The Waterside theatre came into its own on Sunday evening to provide the most spectacular and fitting backdrop for Strictly Florence – held to celebrate 25 years of the hospice in Aylesbury.
And the worthy winners at the end of the evening were on cloud nine when they were presented with their trophies, each receiving a crystal glass star.
Mark Henderson, 36, of Aylesbury and Sian McCarthy, 39, from Waddesdon, met at Bodyjam cardio dance workout held in the Ludwig Guttman centre at Stoke Mandeville. And they put their shared passion for dance to good use in an enthusiastic display which saw Mark somersault across the stage and Sian shake her booty with joy.
The following morning she said: “My feet are still throbbing from wearing heels but my legs and everything else is all right. I can’t quite believe it, the support from everyone for all the contestants was phenomenal. I don’t think I’ll come down to earth for days.”
The atmosphere in the theatre, both on stage and in the audience, was electrifying as the brave and surprisingly talented contestants conquered their nerves and put on a show to be proud of.
Cheers from family, friends, Florence Nightingale Hospice supporters, VIPs and hard working behind the scenes volunteers filled the auditorium in a night which brought the town together, creating a bubble of feelgood togetherness. And even outspoken head judge Craig Revel Horwood laughed, smiled, joked and – occasionally – complimented the 12 dancing couples.
After only six lessons, provided by Graham Bristo and Karen Pugh from GB Dance, the contestants impressively performed a cheeky cha cha and a passionate tango.
The standard for so brief a training period was surprisingly good and in some cases even amazing, and there were few missed steps.
Even then no-one went to pieces, they simply sorted themselves out and carried on. Bearing in mind, unlike the couples in the BBC television series, both individuals in each pairing was an amateur, this was no mean feat, and pretty impressive.
Craig Revel Horwood was joined on the judging panel by Waterside panto star Anita Dobson who charmed everyone she met with her genuine kindness, Scott Cole (brother of Strictly professional dancer Brendan), celebrity chef Lotte Duncan and ex professional dancer Jean Orchard, who gave generous and thoughtful advice.
Local dignitaries and celebrities in the audience included Spandau Ballet lead singer Tony Hadley who chatted happily and posed for photographs, new town mayor Tom Hunter-Watts and his wife Ayse, and Aylesbury MP David Lidington and his wife Helen.
The event was professionally compered and held together by comedian Rob Deering who did a fabulous job entertaining the crowd, and Mix 96 breakfast presenter Katy Butler, who wowed the audience with a sensuous rumba performed with Scott Cole.
Raw Diva, a dance troupe from Oxford, opened the show and Waterside panto heroine Holly Brewer gave the audience a taste of things to come with two beautiful vocal performances during the evening.
Of course the purpose behind the evening was to start the silver anniversary year of the Florence Nightingale Hospice with a bang, and it certainly achieved that.
The evening was a fitting tribute to a charity which is close to the hearts of many within the community.
The dedication of the people who work and volunteer there was celebrated. And many of the contestants had very personal reasons for wanting to take part and each couple pledged to raise a minimum of £400 for the hospice in addition to training for the extraordinary and splendid show.
No better start to 25-year anniversary celebrations
Strictly Florence took three years to come to fruition. But the long wait was worth it, with a sensational evening of entertainment and the promise of up to £15,000 raised for the charity.
Karen Shardlow, events and development manager for the Florence Nightingale Hospice, said the wait was due to trying to co-ordinate the diary of head judge Craig Revel Horwood with a free night at the Waterside Theatre.
Mrs Shardlow said: “It just so happened that after waiting so long everything fell into place now, which couldn’t have provided a better start to our 25-year celebrations.”
Craig Revel Horwood is a friend of a member of staff at the hospice and delighted everyone with his wicked sense of humour as head judge.
Mrs Shardlow said: “Craig went into the dressing room in the interval and told the dancers to give it their all. And at the end he stayed to chat and signed books and the ribbons holding silver star medals which all the contestants received.”
Although tired the morning after the event, Mrs Shardlow said she was also proud.
She attended every one of the six dance lessons the contestants took part in over six weeks and watched their progression.
“I couldn’t stop grinning at the show,” she said.
“It was a proud mum moment, I was so proud of this huge group of people.
“I was also so conscious during the evening that it was all flying by and I do feel sad now that it’s over. But there are plans to get all the dancers together to watch a video of the night.
“There was great camaraderie in the dressing room, they all cheered for one another.
“They were all very much there for the occasion and the cause. They’ve all became great friends and are very supportive of each other.”
Whilst waiting for final confirmation of the amount the evening raised, Mrs Shardlow confirmed it would be between £10,000-£15,000.
She also praised the Waterside Theatre and staff for the incredible support given to the event and said: “It is such a stunning venue and there was a great atmosphere, with everyone in the audience behind every single dancer.”