Three Families: The true story of the emotional BBC dramaMay 11 | 4 min read
Strictly Come Dancing's biggest controversies - Illicit kisses, sacked judges, shock exits
Think Strictly is all bright smiles, brighter outfits and family fun? Think again...
Craig Revel Horwood
We all love a bit of Strictly sparkle, but as much as the show looks like the happiest place to be on TV each year, behind the scenes it all sounds a little more cut-throat.
Of course, it goes with the territory that entering into the contest also leaves its stars open to gossip, intrigue and potential back-stabbing.
Cast your mind back over some of these controversial moments.
Seann and Katya's kiss
Seann Walsh's fake tan had barely even had time to dry before he got caught in a sleazy encounter with his pro dancer partner, Katya Jones.
Just three weeks into the 2018 competition, The Sun published photos and video of a drunken Seann and Katya on a night out in London where they stumbled out of a bar and snogged in the street.
What made it even worse was that the kiss happened on his girlfriend actress Rebecca Humphries' birthday, and Katya is married to fellow Strictly pro Neil Jones.
Both Seann and Katya tweeted apologies after the story broke, putting it down to a drunken mistake, but Rebecca tweeted her own version of events, which made it clear Seann had not bothered to try to make amends in real life.
Before the 2018 series had even announced its line-up, we'd already hit the first bump in the road - long-time star Brendan Cole was axed from the show.
The dancer from New Zealand had appeared in all 15 series of Strictly to date, even winning the first one with Natasha Kaplinsky, so if anyone's place in the ballroom seemed secure, it was his.
Had the judges had one too many heated arguments with Brendan, not a man known for taking criticism lying down? Or did they just want to open up some space for new dancers?
Either way, the decision was not Brendan's and fans were devastated. He gave an emotional interview to ITV's Lorraine, saying: "I’m a little bit in shock. I’m quite emotional, a bit raw about it."
Brendan, who had previously been vocal in his criticism of new head judge Shirley Ballas, added: "It’s an editorial decision. I’m sure I’ll never know the ins and outs. I’m a very strong character within the show. I have my strong views."
Aston Merrygold's shock exit
The JLS popstar was an early favourite to win the 2017 series and before his shock elimination, he had the highest total of points across the series so far.
However, after an underwhelming ballroom routine and a controversial mark of 4 from Craig Revel Horwood, Aston found himself in the bottom two with Mollie King.
When Head Judge Shirley Ballas opted to save Mollie over Aston, Twitter went into meltdown over the biggest shock exit in the show's history. Former Strictly pro dancer James Jordan described the judges' decision as "disgusting".
Aston's exit was far from being the only shock result in 2017, though - the amazingly talented Alexandra Burke somehow only came fourth, and Debbie McGee, who everyone expected to win, ended up as runner-up to Holby City actor Joe McFadden.
The Strictly Curse
Almost as famous as the show itself is the notorious Curse of Strictly – if your significant other gets the call to enter the ballroom, don’t expect to be spending Christmas with them.
And we may only see the tip of the iceberg - programme insiders have claimed that there are far more trysts formed through the contest than will ever see the light of day.
The programme’s infamous splits have included Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan Cole who broke up with their respective partners shortly after winning the first series; Susanna Reid, who split from her long-term partner shortly after the series ended in 2013; Rachel Riley, who divorced her husband and got together - and in 2019 married - with Strictly dance partner Pasha Kovalev; and Ben Cohen who broke up with his wife and now has a child with Kristina Rihanoff, who he partnered on the 2013 series – the Russian dancer had also had a romance with dance partner, boxer Joe Calzaghe, following the 2009 series.
Will Young’s dramatic exit
When the TV contest veteran signed up to do Strictly in 2016, many thought he had a win in the bag.
But the former Pop Idol winner barely lasted a few weeks before he sensationally quit the programme, despite a number of promising routines.
In the absence of a proper explanation, fans of the show began to speculate that the pop star walking was down to head judge Len Goodman’s sharp-tongued critique of his salsa.
However, Will has since rubbished that theory and the suggestion that he fell out with partner Karen Clifton, revealing that he has been suffering from PTSD as well as a number of addictions.
Arlene Phillips is traded in for a younger model
Dance expert Arlene is so experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to all things ballroom and Latin that she seemed irreplaceable on the judging panel… until, that is, she was replaced.
After five years on the programme’s judging panel, Arlene was given the boot before suffering the indignity of making way for former contestant Alesha Dixon, who had presumably learned much of her technical knowledge from her predecessor.
Alesha was, to be fair, a popular judge, but the BBC were accused of ageism and the sorry tale was even brought up in the House of Commons by MP Harriet Harman.
Anton Du Beke’s backstage ‘banter’ with Laila Rouass
Beloved pro dancer Anton rarely puts a foot wrong, but the one time he did make an error of judgment it was pretty catastrophic.
He was partnered with actress Laila in 2009 when he hit the headlines for using a racial slur to describe her when talking off air.
Du Beke insisted that the whole thing was “just banter”, but it deeply offended many people and the situation became even worse when then-host Sir Bruce Forsyth defended him by saying: “We used to have a sense of humour about this. You go back 25, 30, 40 years and there has always been a bit of humour about the whole thing.”
Brucie also apologised unreservedly, but the incident was not exactly a high point in Strictly’s history.
John Sergeant bows out semi-gracefully
Remembered as an even worse dancer than dancefloor dud Ed Balls, political journalist John is one of the few contestants to have quit for a reason other than injury.
There were some really great amateur dancers in the class of 2008, but the broadcaster was not one of them.
However, the public loved him – particularly the routine that saw him drag partner Kristina Rihanoff across the floor like a sack of spuds – and voted him back in week after week.
With the judges getting angrier at the contestant that they just could not shake off, John eventually decided to take matters into his own hands and leave the competition in week 10.
"The trouble is that there is now a real danger that I might win the competition. Even for me that would be a joke too far," he said.
The Jordans tell all about behind-the-scenes Strictly
When the Strictly producers first hired Ola and James Jordan, it must have seemed like a great win to land a glamorous couple with so much experience under their belts.
Between them, the Jordans have provided some of the show’s most memorable dance moments, drawing in the fans year after year.
But the husband and wife, who have both now left their roles on the programme, certainly took the sheen off Strictly with their revelations about what happened when the cameras weren’t rolling.
Ola laid into the pay structure, complaining that the dancers weren’t paid enough and the judges too much, considering their limited knowledge of ballroom.
James accused bosses of sacking him when he left the show in 2014 and can regularly be found on Twitter during each series run, airing his opinions on the performances, the judges’ apparently poor critiques and who he believes is being set up for failure or success by the producers.
A regular refrain no matter the series is that those who have studied dance, or even taken jobs that included some dancing, should not be allowed to compete as amateurs.
The argument goes that it’s unfair on the contestants who are learning a new skill from scratch if their rivals have such a head start – but in reality, viewers love to see the proficient performers just as much as the hilariously bad ones, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an actor or singer who hadn’t had some basic dance training.
2018 was no different, and it's an issue that Steps star Faye Tozer and Blue singer Lee Ryan had to address.
While Tozer and Ryan shook off the criticism, fellow contestant Ashley Roberts’s appearances were riddled with think pieces and debates about whether she - as a former judge on ITV’s Dancing on Ice and member of dance troupe Pussycat Dolls - should be allowed to compete as an amateur.
The fan fury continued throughout the competition as Roberts's impressive routines landed her high scores from the judges and a place in the final.
But even the most impressive of routines wasn't enough to sway the public who made Stacey Dooley their 2018 champion.