almost chokes when she reaches point number 3.
‘3: Bernie and Serena’s Carol Dance.
What movie do you give your first all-female couple on Strictly? Carol, of course. The pair danced to Kiss of Fire and they were both ON FIRE. Their tango was the hottest thing since literal ball of fire the Sun and plenty of people agreed.’
Beneath are some GIFs of their performance alongside some tweets, which Bernie reads amusedly.
OMG BERNIE AND SERENA DOING CAROL #STRICTLY SAID GAY RIGHTS
Not saying Bernie Wolfe might actually BE Cate Blanchett but has anyone ever seen them in the same room??? 👀 #Strictly
Would actually pay real money for Serena and Bernie to do a dance to every song on the Carol soundtrack #Strictly
Beneath is a screenshot of a retweet Serena had done of that tweet with a caption:
@SWCampbell: Now there’s an idea for my @YouTube channel when all this is over… 😉
There’s also a stunning piece of fanart somebody has done, a masterpiece which shows them both in their outfits perfectly, Bernie’s leg wrapped around Serena’s waist and their heads bowed close together. Bernie feels a little overwhelmed that someone would choose to draw them dancing and she points it out to Serena.
“It is. I retweeted it.”
Bernie opens the twitter app on her own phone and sees Serena has retweeted the image with a comment.
@SWCampbell: I ❤ ️ this!
Bernie clicks on the artwork herself and retweets it with a comment of her own.
@WordsWithWolfe: Blown away by this, thank you for sharing it 🎨
As she returns to the article on Serena’s phone and scrolls through, Bernie sees it’s mainly just flattering comments about every pair’s dance. She goes to return Serena’s phone but the dancer shakes her head.
“Look at reason 24.”
Bernie scrolls to the end of the article.
‘Reason 24: Bernie Wolfe as Carol.
Seriously, we’re weak.’
Underneath is a GIF of Bernie dipping Serena during the tango. Personally, she can’t see why all the fuss is on her when Serena is quite clearly looking absolutely stunning in the same GIF. Shrugging, she hands the phone back to Serena.
“So, Campbell, put me through my paces.”
Serena explains that their American Smooth to the Counting Crows track Accidentally in Love will have a playful theme to it, sort of like a stereotypical American high school prom. Wardrobe have confirmed that Serena will be in a pale mint green ballgown with a skirt which will allow plenty of beautiful movement. Serena grins when she says what wardrobe have planned for Bernie.
“You, my darling Berenice, will be wearing a full suit. Tails, waistcoat, tie to match my frock, the works. I believe we’re also going to have a matching buttonhole and corsage.”
Bernie can’t help but smile at how enthusiastic Serena is about the aesthetic. She never had a prom when she left school, not like the big bashes they have now that Cameron and Charlotte had. And besides, any formal dances her school had involved dancing with boys and Bernie was never much interested in that, even if at the time she couldn’t tell herself why.
They start by blocking the first part of their dance. They’re going to act like they’re meeting outside the dance, all youthful enthusiasm and beaming smiles. Bernie learns that there’s a way to act out greeting someone and entering a prom in time to music. She’d thought they’d just act out the first part but Serena makes them repeat it over and over again until Bernie is doing it to the rhythm of the music and the dance. Finally, when Serena’s happy, they move on to the main portion of their American Smooth.
The song lends itself to playfulness and Bernie finds herself grinning as she and Serena kick and step and fan their bodies away from one another in time to the “love” repetitions in the lyrics. By lunchtime, they’ve got a considerable amount of the dance together and Serena is thrilled.
“I’m so glad I’m paired with you, Berenice,” she smiles as they eat their sandwiches. “You’re such a quick learner.”
“I just have a good teacher,” Bernie deflects.
“That you do,” Serena winks. “And I hope all that extra lifting we’ve been doing pays off because this dance has a fair couple of them.”
The next evening, Bernie received a text from Charlotte.
‘You’re dancing to a Shrek song??!?!?!’
Bernie frowns and replies.
‘A Shrek song?’
‘Yeah, on It Takes Two they said you’re dancing to Accidentally in Love.’
‘Oh, we are. That’s from Shrek?’
‘Shrek 2 actually’
Bernie shrugs at this new piece of trivia. That might explain their green outfits, then. At least they didn’t get the song for Movie Week. She shudders to think what their costumes would have been like. She doesn’t think she or Serena would ever manage look good in full green body paint.
As the week goes on, it turns out Serena’s vision for combining ballroom skill with the childish prom aesthetic involves doing a lot of side-stepping during the repeated “I’m in love” refrain towards the end of the song. Bernie comments that she feels a little like a jazzy crab, earning her a playful slap on the arm from her dance partner. It’s this sequence which the cameras film to use during the Strictly Come Dancing spin-off show It Takes Two which is shown daily throughout the competition. Bernie feels a little daft side stepping behind Serena, once with her arms by her side and her hands sticking out like a penguin; another time clasping her hands in front of her heart in time with the music. Serena assures her that it’ll look good and get them a respectable score. Bernie chooses to trust the professional dancer.
Besides, her favourite part about the side-stepping is when she holds Serena’s right hand in her left before they spin inwards to so their other hands touch palm to palm before fanning outwards again. They repeat that move twice before the song comes to an end and, in time with the singing, Bernie lifts Serena up so their faces are almost touching but the dancer’s legs are curled outwards. It’s the classic silhouette of a couple at prom or ball and Serena is desperate for it to look good. Serena informs her that as they slowly spin her dress will (as long as wardrobe are right, which they usually are) ripple. Bernie couldn’t care less about Serena’s frock if she’s honest, she just cares about how her heart soars when she’s carrying Serena in her arms.
Bernie’s at Serena’s house like she has been most nights this week. Having dinner with the dancer and her nephew is quickly becoming a routine the linguist and mathematician could get used to. Jason is talking about his day, detailing the work placement he’s doing through college as a library assistant. Whilst she is listening to Jason, Bernie finds her gaze wandering to Serena. She’s got the softest smile on her face as her nephew talks and her affection for him is clear. This is a different side to Serena Campbell, professional dancer extraordinaire. This is a relaxed, domestic Serena Campbell, one who the press doesn’t get to see. It’s a version of Serena Campbell that Bernie cannot help but love. Bernie feels her heart flip in her chest and time seems to stop for a moment as she realises something.
She, Bernie Wolfe, loves Serena Campbell. She, Bernie Wolfe, might even be in love with Serena Campbell.
That wasn’t supposed to happen.
Bernie tries to distance herself from Serena for a couple of days to try and get some perspective. She researches and records her podcast whilst Serena is rehearsing for the professional group dances. She tries not to think about the fact she might be in love with her dance partner while they’re rehearsing together.
The hardest part of the week by far comes when it’s time for them to film Thursday’s episode of It Takes Two. As the other portions of the show go ahead, Bernie and Serena sit and watch. It’s actually quite interesting, Bernie thinks, listening to the costume designer and dancing experts talk. When it’s time for their interview, Bernie is happy so sit and let Serena do a lot of the talking. The dancer is used to this sort of thing whereas Bernie still feels a little awkward talking in front of a camera.
In the end, she only answers a couple of standard questions about rehearsals and her podcast and how well she and Serena are getting on. She tries to filter what she says, not make it obvious that her heart seems to have fallen for the effervescent woman beside her. It’s difficult when with every word she says Serena is beside her smiling warmly, her red lipstick a siren song to Bernie just asking to be kissed.
When the episode airs, Bernie’s phone makes her aware of the fact, her twitter notifications increasing exponentially.
Hands up if you’re watching #ItTakesTwo just for @SWCampbell and @WordsWithWolfe
omg @WordsWithWolfe is so awkward I love her #ItTakesTwo
@SWCampbell and @WordsWithWolfe got me from having never watched #Strictly to sat glued to #ItTakesTwo
In the end, Bernie decides the best course of action is to focus on dancing with Serena and forget all about her silly infatuation. It’s the only course of action, if she’s honest. Especially as when Serena looks at her on Friday and asks if she’d like to come round to supper on Sunday, Bernie is unable to say no.
Bernie thinks her American Smooth outfit may be her favourite outfit ever (she knows she said that last week, but this week the costume department seem to have reached even greater heights). Her hair this week is scraped and gelled back behind her ears so she looks a little like Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, all youthful exuberance and overdone formality. The waistcoat hugs her perfectly and the tailcoat flares out beautifully as she spins. And, most of all, when she’s stood next to Serena with her matching dress and corsage, there’s no denying they’re together. Bernie dreams of an alternate universe where she and Serena are a couple and not just two people acting out a teenage prom-inspired ballroom dance.
They’re performing later in the show this week which gives Bernie plenty of time to sit with Serena and watch the performances preceding them. During the dress rehearsal, Serena offers quiet commentary about the dances to Bernie, detailing which parts are good and which steps Serena thinks they might try when it’s their turn to do a specific dance. Bernie marvels at how much Serena knows about dance, how excited it makes her. She can’t stop smiling as Serena’s eyes glow with passion for her art.
They get about halfway through the dress rehearsal before they reach Ange and Xavier. They’re doing a jive to Christina Aguilera’s Candyman. Next to her, Bernie notices Serena audibly wince when the dance begins.
“She’s all out of time,” Serena hisses at Bernie. “How has Xavier not been helping her to iron out these difficulties in rehearsal?”
Bernie shrugs and agrees. If she’s honest, she’s rather dreading the week when they’re assigned the jive; it seems horrendously complicated.
Serena keeps up her commentary throughout the performance.
“This is painful, Berenice. It’s possibly one of the worst jives I have seen in my life. They’re putting in a lot of showy moves to try and overcompensate for the fact that, at its heart, it’s a poor effort at a jive. If I were the one of the judges it’d be getting no more than 4. Let’s hope they pull it out of the bag tomorrow night.”
Following on from Ange and Xavier is Jac and Derwood. They’re doing a rumba to Fernando by Abba and it is breath-taking. Serena watches it appraisingly, glad that Derwood has been given a competent partner for once. Just as Serena always seems to land the older men, Derwood has a history of being given the female celebrities who have two left feet. Not this series. The property expert Jac Naylor is a vision as they spin around the floor. At one point, Derwood dips Jac and she extends her right leg upwards past his shoulder, her toes perfectly pointed and the split in her dress falling away to reveal a tantalisingly smooth glimpse of the property expert’s thigh. Beside her, Bernie’s jaw drops open. Serena feels something coil in her belly dangerously as she tries to work out if Bernie’s mesmerised by the woman’s dancing abilities or the woman herself.
Bernie’s in awe of how quickly the production team and show runners change the sets between dances. As soon as Jac and Derwood are finished, the crew are pushing all of the garish high school prom props onto the floor. She still can’t quite believe just how outlandishly pink and turquoise the giant floral displays and love hearts are. It’s possibly the most over the top set she’s seen yet. Bernie crooks her arm and turns to Serena.
Bernie is coming to rely on the heady feeling of escapism she feels whenever she dances with Serena. For those precious few moments when they’re dancing, Bernie forgets the crowd and the crew and the rest of the world exist. It’s just her and Serena in their own private universe, stepping around the dancefloor and creating a trail of happiness in their wake.
When the final bars of the song play out and the singer trails off with the final “I’m in love”, Bernie is reluctant to put Serena back onto the ground.
Saturday evening arrives and Bernie finds she’s not as nervous as she was. She’s slowly getting used to Saturday nights involving dancing on national television with the greatest ballroom dancer in the world. She goes through hair and makeup and costume and then takes her place on the set, ready for the show to begin.
Before the show starts on Saturday, Serena finds herself pulled into a selfie with Morven and Jasmine. They’re all in lace dresses ready for their opening pros performance to Wheat Kings by The Tragically Hip. Serena’s is white, Jasmine’s is a pale yellow and Morven’s is a soft shade of purple.
Morven uploads the photo to her social media with a caption which makes Serena think.
@missmorven: those spring wedding vibes #Strictly @allthatjasmine @SWCampbell
Serena looks down at her dress and realises that if she were to get married again, she wouldn’t mind a spring wedding with a white lacy frock. An image of Bernie in her waistcoat and tails flashes before her eyes; followed swiftly by the image of Bernie laughing on the floor of the rehearsal room a couple of weeks ago; followed by an image of Bernie on Serena’s couch, her gaze soft and her voice even softer. Serena shakes her head to clear the thoughts as a runner announces it’s nearly time for them to open the show.
As the Strictly theme plays throughout the studio, Serena focuses on getting her performance mindset back. She and Berenice are a winning partnership. That’s all. Nothing more.
Sacha and Jasmine open the show with a cha-cha-cha. The song is a perfect choice for the larger than life weatherman. The audience in the studio are going wild for his moves to the lyrics asking everyone to ‘do the cha cha cha, do the woo woo woo’ and Serena knows the public at home will love it too. Sacha’s a wonderful man and Serena really does hope he goes far in the contest, even if he isn’t the most brilliant dancer in the world.
The biggest shock of the evening where Serena is concerned comes from Essie and Raf. They’re doing a samba to Kid Rock’s All Summer Long and it is far from the standard Serena would expect from the winner of the previous series. Beside her, Bernie turns to whisper her concerns.
“They weren’t this bad last night, were they?”
“No, they weren’t.”
As expected, the judges are exceedingly critical about the dance. Everything from their rhythm to their footwork to their lifts is torn apart and poor Essie looks close to tears when they only score 20 points. Raf is slightly more composed and pulls the TV super nanny into his chest to offer some comfort. Serena, having known Raf for many years now, is not fooled. She knows he’s devastated by the result which currently puts them bottom of the leader board.
Straight after Essie and Raf come Henrik and Mo. Serena is impressed. Mo has clearly been working hard with Henrik and their Viennese waltz to Johnny Mathis’ The Sweetheart Tree is beautiful. The tall businessman seems a lot more at home in this dance and it’s reflected in their moves. The whole performance has a vintage vibe to it and could be straight out of a black and white movie. The judges also note this improvement in style and award the performance a combined score of 27, which is by far the highest score Henrik Hanssen has achieved yet. Beside her, Bernie smiles and claps and nods her head towards Henrik. Serena rather thinks her partner feels a kinship with the man; they’re both rather reserved characters who the British public were likely shocked to see in Strictly.
Next is Ange and Xavier and Bernie has to laugh when, beside her, Serena tries to avert her eyes from the car crash on the dance floor. Bernie’s a complete novice and even she can tell that the Candyman jive is an absolute wreck. It’s as bad as it was in the dress rehearsal and after such an astonishing performance from Henrik it only looks worse. When it scores a meagre 18, Bernie can see Raf sighing with relief. At least he and Essie are not bottom of the pack after all.
Serena can’t help but feel a childish sense of glee as she stands across the dance floor from Bernie, waiting until their dance is announced and the music begins. The whole song and performance is possibly the silliest thing she’s ever done on Strictly Come Dancing but rather than feeling foolish she just feels pure joy and wonder at the fact she’s finally got a dance partner – and a female one at that – who is able to blossom under her tuition.
Throughout the performance Serena knows there’s a huge smile on her face but she doesn’t care because opposite her Bernie Wolfe, the human embodiment of good old British reserve, is beaming as they step and spin in perfect unison, their arcs and fans as flawless as Serena could ever dream of them being.
When the song ends, Serena is sad to be set back down to the ground, wishes she could spend forever with her forehead close to Bernie’s and her legs curled up behind her. On impulse, before Bernie can set her down, Serena brings her left-hand round from behind Bernie’s neck and taps her on the nose playfully before leaning down and kissing it softly. All throughout the judges’ comments Bernie wears a bemused expression on her face and the traces of Serena’s lipstick on the end of her nose.
They score 32 points, putting them one point behind Jac and Derwood. The more this competition goes on, the more Serena thinks that Jac and Derwood are going to be the biggest obstacle between she and Berenice getting the trophy. Knowing that Jac is an excellent dancer just means Serena has all the more drive to work hard to secure victory. If she’s going to win the glitterball, it’s going to be with Berenice by her side.
The best jive of the evening comes from Fletch and Morven who do an infectiously fun dance to Crazy Little Thing Called Love. After last week’s Aristocats dance, Fletch has secured his position as a cheeky chappy who all the housewives are going berserk for. Serena’s seen enough features from all the gossip magazines on her twitter feed about ‘Fantastic Mister Fletcher’ that she knows he’s practically secured the entirety of the votes from that particular demographic. Alongside being fun, Fletch and Morven do dance well. The young dancer clearly has creative flair which will become more and more obvious the longer she appears on the show. Serena’s thrilled. Morven Shreve is the future of the show which Serena loves so much.
The week ends with Lofty and Dom doing a Paso Doble to a song called Mean. Bernie has never heard of it. She turns to Serena and asks about it.
“It’s got some country vibes, this, hasn’t it? Has Dusty Springfield got some new music?”
Bernie does not expect Serena to nearly bite her lip open from trying not to laugh whilst Lofty and Dom dance.
“Oh Berenice, you berk. It’s one of Taylor Swift’s old tracks. Your pop knowledge still needs work, I see.”
The soft smile she bestows on her makes Bernie’s stomach flip. She feels light as air all the way through the boys’ Paso Doble which is filled with a lot of cape swishing at one another. Bernie’s not entirely sure what the point of all the cape swishing is. Ah well, she thinks. When the time comes for she and Serena to do a Paso Doble, perhaps it will be fun wafting a cape about in time to some music.
Again, Serena is not part of this week’s results show dance. That honour goes to Donna, Leah, Xavier and Raf. Bernie stands by Serena and watches as they dance to Ho Hey, the song The Lumineers are playing live.
On a whim, Bernie turns to Serena and whispers her thoughts into the side of her head.
“I rather think I’d like to dance to this at a wedding. One of those outdoors ones in a cabin with a campfire.”
Serena turns to look at Bernie as her mind supplies an image of the two of them, wearing lace frocks like the one Serena had on earlier, dancing to the song as a campfire crackles and pops in the background. It’s a more than pleasant image and one which makes itself at home in the back of Serena’s mind to be revisited during moments when she’s feeling lonely and missing her dance partner.
“Yes,” she murmurs in response. “I rather think I would too.”
As is becoming customary, they take their positions for the recording of the results show. Jac and Derwood are the first couple to be announced as safe, which comes as no surprise to anybody at all. Next announced as safe are Fletch and Morven. Morven beams and Fletch gives her a double high five. Serena’s pleased for them but she can still feel the nerves creep in as they always do when she’s stood with all the other couples waiting to hear their fate. Bernie must sense her apprehension because she wraps her arm around Serena’s back and squeezes her gently.
Ange and Xavier are the first couple to be told they’ll be in the dance-off, which isn’t a surprise. Their jive was truly awful. After that announcement, Bernie and Serena are announced as safe and Serena releases the breath she was holding, mouthing a ‘thank you’ at the camera.
After the rest of the announcements, it’s down to Essie and Raf versus Henrik and Mo. One of them will be in the dance-off and considering Essie and Raf’s score of 20 compared with Henrik and Mo’s 27, it’s clear who the red light is going to land on. When it lands on Henrik and Mo almost everyone in the studio (Essie and Raf included) gasp. The public have voted to save Essie and Raf which means Henrik and Mo will face Ange and Xavier in the dance-off. Tess gives her commiserations to Henrik and Mo before they get ready to perform their Viennese waltz once more. Serena is rooting for them, knows that if she were a judge, she’d save them over Ange and Xavier.
Her thoughts are right. The judges vote unanimously to save Henrik and Mo, much to the delight of Mo who is enveloped into a hug by her husband Derwood as soon as it is announced that she and Henrik will remain on the show. Serena stays with Bernie to record their soundbites about how sad they are to see Ange and Xavier leave before they’re finally able to get changed and go home for some well-earned rest.
The first thing Bernie does when she wakes up on Sunday morning is checks the score table from the previous evening. She likes what she sees, feels proud to be so high up the leader board with Serena.
- Jac and Derwood – Rumba – Fernando - 33
- Bernie and Serena – American Smooth – Accidentally in Love - 32
- Frieda and Antoine – Charleston – Kryptonite – 31
- Arthur and Meena – Foxtrot – Cruel - 30
- Nicky and Oliver – Quickstep – Tu Vuo’ Fa’ L’Americano - 29
- Ric and Zosia – Rumba – Stop And Stare - 29
- Lofty and Dom – Paso Doble – Mean - 27
- Henrik and Mo – Viennese Waltz – The Sweetheart Tree - 27
- Sacha and Jasmine – Cha-Cha-Cha – Do The Cha Cha Cha - 26
- Fletch and Morven – Jive – Crazy Little Thing Called Love - 26
- Roxanna and Matteo – Salsa – Hollaback Girl - 25
- Essie and Raf – Samba – All Summer Long - 20
- Ange and Xavier – Jive – Candyman - 18
She’s still reeling at how the public voted to save Essie and Raf when her phone buzzes. She looks down to a text from Serena.
‘Come round? You can even stay for supper x’
Bernie smiles at the message, pleased that Serena wants to spend time with her. She replies with a quick ‘yes 😊’ and then leaves her apartment, only stopping into an M&S to pick up a sharing dessert after remembering Serena mention how much she likes tiramisu during one of their rehearsals this last week.
Bernie spends the day at Serena’s house, helping her in the garden and playing an intense game of Scrabble with Jason, who is a fierce opponent indeed.
They have supper then share the tiramisu in the sitting room watching the results show with Jason. Bernie is stretched out along the sofa and Serena is pressed into her side. It feels nice, Bernie thinks, to have this closeness. And no matter what the voices in her head say, she tries to sternly remind herself that this intimacy is purely platonic, arising from the convenience of them sharing a single spoon as they take it in turns to eat the scrumptious coffee-filled dessert.
When the results show is over, Bernie’s mobile starts to ring. Seeing it is Charlotte, she excuses herself to the kitchen to take the call.
“Mum, where are you?”
“I’m at Serena’s house, why?”
“Cam and I have just come to your flat to congratulate you on another amazing week and it’s empty. Good job we’ve got a spare key.”
“Oh Lottie!” Bernie says, crestfallen. “If I’d have known you were coming round, I wouldn’t have gone to Serena’s.”
“Don’t worry about it Mum, I’m glad you’re getting on. Listen, uh,” she pauses, “are you and Serena a, y’know, a thing now? You’re spending a lot of time together.”
“No, Charlotte, no!” Bernie exclaims, glancing anxiously at the sitting room lest Serena can hear. She lowers her voice. “She’s a friend, yes. We’re just rehearsing-” Bernie pauses as she realises that today she and Serena have done absolutely no dancing whatsoever. She’s spent a day in Serena Campbell’s home doing absolutely nothing linked to the show. That must mean Serena really does enjoy spending time with her.
Bernie tries not to get too optimistic about what that might mean.
Week 4 Running Order and Songs:
Pros Performance: Wheat Kings – The Tragically Hip
Sacha and Jasmine (Cha-Cha-Cha): Do The Cha Cha Cha – Alex Swings Oscar Sings
Frieda and Antoine (Charleston): Kryptonite – 3 Doors Down
Ric and Zosia (Rumba): Stop And Stare - OneRepublic
Essie and Raf (Samba): All Summer Long – Kid Rock
Henrik and Mo (Viennese Waltz): The Sweetheart Tree – Johnny Mathis
Ange and Xavier (Jive): Candyman – Christina Aguilera
Jac and Derwood (Rumba): Fernando – ABBA
Bernie and Serena (American Smooth): Accidentally in Love – Counting Crows
Arthur and Meena (Foxtrot): Cruel – Snakehips ft. ZAYN
Fletch and Morven (Jive): Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Queen
Roxanna and Matteo (Rumba): Hollaback Girl – Gwen Stefani
Nicky and Oliver (Quickstep): Tu Vuo’ Fa’ L’Americano – Hetty & the Jazzato Band
Lofty and Dom (Paso Doble): Mean – Taylor Swift
Guest Performance: Ho Hey – The Lumineers