Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors was first established in Horsham, West Sussex, in 1855. The company now has a further three offices across the county – in Billingshurst, Crawley, and Hurstpierpoint. One of the aims of our blog is to discuss all topics related to funerals and bereavement, including how the topics are represented within popular culture. Today, Community Co-Ordinator Becky discusses how grief has been relevant to the UK’s top Saturday evening TV show, Strictly Come Dancing…
Those who know me well are aware that my favourite colour is glitter, so it tends to surprise nobody that every autumn I suffer a heavy case of Strictly Fever. The BBC’s Saturday night flagship is one of my favourite shows, and has been for years. Of all of the celebrity reality TV shows, I think it is by far the best, thanks to the blend of comedy, glamour, and sport. It’s a fantastic demonstration of the significant difference that great coaching makes to someone’s success, as well as their relationship with their partner. It’s also brilliant educational content – the judges, professionals, celebrities and presenters alike use language associated with the sport of dance, rather than euphemisms, so whilst I’m still incapable of completing even four seconds of a ballroom dance myself, I do feel far more knowledgeable when watching other people do it!
Each year, it’s a study of personalities. The tendency is generally that, the further the series progresses, the more we get to know the contestants, and the more they have to cope with in terms of the physical and emotional toll, and their everyday lives having an impact on their commitment.
However, each couple does also tend to develop an additional agenda, promoting a message which is important to them. Last year, Strictly broke new ground by including a same-sex pairing for the first time. Previously, all pairings have mimicked the competitive dance world by involving a woman and a man, whereas in 2020 two women competed together. Unfortunately, the pairing of retired boxer Nicola Adams and professional dancer Katya Jones also had to withdraw due to the latter testing positive for COVID-19 and having to isolate, but the attention that they received publicly was overwhelmingly positive, and the judges had been pleased with their performances.
It then seemed inevitable that it would be the turn of a male pairing this year, and sure enough that has occurred. Many of the headlines in the build up to the first week of competition had rightfully been taken by Great British Bake Off alum John Whaite and his professional partner Johannes Radebe, and viewers were eagerly anticipating their performance. It did not disappoint, with the pair pulling off a wonderful tango, but it wasn’t the only thing which caught my attention during the show.
After completing his dance, retired rugby player Ugo Monye announced that he had attended his father’s funeral during the morning prior to the show. At the time, I was shocked, and impressed that he’d also come out and performed a samba, the notorious party dance. When Monye elaborated further, he explained that he saw this performance as a celebration of his dad’s life, and dedicated it to his memory, which I thought was lovely.
The more I’ve considered it since, the more I’ve remembered other instances where Strictly has enabled contestants to open up about death and bereavement. Monye isn’t the only one this series even – actor Greg Wise dedicated his participation in the show to his late sister when he was announced as a contestant. Wise has campaigned for bereavement charities for a number of years, and I was pleased to hear that he would be using his voice in this way.
Other participants who have been impacted by bereavement during their time on Strictly include Kelly Brook, who’s father died during the series she was competing on. Brook and her partner, Brendan Cole, had been doing well in the competition, and Brook initially hoped to continue. However, as the news continued to sink in, she struggled in rehearsals and ultimately chose to withdraw.
Ten years later, Debbie McGee entered Strictly, and made several references to being in the aftermath of the death of her husband, Paul Daniels (who had himself participated in Strictly in 2010). Daniels died in 2016, and McGee was seen on several occasions opening up to her professional partner and the cameras about how she was finding the experience cathartic. Watching her blossom on the show was a privilege, and many of her performances were of a high standard, seeing her reach the final and emerge positively.
Upon reflection, what I’ve found interesting is the clear demonstration of all bereavements being different, and each person responding differently to a situation. What I admire in each of these celebrities – and anyone else who may be in a similar position who I’ve failed to mention – is their integrity in doing what is right for them. When Monye announced that his father’s funeral had taken place just hours prior to him hitting the dancefloor, I couldn’t imagine doing the same thing, and that’s ok. But again, when I took time to think more deeply, I appreciated Monye’s view that, whilst he’d have rather had his father alive, well, and cheering him on in the studio, for him it was also a fitting tribute to take the opportunity to symbolise life going on.
I can also understand from a community perspective how the experience may have helped Monye: many people would want to be with their families following a funeral, but Strictly is known for the tight-knit nature of each year’s cast. Although social distancing and safety measures prevent the current group from being within close proximity with each other, being among his peers in the studio may have helped him. This could surprise people, as Saturday night was only the first live show, but it’s important to remember that the cast will already have spent a significant amount of time together: Fridays always involve a dress rehearsal, plus the launch show which aired during the previous weekend was pre-recorded, and the team have met on several occasions for other promotional activities. Many of the celebrities have also shared that they offer each other moral support via a private group chat and each other’s social media pages, so I don’t doubt that they’ve already developed a familial bond, and therefore provide a helpful environment when each other may be struggling.
As the competition continues during the coming months, I hope that it is able to continue to support the conversations we have about bereavement. I also hope that those conversations are able to be led by those who are involved, as well as at their comfort level. The contestants who have spoken about bereavement in the past have set a great example of doing what is right for your individual circumstances, and that is the message I would like everyone to receive – it’s ok to speak about it if you wish, and it’s ok to take time out for yourself, or to continue to honour a commitment. What’s most important is that you choose what is right for you.