A sure sign of autumn is strictly’s return

Len Goodman, Darcey Bussell, Craig Revel Horwood, Bruno Tonioli
Len Goodman, Darcey Bussell, Craig Revel Horwood, Bruno Tonioli

The nights are drawing in and The X Factor started last week, so that can only mean one thing – it’s time for the nation’s celebs to top up their spray tans and start practising their paso faces as Strictly Come Dancing returns.

We’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for the competition to begin in earnest, but this special launch show will give us our first chance to assess the form of the stars taking part.

Their identities aren’t exactly a secret – the eclectic line-up, which includes everyone from tennis coach Judy ‘Mother of Andy’ Murray, the former Wimbledon champ to former TOWIE star Mark Wright, via Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills, was confirmed last month.

But now we’re about to discover just which professional dancer will be squiring which famous face around the dance floor, and see them all take part in a group number.

In theory, pop stars Pixie Lott and Frankie Bridge of the Saturdays, almost as well known for their dance routines as their vocals, should be used to learning routines, although they’d no doubt point out that strutting their stuff in a video isn’t quite the same as mastering their ballroom hold until it meets the exacting standards of head judge Len Goodman.

Frankie says: “Like so many little girls, I used to take dance lessons when I was in primary school and I really love dancing but this is going to be so different from anything I have done with the Saturdays. I just can’t wait to get started!”

One person who does have previous Strictly experience is Simon Webbe from Blue, who executed a very creditable cha cha in the 2011 Christmas special, although it seems he’s planning some very different moves this time around.

“I’m hopeful that Strictly Come Dancing will help me to improve on my daddy dancing skills.

“I want to make my daughter proud and no doubt she will be teaching me a pirouette or two along the way.”

But as the contestants take to the floor for a group routine, will it be another contender who surprises us with their shimmying?

Here’s the rest of the line-up.Former EastEnder Scott Maslen did very well when he took part in 2010, so if jiving ability runs in the Branning family, his on-screen brother Jake Wood could be a dark horse. The actor, who can normally be found seducing the female residents of Albert Square as Max, is certainly enthusiastic, saying: “I’m really relishing the prospect of hitting the Strictly dance floor this year.

“I’m doing it for all the dads out there and you never know, there’s always a chance of being the first Walford resident to take home the glitterball... Bring it on!”

He’ll face tough competition though from This Morning reporter Alison Hammond, former Casualty actress Sunetra Sarker, TV presenter Caroline Flack, former rugby player Thom Evans, wildlife presenter Steve Backshall, MasterChef judge Gregg Wallace, Bargain Hunt presenter Tim Wonnacott and Mrs Brown’s Boys actress Jennifer Gibney.

But at least the contestants can take some comfort in the fact they won’t be the only ones under scrutiny.

We’ll also get a good look at new professionals Trent Whiddon, Joanne Clifton and Tristan MacManus, while Bruce Forsyth will also be dropping by to see how his replacement Claudia Winkleman is settling in to her full-time presenting gig alongside Tess Daly.