“So nice to be in a room where I’m not the oldest!” intoned a dapper Len Goodman, setting the mood for an unforgettable evening of reminiscences in conversation with Angela Rippon, resplendent in a fetching green ensemble and glittering stilettoes.
Thus reassured, and beneath an arch of balloons surmounted with the giant inflated letters NATD (The National Association of Teachers of Dancing, whose 2014 Congress was being held at the Town Hall), Len serenaded the capacity audience with an engaging litany of anecdotes about his illustrious dance career and brief time as a welder in the Woolwich shipyards.
Generating gales of laughter, he described how he won a dancing contest and promptly retired, spouted some wholly unprintable analogies about money, unsteady novices and new routines, before focusing at length on his years as head judge on Strictly Come Dancing and its remarkable impact across the land. He paid glowing tributes to the celebrities who bravely put themselves through the mill, along with the professionals who train them, stoutly defended Arlene Phillips and Anton du Beke, and stressed why Ann Widdecombe and John Sergeant deserved their 15 minutes of ballroom fame, all fostered by his fervent belief in the three Es – to encourage, enlighten and entertain.
Like a jovial grandfather telling stories from a rocking chair, he reeled off one amusing tale after another in that incomparably dry and nonchalant fashion. For our part, we sat like children at his feet, relishing every last nugget, including the long hours at the ballet bar, and how a massive gender imbalance at a local class inspired him to take up dancing in the first place. From his front seat down at street level, silver-shod Craig Revel Horwood chipped in intermittently with some equally witty observations, readily endorsing Len’s recollections.
The second half was devoted entirely to audience questions, during which Len revealed his favourite (and least favourite) dances, when he expected to have breakfast the following morning (or not), the huge debt that dance owes to Saturday Night Fever, and reunions with former pupils, including one who is still owed a drink. His astute observations regarding the questionable choices of music for Strictly’s dance sequences drew widespread murmurs of assent, while the list of celebrities drafted for its next series certainly caused a stir (no clues here).The X Factor came in for criticism, and we were even treated to some hip-wiggling, before Len acknowledged how it all might have been lost forever. Had it not been for a huge stroke of good fortune at Pontin’s, Camber Sands he could well have spent his entire life as a greengrocer instead. Thankfully, the corner shop’s loss was the nation’s gain; “I’m a dance teacher from Dartford who got lucky. I’ve been lucky all my life” he declared, and so were we to have savoured two enthralling hours in his delightful company, rising as one to give him a standing ovation. Thanks for a grand evening. Let’s hold up that score: 10.