STRICTLY IN BLACKPOOL: Millions tune in as Blackpool Tower dazzles for Strictly's seaside showcase
All eyes were on Blackpool as once more Strictly Come Dancing broadcast to the nation last night.
The annual showbiz shindig was a glittering showcase for the resort, and Blackpool more than rose to the occasion.
Opening the show, Anton Du Beke settled down for a sunbathing session on the beach - albeit under less-than-sunny skies, before the show's full cast of celebrity and professional dancers burst into action in a hip-shaking, feather-flapping Latin display to accompany global singing sensation Gloria Estefan.
All the hallmarks of a great Blackpool day out were there: We had Blackpool rock, a donkey, a bucket and spade, a rollercoaster, a tram ride, and spectacular lights, all finished off with a perfect serving of fish and chips.
Once more, producers had promised bigger and better for the resort, and once more they delivered; there were even more dancers than ever before, larger sets, and certainly on the standards of recent years - more 10s handed out to the couples.
Topping the leaderboard, with the first perfect score of the series - and the first in many years at Blackpool, was ex-Pussycat Doll Ashley Roberts with partner Pasha Kovalev for a fast-paced fish and chip shop-themed jive full of kicks, flicks and some scary tricks.
A po-faced "Fab-u-lous" was the verdict from Strictly's Mr Nasty judge Craig Revel Horwood, before he revealed his 10 score - a sight 'rarer than unicorns', host Claudia Winkleman went on to quip later in the evening.
But their's was not the only routine to impress, and the 10s came as regularly as a Blackpool tram; actor Charles Venn and Karen Clifton picked up two on their way to scoring 38 and being hailed the 'king of samba' by Bruno Tonioli.
Singer Faye Tozer and Giovanni Pernice danced a fiery paso doble for the same marks, while YouTuber Joe Sugg's classic Hollywood-style quickstep saw him and partner Dianne Buswell collect three 10s - tying all three couples with 38 marks.
Presenter Stacey Dooley, who earlier in the week fronted a BBC investigation into youth homelessness partially filmed at Blackpool's Streetlife charity, was first to take to the hallowed dancefloor, descending to the arena astride a giant stick of Blackpool rock, before launching into a salsa with Kevin Clifton and picking up 33 points.
Cricketer Graeme Swann, who won through last week's dance off, gave a charming couple's choice theatre-jazz routine with partner Oti Mabuse setting off on a trolley car - a close American cousin to the Blackpool tram.
Propping up the leaderboard after the night's performances were broadcaster Kate Silverton and Aljaz Skorjanec and Paralympian Lauren Steadman and AJ Pritchard, whose respective American smooth and Argentine tango routines failed to fully impress the judges - despite clearly winning over the ballroom audience to receive standing ovations, as every dance did on the night.
Inside the ballroom, the BBC crews grafted for six-plus hours to complete the filming, building and dismantling stages, floating hot air balloon baskets and smoke and fire all to add to the incredible atmosphere, which was lapped up by a crowd of 900 fans.
Among those watching was 2017 contestant, and girlfriend of Strictly professional Gorka Marquez, Gemma Atkinson, as well as former pros Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite, knocked out celebrity dancer TV doctor Dr Ranj, Blackpool lass, Coronation Street actress Lucy Fallon, and dancer-turned-stage star Joanne Clifton, who partnered Ore Oduba to the glitterball trophy in 2016.
And Blackpool-born Strictly It Takes Two presenter - and soon-to-be Radio 2 breakfast show host Zoe Ball also made the trip north and even made time to visit her godfather prior to the show.
Speaking to The Gazette, she said: "It's a real treat to be able to come to the Blackpool show. I presented it one year, but usually there's not the time to come with It Takes Two.
"It's been fantastic to sit with Ian and Natalie and not be here for work.
"There's something really magical about watching them from the floor. You know how hard they have worked and they were phenomenal tonight.
"All Strictly studio crowds are amazing, but there is something so special about this place [the Tower Ballroom] and to see so many 10s was brilliant."
Also in the audience, having secured tickets through the public ballot was Alun Emmanuel who traveled from Llanelli for the occasion - and had arrived at the Tower at 6am to secure one of the hottest tickets in town.
"It has been a long day," he said as filming ended at around 10.30pm. "But it's been absolutely fantastic.
"We've thoroughly enjoyed it. It's hard to picture exactly what goes on until you see it but it's certainly lived up to expectations."
Also heading into the resort for the occasion was Charlotte Laverick from Lincolnshire.
"It was fantastic, amazing," she said. "We go to the live tour show, and this far surpassed anything we could have expected based on that.
"We were sat near where the dancers came into the ballroom and they all stopped and chatted and were so friendly.
"It's been brilliant and the Ballroom is beautiful."