THE lights went up, the contestants were covered head to toe in glitter and sequins and the music was pumping.
This was Oxford’s very own Strictly Come Dancing, Strictly Oxford, at a packed Oxford Town Hall, on Sunday.
Instead of footballers and television presenters, Thames Valley Police’s Chief Constable Sara Thornton, Oxford Brookes University vice-chancellor Janet Beer, Pegasus Theatre artistic director Euton Daley and Oxford West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood were
among those taking to the floor.
And after each dancer took to the stage three times, in a cha cha cha, an elegant quickstep, and a no-holds barred showdance, it was Mr Daley, dancing with Jane Holmes, who took home the prize.
The event was in aid of specialist dementia care home Vale House.
Mr Daley said: “I genuinely wasn’t expecting to win.
“I know we had a good chance, but it was a complete shock.
“The experience was so out of my comfort zone but it was a great one, I got such a lot out of it.”
Miss Blackwood, who came third with her partner Jonathan Hawkins, was the first of the night to score a perfect 10.
He said her cha cha cha – performed in a daring backless red velvet sequinned number – was “fabulous”.
He said: “The footwork was superb and the timing was superb.”
Miss Blackwood described the experience as “an absolute joy”.
The MP said: “With all the incredible hard work that has gone into this by Vale House and Step by Step Dance School, I feel a bit cheeky having come out of the end of it having learnt to dance and
had such a ball.
“At least we have raised so much money and I hope we will continue to raise more.”
Some of the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for personal trainer Kieran O’Leary, representing Vale House, the charity for which the event was raising money.
It is anticipated more than £30,000 will be collected for the cause.
Mr O’Leary, who danced with Gemma Leggett, said: “The week leading up to this evening was pretty nerve-wracking, but tonight was quite chilled.”
Five couples scored perfect marks from the three judges – radio presenter Bill Heine and dance champions David Roberts and Andrea Law – for their showdances.
They were Zumba teacher Sally Shepherd and partner Lewis Harper, Radio Cherwell presenter Louise Oliver and her partner Darryl Patrick – who came second
overall – Oxford & Cherwell Valley College principal Sally Dicketts and partner Kieran Cherry, Mr Daley, and Out of the Blue’s Samuel Swinnerton and partner Laura Catchpole.
Ms Thornton – who sported a thigh-skimming fringed dress for her latin number – picked up 28 out of 30 for her jive with Michael Davis.
She said: “When I started six weeks ago I was really daunted by the challenge.
“But with lots of practice and good teaching it was okay on the night.”
There was a last minute change to the line-up, after film director Guy Browning was unable to take part.
Dance instructor Dave Canning stepped up with just five days’ practice to dance with Jennifer Yaxley.
He said: “It was an unbelievable experience to take part in such a spectacular and enjoyable show. ”
Compere for the night was Christopher Biggins, who joked the contestants were “throwing up and doing all sorts of things in the excitement of it all” before taking to the stage.
Tricia O’Leary, manager of Vale House, said: “The effort these young people have undertaken to do this is just staggering.
“The money raised will make a huge difference to us.”
Specialist dementia care home Vale House was set up in 1990 to provide care for people profoundly affected by dementia.
As the number of people living with dementia in the county soared, the home moved from Botley to a purpose-built 40-bed, £5m home in Sandford in February.
Last year the charity launched an appeal to raise £2.4m to go towards the cost of the new home and so far more than £1.5m has been raised.
It is hoped that Strictly Oxford will raise in the region of £30,000, with individual dancers setting up Just Giving donation pages.
Strictly Oxford is set to be one of a number of major fundraising events in the county.
To make a donation, call Allie Hogsbjerg on 01993 823729 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org