Surrey Life meets Strictly costume designer Vicky Gill
- Credit: David Fisher/Shutterstock
As Strictly Come Dancing returns to our screens, Claire Saul catches up with the Godstone-based creative who puts the sparkle into Saturday night!
Television entertainment shows have been a helpful diversion from the harsh realities of the pandemic. Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing on Ice are always hugely popular programmes, but never more have we enjoyed the distraction of those sparkly, kaleidoscopic worlds.
Famed for her work on Strictly’s wardrobe, it is less widely known that Godstone’s BAFTA award-winning Vicky Gill is also responsible for dressing its skating counterpart, too.
'I didn't know if we would be able to do both shows, because we come out of one and go straight into another, and I wasn’t sure that would be beneficial to everybody,' says Vicky of her initial invitation to work on Dancing on Ice, the preparation for which overlaps the last weeks of the BBC flagship autumn entertainment programme. 'But eventually I realised it would be exciting to learn about a different element of movement. From the outside the two shows look very similar but the workings of Dancing on Ice, the safety element and all the things we have to consider within that, push us a very different direction.’
Vicky frequently references her dedicated team, who consistently rise to meet the challenges of these top rating shows. And there are many – not least the sheer volume of costumes which need to be designed and created for the professional and celebrity dancers and skaters competing in every episode.
Last year’s Strictly and the 13th run of Dancing on Ice early in 2021, demanded the additional curve ball of working in a COVID-19-safe environment. Vicky and her team also have the more familiar challenges of gently coaxing celebrities out of their usual sartorial comfort zones to embrace brightly coloured Lycra and sequins, dealing with last-minute costume adjustments and any replacement competitor pairings due to injuries and illness.
'Obviously team members all have to have a skill, but I have always chosen people who are all warm, brilliant people who make the contestants and the professionals, whether they be skaters or dancers, or whoever we are working with, feel comfortable,' says Vicky. 'Our creative is key, but we are listening to their wants and needs all the time, to try to make sure that within reason they are as comfortable as they can be, and they feel great. We don't get it right all the time, but everyone does a brilliant job and at the end of the day it's my responsibility, if something doesn't work.’
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Vicky’s is a highly skilled role requiring an endless stream of creative inspiration and realisation to produce outfits in accordance with weekly themes of the show, balanced against typical business mundanities such as logistics and budget.
'There is an element of smoke and mirrors, so I have to decide how much underskirt can I really afford, for example, or will I invest more in embellishment? Once I've decided where my parameters are, then the creative element will come in. I love it when I'm confronted with a bit of fabric and I have to upcycle it or use it. Sometimes I just really like a piece of fabric and I think, ‘I will shoehorn this in.’”
Costumes are made over just a handful of days - unnervingly close to the live weekend performances. The team works on fittings and adjustments, accommodating any tweaks required. As the skill sets of the celebrities progress and more complex elements are integrated into their routines, different safety considerations come into play for their outfits - especially for those negotiating lifts, skates and ice.
Thankfully, they are in the hands of a performance wear expert whose skill was honed earlier on in her career making costumes for acts such as Girls Aloud and Kylie Minogue. Vicky worked with Strictly in a design advisory position for several years before taking over the helm in 2011. And now, season 19 has arrived.
'It has been another tough year for everyone and Strictly will once again help to raise our spirits,' says Vicky. 'I’m really looking forward to working on the show again and meeting faces old and new.’
Vicky has lived in Godstone for the past two decades, most recently in the central village property she shares with her graphic designer husband and their three children.
‘I’m really fond of Godstone, my children have all gone to the village school and I can get into London relatively easily and to airports. Life is very different for me here in Surrey, compared to my native North East. Obviously, many years have passed since I left my hometown, aged 18. Life certainly feels faster here than I remember it at home, whether it’s my job that propels that, my family, or the local area - who knows?”
'I have a little heart for the North East and I always will. But where I live now, the kids and I have lots of great friends and there is a really lovely community spirit. So Godstone has a place in my heart, too.'
Vicky’s favourite Surrey…
Place with the family: Godstone Farm is great for families and always worth a visit. When I had my first child, my season ticket was used lots. As my family has got older, Flower Farm did 'Godstoneberry' a couple of years ago and I think that will become the more mature Gill family favourite event. It was really fab and a good family/adult balance, held over three days. Hopefully we’ll be able to look forward to that again.
Place to shop: Reigate is a nice little spot with a few fashion places. You can just pop there and probably get what you need.
Eatery: We have an abundance of lovely local establishments to be enjoyed however especially during the winter months of Strictly, for me, The Hare & Hounds Traditional Pub Grub menu does the best Sunday Roast.
Memory: I have lots, but it has to be my wedding day at Brewerstreet Farmhouse in Bletchingly. We had a marquee in the gardens.
View: We are so lucky to have so many lovely spots, around us. It is an obvious choice, but the Surrey Hills are such a great view.