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Daniel O'Donnell's Strictly Diary: Week 1

TVBy Daniel O'Donnell
Daniel O'Donnell's weekly Strictly diary is exclusive to the Sunday World
Daniel O'Donnell's weekly Strictly diary is exclusive to the Sunday World

Lights, camera, action…After the excitement of getting the offer, and the weeks of keeping it a secret until it was officially revealed, I’ve finally taken to the floor on Strictly Come Dancing.

Every Sunday, for as long as I’m in the show, I’ll take you behind the scenes and give you my personal thoughts, struggles and experiences in the build-up to each weekend’s performance.

First of all, let me tell you that I have never been so excited, or so nervous, about a show in my life as I am about Strictly.

I wake up every morning with a knot in my stomach. Maybe that will pass when I get into the swing of things, but for now I’m all wound up with a combination of nerves, excitement and adrenalin.

I’m dancing on the biggest TV show in Britain, so the stakes are high. Luckily for me, I’ve been paired with the professional dancer that I felt most comfortable with during our early rehearsals.

Now I hope that Kristina Rihanoff will take me all the way to the Strictly final.

TUESDAY

My week on Strictly kicked off on Tuesday with rehearsals for the grand opening. Until Tuesday it all felt like a dream, but the moment I walked into the Strictly studio the reality hit me.

I saw the stairs where everybody walks down and on to the show. I saw the band and the area where the judges sit and all around me it seemed that there were hundreds of people working on the big production.

Strictly is the biggest show in Britain and it certainly feels that way when you’re in the middle of it. There are people everywhere doing something. Of all the TV shows I’ve done around the world, I’ve never experienced an operation like this one. It’s overwhelming, but so exciting at the same time. 

As we were doing a choreographed piece involving the entire group, I didn’t have to worry about the focus being solely on me  – but I still had to work hard to remember my steps.

You realise how much you have to learn when you see the professional dancers dancing together. They are  stunning to watch.

On Tuesday evening we had a red carpet event, where the dancers and celebrities met the media. It’s the first time I’ve ever been at a red carpet event, and it reminded me of a scene at the Oscars. 

The blinding flashes from the cameras would almost make you lose your balance. I walked down the carpet with Anita Rani, and the pair of us nearly stumbled. It was a great night, and so thrilling to be a part of.

WEDNESDAY

On Wednesday morning we had our first dress rehearsal in the studio for the show. By now, I had the hang of it – or at least I was as good as I was going to get at that stage. 

There’s no hanging about for anybody, you have to keep up with it. Every now and again we’d nudge each other and say: ‘Why are we putting ourselves through this? What are we doing here?’ But at the same time we were all on a high.

Wednesday night in the studio was show time, the big moment we’d been working our way up to. Standing at the top of the stairs, waiting to be announced, was so nerve-wracking. 

I felt the group dancing went well, and the reaction of the TV audience was like something you’d expect if One Direction walked into the room. 

Last year’s Strictly winner Caroline Flack did her showpiece and that was a sight to behold. She obviously had lots of ability, but it’s amazing how she developed as a dancer on Strictly. She looked like a professional. 

The anticipation kept building throughout the show as the celebrities and professional dancers were paired up at different intervals.

Finally, there was Peter Andre and myself and two professional dancers. And, to my delight, I was paired up with Kristina.

During rehearsals for the group dance, I had danced briefly with Kristina. We were all in a circle at the time doing a waltz step. Every 10 seconds a new dancer would come to us to give us some advice.

While all of the professionals are brilliant, Kristina, for me, was the one I felt most comfortable with. She was the one who was most encouraging to me. 

The dancers often request the celebrity they want to work with and Kristina disclosed that she had wanted me to be her partner. She thought I might be good at ballroom dancing, even though there’s more to it than ballroom.

My biggest ambition in Strictly is to learn how to dance at a professional level, and to master new dances. Hopefully, Kristina will work her magic on me.

THURSDAY

After the high of the show on Wednesday, it was business as usual the following day. There was a big photoshoot lined up for the dancers and celebrities and while we were hanging around, Kristina used the time to show me some steps. The dances are difficult to pick up, but she has an easy way of explaining them, so I feel very comfortable with her, I have to say.

I’ve been a fan of the show and I always felt that Kristina does lovely choreography.

FRIDAY

I had noticed on the Strictly schedule that Friday is ‘spray tan’ day. I think it’s for parts of the body that are going to be exposed. I guarantee you now that in the foreseeable future I’ll be more covered than exposed! I’m not a great one for showing off the chest.

Friday started for me with a trip to the gym, where I’m going to be working with a personal trainer. Kristina told me not to do too much, and the trainer has advised me that half an hour a week is plenty for core strength.

SATURDAY

Majella has been over with me, but she’s leaving for a planned trip to Tenerife with daughter, Siobhan, son-in-law Gavin, and gorgeous grandchild, Olivia. The thing I’m going to miss most being on Strictly is seeing the baby all the time because she has become such a big part of our lives. I’m absolutely besotted with little Olivia.

I had the option of flying back and forth to Donegal while I’m on the show, but I decided that it would be much better for me to base myself in the apartment that Strictly has given me in London. Majella will fly back and forth to visit me while I’m on the show, so we’re lucky in that respect.

Kristina hasn’t told me what dance I have to master next week. I’ll probably find out on Monday when she sends me videos to watch. 

Whatever comes my way dance-wise, I’ll do my best. I’ve brought my golf clubs with me to London, so in my head I’m here for the long haul. I’d love to be the one to get the glitter ball, but time will tell.