Former Strictly Come Dancing hopeful Judge Robert Rinder has tipped Debbie McGee as the show’s first ever over-50 winner following her “amazing” debut performance.
The 58-year-old entertainer delighted viewers with her sizzling first dance in Saturday-night’s opening episode: a steamy Paso Doble with partner Giovanni Pernice to the movie track Be Italian.
While she was pipped to the top of the leaderboard by Aston Merrygold at the last minute, bookmakers cut her odds as an early favourite to win the show.
The TV judge, who almost reached the final of last year’s BBC competition, told the Press Association: “My favourite was Debbie McGee, by a mile, I loved her.
“She is amazing and she may be the first over-50 winner we’ve had.
“I loved her intensity. Sure, she has a little bit of a ballet background but she hasn’t done ballroom before … and Giovanni is gorgeous.
“You have to go out with authentic enthusiasm and I think that really permeates through the screen when you do that. It looks like a really great show.”
His comments came as he took part in a very different type of exercise: joining a number of TV stars in a marathon canoe challenge to raise funds for Stand Up To Cancer.
A fitness enthusiast but rowing amateur, he joked: “I didn’t realise it would actually be a marathon.
“I arrived and thought rather glibly that they can’t mean 26 miles … so that will teach me to read the small print.
“I used to write notes for school to not take part in physical sports but eventually they cottoned on when I ran out of diseases – they suspected when I said I couldn’t take part in rugby because I had cholera.”
While he said his celebrity co-athletes, including the likes of Anthea Turner, Michelle Heaton and Tyger Drew-Honey, all had “infinitely better technique,” he insisted he had the best canoe co-pilot, cancer survivor Carla Bradbury.
Bradbury, 46, will row five marathons across the UK waterways in a row to mark five years clear of the disease.
She said: “It’s payback time for me, and I’ve lost a couple of friends this year, so the more money we can raise for valuable research and to have more survivors would be fantastic.”
Rinder, 39, added: “I am with this extraordinary person who has battled and beaten cancer – so you can’t really complain. It places things into a degree of healthy perspective.”