Everyone's favourite dancing show may have lost a pro at the beginning of the year (goodbye Brendan Cole) but the new Strictly Come Dancing pro line-up is going to put a smile back on your face. BBC bosses announced on Wednesday that three newbies are joining the team, and it looks like they are going to up the ante once again. Time to get excited.
The new additions include Italian Latin Champion Graziano Di Prima, South African Latin Champion Johannes Radebe, and four-time winner of the Italian Dance Championship Luba Mushtuk, this year's pro cast is set to be Strictly's biggest and best yet. The BBC have revealed that for the first time ever, the professionals will total 18. That's one more pro than usual, which suggests there may be an additional celeb taking to the ballroom this autumn. This year's newbies will be joined by the regulars made up of AJ Pritchard, Aljaž Škorjanec, Amy Dowden, Anton Du Beke, Dianne Buswell, Giovanni Pernice, Gorka Marquez, Janette Manrara, Karen Clifton, Katya Jones, Kevin Clifton, Nadiya Bychkova, Neil Jones, Oti Mabuse, and Pasha Kovalev.
The news comes after Brendan Cole, who had starred in the show since day one, announced that the BBC hadn't renewed his contract for the 16th series. Speaking on Lorraine Kelly's ITV chat show, he told the host that he was "disappointed." The 42-year-old dancer said: "This is quite hard to talk about. The BBC haven’t renewed my contract — we get renewed year on year — and they made an editorial decision not to have me back on the show."
According to a report by The Telegraph, Cole auditioned for the judging role but was turned down in favour of the ballroom legend, Shirley Ballas. The BBC responded in a statement, saying: "We’d like to thank Brendan for being part of the show since the beginning – winner of the first series – and for the contribution he has made to its success. We wish him all the very best for the future." While Cole and Ballas often had a fraught on screen relationship, she has since denied any falling out between the pair. During an interview with Hello! Ballas said: "I don’t have any recollection on a personal level of bridges ever being broken or rebuilt between me and Brendan."
Fellow professional Chloe Hewitt will also not be returning this year despite only joining the show in 2016. The 22-year-old rose to fame in dancing circles for her Latin work with (yet another) Strictly pro AJ Pritchard. In April, The Sun confirmed that Hewitt had been axed from the series.
But away from the sad news and back to this year's new additions. With each of the three professionals specialising in exotic forms of dance, expect to see some real spice added to Strictly 2018. Here's what the BBC have told us ahead of the show returning:
Graziano Di Prima
Hailing from Sicily, Graziano Di Prima has toured the world as part of dance company Burn The Floor. The 24-year-old has already won his fair share of accolades including making the top 24 at the Latin World Championships and representing Belgium at the same competition. "This is my dream come true!" he said in a statement. "I still can't believe I will be one of the professional dancers on Strictly Come Dancing. I can't wait to give all of myself on the dance floor."
A little older than the rest, 31-year-old Johannes Radebe was born in South Africa. He has already experienced Strictly life after appearing on the series' South African version for two seasons. (The others had better watch out as he reached the final in both years.) Radebe was also named the Professional South African Latin Champion twice and won the amateur award three times. In a statement, he described joining Strictly as "one of the greatest achievements of [his] dancing career." He added: "It is such an honour to be chosen to be a part of an incredible cast and be part of one of the biggest shows that is celebrated worldwide. I cannot wait to get started and experience the magic with the UK!"
The only new woman to be joining the cast, Russian-born Luba Mushtuk is an Italian dance champion. A four-time winner of the Italian Dance Championship and a champion of the Italian Open Latin Show Dance, the 28-year-old has been working behind the scenes as a Strictly choreographer since 2016. You may also have spotted her on stage in the West End and on Broadway in productions of Burn The Floor. "Words cannot express how thrilled I am to do what I love most on the greatest show on earth," Mushtuk commented in a statement. "I am super excited and so thankful for this priceless opportunity. I can't wait to get started as a professional dancer on Strictly. Bring on the sparkle!"
You can catch all three of the new faces on the 16th season of Strictly Come Dancing which is expected to air this September.