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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 April, 2004, 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK
Come Dancing celebrities unveiled
By Tom Bishop
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Tess Daly and Bruce Forsyth find their feet
Opera singer Lesley Garrett, rugby player Martin Offiah and actress Claire Sweeney will join host Bruce Forsyth on BBC One's revamped Come Dancing.

The veteran presenter has named eight celebrities to compete in new Saturday night series Strictly Come Dancing.

Training with professional dancers, celebrities will face a Pop Idol-style judges' verdict and public elimination.

"We have taken a legendary programme and given it a new twist for 2004," Forsyth said on Wednesday.

Presenters David Dickinson and Natasha Kaplinsky will also compete, alongside soap actors Claire Sweeney, Holby City's Verona Joseph, EastEnders' Christopher Parker and comic newcomer Jason Wood.

Trademark wit

Forsyth named the contestants and co-host Tess Daly as he launched the series at Claridge's ornate ballroom in central London.

He replaces Rosemarie Ford, the most recent presenter in Come Dancing's 50-year television history, who hosted her final show in 1995.

Forsyth greeted members of the press with his trademark wit. "I knew you would all show up," he said. "If this had been held in an old rehearsal room in Clacton no-one would have come."

After dancers demonstrated the tango and cha cha cha, the 76-year-old said it was "lovely" to return to BBC's Saturday night line-up.

Dancer Camilla Dallerup and David Dickinson
Dancer Camilla Dallerup and David Dickinson trip the light fantastic
"I've always felt that on Saturday nights there is a kinder audience," he explained. "That's probably because they're drunk."

When asked whether a new audience could identify with the "fake tan, sequins and big hair" of the stereotypical ballroom dancer, Forsyth asked one of show's dancers to stand up.

"I would not call that fake tan," he said, looking at the olive skin of the dancer in a tiger print dress. "Maybe it is - see if it rubs off."

Heavily-tanned presenter David Dickinson said training for the series had been "very tough". He added: "I smoke and I drink whisky. Will I get through this?"

Rugby player Martin Offiah agreed: "While doing this I have had to take anti-inflammatory treatment for the first time in two-and-a-half years. Ballroom is a tough sport."

As celebrity contestants filed onstage to face the press, Forsyth explained why actors Claire Sweeney and Christopher Parker were absent. "They are only ones who have a good agent," he joked.

There is a lot of difference between what we are doing and seeing celebrities eating insects in the jungle
Bruce Forsyth
Forsyth's smile only dropped when News Online asked him whether Strictly Come Dancing would prove to be one celebrity reality TV show too many.

"No, because this is entertainment," Forsyth said. "There is a lot of difference between what we are doing and seeing celebrities eating insects in the jungle."

He had the last laugh, however, sending his team of ballroom dancers to pull terrified reporters out of their seats to dance in front of their colleagues.

Proceeds from Strictly Come Dancing's public vote line will be donated to poverty charity Sports Relief.

Strictly Come Dancing begins on 15 May on BBC One and BBC Three.

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