Strictly’s Natalie, and the Great British Underdog

If there was a Strictly Come Dancing equivalent of the Mean Girls ‘burn book’, Natalie Gumede would have graced its pages with the accompanying caption ‘she’s just too good’. Only it wasn’t just three mean girls Gumede had to side step as she cha cha cha’d her way into the strictly final, but a whole nation of them. Right from the off there was a dark vendetta stirring beneath the sequins and the sparkle. From her first spin around the dance floor with her Russian love machine, Artem Chigvintsev, the knives were out for Gumede, particularly those knives of the 140 character persuasion.

‘She’s had professional training’, they cried! ‘Natalie Gumede’s a cheat!’, they tweeted with indignation. ‘Don’t vote for her she beat up Tyrone!’, someone piped up when the row took a particularly hysterical turn. As the semi-final approached Gumedegate reached its peak as this coven of haters brandished their sparkly pitch forks in a toxic plume of foxtrot fury.

And then the unthinkable happened. Natalie ended up in the dreaded dance off and the top dog became the underdog. Oh the irony! The very same woman who was criticised for having no journey could have cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groat’s and it wouldn’t have been as dramatic. But it was too late. By the time she had been beaten to the title by Abbey Clancy, twitter and the press were up in arms. The very same tabloids who informed us of fans’ outrage and fury at Gumede’s previous experience, were now bemoaning their shock and horror that she had been robbed of the title. And rightly so. But Gumede deserved to take the strictly title for her dancing prowess and scorching chemistry with her partner, not because she suddenly became flavour of the month having triumphed through adversity.

So why is championing the underdog as much a part of our British tapestry as red phone boxes and great tea bags? My theory is that as a predominantly working class nation we admire a strong work ethic and champion those who have been on a journey from rags to riches. We don’t warm to those who arrive with the full package intact and assume that it has all come too easily. When it comes to placing the unlikely on pedestals, the great British nation knows no bounds, and it has been noted by those who know how to manipulate us. Susan Boyle and, most recently, Sam Bailey, are products not only of the Simon Cowell entertainment juggernaut, but of our relentless championing of the underdog.

But at what cost? It’s not until the frenzy of Saturday night voting fever has died down, the glitter ball trophy has started gathering dust and the last copy of the ‘winner’s single’ has been packed off to the incinerator, that we realise our judgment may have been a little askew. In the case of Gumede, the price of underdog mania was, as judge Len Goodman predicted, injustice. Probably the biggest injustice in the ten year history of the show. But, as she simultaneously performed the best show dance the show has ever seen, while being the bookies least favourite to win the show, Natalie Gumede secured an even greater victory than getting her hands on the coveted glitter ball; she confounded her critics.

After all, the trophy has to be handed back next year, but who it gets handed to may just be influenced by Natalie’s story.


Click to comment
To Top