Dancing On Ice - Live at Trent FM Arena, Nottingham, April 7 2009
WELL, I must have done something right, leaving through the Arena’s back gate I was greeted by a group of girls singing “We love you Simon, we do...”.
OK ladies, but please no autographs.
I must admit, the idea of being on the judging panel of Dancing On Ice, with ice dance legends Torvill and Dean just feet away to the left of me, was daunting. Helped none by ‘proper’ judge Nicky Slater minutes before walking out in to the spotlight -- “don’t try to be clever” he advises, fixing me with a steely grin. “Or you will die out there.”
I found out what he was talking about in the first round of scoring. Not that I was being clever. But ranking Jessica Taylor’s opening skate at 4.5 - half a point below the scores of the professionals on the panel -- prompted a boom of boos.
“I’ll think about what I’ve done,” I say by way of apology to the former Liberty X singer.
“And score everyone six from now on.”
“Well, that’s no good to me now,” she grins back.
It didn’t do too much damage as the audience text voted her in to the final skate off against Ray Quinn. Ahh, that Ray Quinn. Did you know he’s won every single live show on this tour?
“No skate off with Todd Carty yet,” I ask the show’s producer as I’m shown around an hour before curtain up. She raises an eyebrow. That’ll be a no then.
Somehow I manage to forget that the white stuff underfoot is ice and slip, threatening an early humiliation.
I’m taken through a verbal tour of what is going to happen then plonked in staff catering and offered Vietnamese grilled chicken salad or a pan fried lamb steak with treacle sponge to follow. Too nervous to eat. The catering woman offers to box something up for me to take home. It’s typical of the positive vibe going on with the whole production.
I’m led backstage, have a mic taped to my ear and take a seat where Jessica Taylor whips offer her dressing gown to reveal nothing more than a black leotard. I direct my eyes to the large screens replaying clips from the ITV show. It’s the safest place because everywhere around people are touching up make-up, whipping clothes off/on or fixing mics.
My fellow judges all introduce themselves one by one and offer words of encouragement. Even Robin Cousins, a serious looking chap, offers a smile and handshake. They all seem aware of who I must be as the only stranger in their midst. “The guest judge,” says host Andi Peters. Jayne Torvill -- “much smaller than she looks on the telly” TM -- offers a warm smile. “Have a good one,” offers Todd Carty, one fo the tour’s most endearing characters.
Directly behind the curtain, Melinda Messenger - another pint-sized skater who can’t stop grinning - is practising some last minute moves. Ray Quinn is in front of the showbiz mirror checking his hair.
Then it’s showtime.
You can’t really make out the faces of the crowd but you quickly get how passionate they are about the scoring. I don’t know how my fellow judges are scoring until it’s too late but anything below a 5 and they’re growling at you.
My one-liner about being aroused by Zoe Salmon’s turn gets a laugh. “That was actually funny,” I hear Nicky saying to Ruthie.
Not as funny as the line I’d prepared for Todd’s expected clumsy skate about an intoxicated walrus but I don’t get the opportunity to deliver it.
At half-time I’m led back to the canteen and read an old copy of the Times, with a handful of crew on a laptop. I can’t Twitter as there’s no signal. Robin Cousins appears and tucks in to a plateful of chilli. He sits alone. Then Andi Peters, concerned that I’m “not getting the full experience”, leads me to a vantage point to see the rest of the show.
For the finale the judges are called back in to choose who they will crown their champion for tonight as Ray Quinn and Jessica Taylor finish with a Bolero skate off.
It’s Quinn, unanimously.
Backstage and the performers are planning a post-show session of bowling.
Hours later and Christopher Dean will Twitter a picture of Andi Peters in action before declaring “Well, it’s late for the old guy. I’m off to bed.”
I’m already there but with the chant of “We love you, Simon...” ringing in my ears. I could get used to this.
View from the judging panel