Former Love Island star Zara McDermott will dance the Cha Cha Cha in her first Strictly Come Dancing live show, it was revealed in the launch programme.
The first show of the 21st series opened with a dramatic performance from the professional dancers to Rhythm Is A Dancer from group Snap!, before the 15 celebrity contestants began to find out who they would be training and performing with on the show.
McDermott, who has made a series of TV documentaries since appearing on the ITV dating show, was paired with Graziano Di Prima during the pre-recorded show on Saturday.
The 26-year-old said: “I think I’m probably the most nervous I’ve been in my life. I’m not a natural born performer, I’m not an extrovert, so this is the biggest challenge of my life.”
She later said Di Prima is a “family favourite” in her household and her mother Karen “screamed” when the pair facetimed her together as she was “so happy”.
Revealing her first live show dance, Di Prima said: “It is going to exotic, Latin and is the Cha Cha Cha darling,” to which McDermott said she was “excited”.
Co-host Claudia Winkleman said: “You can have fun with it, I think, I don’t know, I’ve been here 19 years and I have no idea.”
The show saw the Strictly Come Dancing professional dancers and the judges perform a dance in honour of their “Welsh dragon” Amy Dowden.
The 33-year-old announced in June that she had undergone a mastectomy after discovering she had stage three breast cancer, and would be unable to have a celebrity partner on the show this year.
Host Tess Daly said: “We are of course missing one of our professional dancers, our gorgeous Amy Dowden is unwell and she can’t be with us for the start of the series.
“She’s our Welsh dragon and we know she’ll be back soon.”
While Winkleman said: “Amy, from your entire Strictly family, we are sending all our love and we can’t wait to have you back on the dancefloor.”
The group number saw judges Shirley Ballas, Craig Revel Horwood, Motsi Mabuse and Anton Du Beke perform along with the professionals to a medley of songs including Afraid To Feel from LF System, Kylie’s Padam Padam and Higher from Michael Buble.
During the couple unveiling, Sherlock star Amanda Abbington said she was “ecstatic” to be paired with Giovanni Pernice, who lifted the glitterball trophy in 2021 with actress Rose Ayling-Ellis.
She later said the pair had the “same sense of humour” and she got a “bit teary” after discovering she was partnered with the multiple Strictly finalist.
Meanwhile Jody Cundy, who is an eight-time gold medallist who has represented Great Britain at seven summer Paralympics competing in cycling and swimming events, was paired with reigning champion Jowita Przystal following her 2022 win with Hamza Yassin.
The 44-year-old, whose parents were sat in the crowd, said: “No pressure… hopefully it will look like dance.”
He added: “I’m a complete newbie at this, I had years and years of practice at the other ones so we’ll see what happens… let’s shoot for the stars.”
Meanwhile, Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy, who described himself as “overweight” and “decrepit”, was partnered with professional dancer Lauren Oakley, who has a celebrity partner for the first time on the show.
“She gets me immediately, it’s been brilliant,” he said.
While Oakley said: “It might be the first time that I’m partnered with somebody, but I know it’s a big ask for the celebrities to go out there and dance.
“So I think I need to be kind and give you confidence to have fun, but when it’s time to be strict I know how to be strict, don’t worry about that.”
Strictly Come Dancing will start on September 23 at 6.15pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.