Strictly Come Dancing is set to make a festive comeback with an all-star Christmas special, aiming to captivate viewers with a enchanting mix of dance, glitter, and holiday joy. Six fresh celebrity contestants will grace the dance floor, each vying for the coveted title of Christmas Champion 2023.

In an interview with Sally Nugent and Graziano Di Prima, the anticipation and excitement for this special event are palpable.

How are you feeling about being a part of this year’s Strictly Christmas special? What made you want to take part?

Sally: It was all about timing, I’ve always been too scared to even think about Strictly, and it’s always been one of those things where lots of people who do my job do it and I’ve always run in the other direction. But you know what, I just thought it was time to do something joyful and fun and happy, and escape from the real world for a little bit, and go into this bubble of glitter, and sequins and happiness and giddiness.

I just loved the idea of doing Christmas because it felt like everybody is going to be happy, there’s no pressure, it doesn’t feel like it’s a competition to me. It feels like it’s a chance to have a laugh, and spread a little joy on my favourite day. It’s one of my favourite shows to watch on Christmas day anyway, so to be in it is incredible.

I will watch it with my family and facetime Graziano when we watch it!

Graziano: I’m going to be at home in Italy with my family, so we’re going to watch it all together and call Sally.

What are you most looking forward to?

Sally: I am looking forward to getting out on stage with Grazino and just enjoying it in that moment, and having fun, and letting go of any worries and cares of the outside world. It’s about being in that world and magical moment of the dance. Whatever happens, happens, I know it has to be perfect but in lots of ways, it doesn’t really have to be perfect.

Graziano: It will be perfect in our way.

Sally: Exactly, whatever we do is perfect because it will be a little moment of magic away from all the madness of real-life and we’re going to enjoy it.

Have you got any previous dancing experience?

Sally: No. I’m not a stage school kid, I’m not trained in any way, so to even be on the stage is a win for me. Graziano has been dancing for 21 years and I’ve been dancing for 2 weeks, so he’s needed to give me a lot of advice.

Do you think you’re naturally a good dancer?

Sally: No, definitely not. Not a natural dancer at all. Graziano had to teach me to take steps forward, and take steps backward, and it took a long time for me to even just walk in a straight line.

Tell us about your partner…

Sally: It’s been a treat, I mean what treat, to learn to Foxtrot at Christmas with Graziano! It’s a Christmas present to myself.

Graziano: You’ve been incredible, for the first time in my job, I’ve found a person who has made me realise how lucky I am to do this job and be dancing. It’s more than just the dance, it’s the friendship first and it’s been something that audiences can just enjoy, and the dance and the beauty of Christmas.

Sally: It’s not something I ever imagined I would do. I was always far too scared and too shy. That moment when we walk out, yes it’s scary but even just standing out there, even before we dance a step it’s a win.

Graziano: I love how she sections the dance, how she thinks through the dance, so we’ve found the best way to make the dance easy to learn for her. But I did say, no more thinking and just enjoy it!

Sally: No more thinking is the best advice, because my life and my job is all about thinking.

The Strictly 2023 Christmas celebrities and professional dancers pose on the ballroom floor
(Image: BBC/Guy Levy)

How are you finding training?

Sally: Training has been like nothing I have ever done before in my life, it’s been completely out of my comfort zone, it feels like I have won a raffle to dance with Graziano Di Prima at Christmas. I sometimes think I need to not look like a competition winner.

Graziano: Sally has learnt the steps and the structure, but for me I think for the first time just how much Strictly can change people’s lives. Sally came into rehearsal she would learn the steps, learn the structure of training, but I have learnt how her brain works, so it’s been really interesting and beautiful to break it down for her.

I think I take for granted how quick professional dancers pick things up, but Sally has been incredible and she will never stop dancing. Never! I say ‘take 10 minutes’ and she says ‘no I want to go through the steps’. She’s been incredible.

Talk us through your outfit…

Sally: We don’t know! But our song is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, the Ella Fitzgerald version, which is very beautiful and classic.

Graziano: And elegant

Sally: It’s like a scene from an old black and white film that you watch on a rainy day, then all of a sudden there is a dance scene.

Which judge are you hoping to impress the most?

Sally: Definitely Shirley, I love Shirley. She’s a Wirral girl and so am I. I’ve always liked the way she gives constructive criticism and she’s really kind and fair, so if Shirley thinks I’ve done ok then I’m happy.

Do you think you will be taking home the top prize this year?

Sally: No, my prize is being here!

What is the best present you have ever received?

Sally: I got a typewriter when I was seven, because I wanted to be a journalist, and it was with that typewriter I wrote my Christmas list for the following year, and I asked for a rabbit, I’ve actually still got that Christmas list, and I didn’t get a rabbit and I was devastated.

What do you love most about Christmas?

Graziano: For me it is family and having a nice meal together and having a laugh. It’s the goal at the end of every year, because I obviously don’t live with my family, I’m here in the UK, so I can just go home to Italy and we can all spend time together. But I do put on five kilos in one week!

Sally: I love Christmas Eve, Christmas Eve is my favourite day of the year! I like the bit before the getting ready for the big day, I like doing all the food the night before. I love cooking, I am obsessed with roast potatoes. I just love that moment when you shut the door and all the work is done and you’re just waiting for it to be Christmas day. That’s my favourite moment.

Will you be making a New Year resolution?

Sally: I don’t really make resolutions, but I am looking forward to the new year and a sunny holiday! I’m going to get away, get on a beach and get some sunshine and recharge – that’s my New Years resolution – do that!