Strictly’s Stockport star - Tess Daly
- Credit: BBC/Ray Burmiston
Stockport’s Tess Daly has waltzed into a key role which overturns the ancient TV rules. Fancy footwork, indeed.
It was written in stone as a commandment of TV light entertainment: ‘Thou shalt have two presenters, one of which will be a lithe and pretty young maiden, the other - upon whom she will dote implausibly - will be a gentleman well stricken in years’.
And Strictly Come Dancing cleaved to that commandment for almost a decade. Every week, out pranced stick-like octogenarian Bruce Forsyth, who then froze in a clinch with a twinkling Tess Daly, looking young enough to be Brucie’s granddaughter. Or, perhaps, his carer.
When Sir Bruce shuffled off the Strictly stage last year, that TV light entertainment commandment was finally rescinded: Tess was partnered permanently with Claudia Winkleman. For the first time ever, two women were fronting a Saturday night TV programme - a distaff Ant and Dec, placing their flag atop yet another Everest of sex equality.
As Strictly’s twelfth series rushes towards yet another be-sequinned Christmas climax, let’s remind ourselves that this telly pioneer - as her unashamedly flattened vowels proclaim - is one of ours.
Tess was born in Stockport - the town where her forebears had lived for generations - on April 27 1969, and brought up in Birch Vale, a village near New Mills whose only claim to fame down the centuries has been...you guessed it...Tess herself.
Helen Elizabeth ‘Tess’ Daly was the elder of two daughters to factory workers Vivian - who died of emphysema in 2003 - and Sylvia.
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‘They worked hard,’ Tess said in an Observer interview in 2010. ‘They never complained. It seemed their mission in life was to provide for their kids and make us happy. It’s only when you become a parent yourself you realise just how selfless that is.’
Tess went to Hayfield Primary School and New Mills Secondary School, but was barely 18 before her stunning good looks began to yield opportunities mere A levels cannot supply. A model agent spotted her outside McDonald’s in Manchester and she was soon dispatched to Tokyo, where statuesque blondes are something of a novelty. This was the kind of experience which could be the making or breaking of a youngster, but Tess, after a trepidatious start, thrived.
By way of a lengthy stint in Paris, she ended up in New York, where Tess tried her hand at TV interviewing. She bravely chose the imperious author Quentin Crisp as her first subject. It was this which won her a slot on Channel 4, presenting the Find Me A Model competition on The Big Breakfast in 1999.
Yoof-oriented TV jobs followed; the dating game show Singled Out, LA Pool Party, the Brit Awards and Ant and Dec vehicle SM:TV.
Then in 2004 she shimmied forth in the first series of Strictly Come Dancing - pulchritudinous straight woman to Brucie’s agonising comedy patter - and was almost instantly elevated to the position of national treasure.
Now 45, but looking 35, Tess has been married to another seasoned face of light entertainment, Vernon Kay, for 11 years and they have two daughters, aged ten and five. Married in Bolton, the couple now live in Buckinghamshire.
Tess turned her experience of being a mum into a book, The Baby Diaries, in 2010, then followed that up with a debut novel The Camera Never Lies: A Laugh Out Loud Tale of Life in the Spotlight - a story of a big-hearted no-nonsense northern girl who graduates from modelling to TV presenting. No great creative stretch there for Tess, one suspects. Nor, one imagines, was her 2013 novel It’s Up To You, New York, telling a yarn about a young woman plucked from obscurity to front a TV show to find the next supermodel.
Meanwhile, a Bruce-less Strictly has continued to prosper in the ratings, even against the noisy neighbour which is X Factor. Tess Daly is surely a big part of that success. Being easy on the eye isn’t even the half of it; Tess’s quality is that she is at ease before the camera, even when millions are watching and the show - be it Strictly or Children in Need - is going out live. That’s a rare talent indeed.
Ms Daly’s gowns were created by Manchester-based designer Zeynep Kartal