STRICTLY is coming to town! And, for the first time ever, all four of the current TV judges will be on the panel when the show heads to Manchester.

“That’s so great,” says Craig Revel Horwood, a veteran of the tour. “A real treat for the fans.”

Since 2010, he’s not only performed his familiar role as a judge on the Strictly tour; he’s also the director of the high-octane production. It’s quite an undertaking, something he first starts planning the previous June and which takes several months to finalise.

“That’s the concept, the lighting, the music, the dance routines, the whole shebang,” he said.

And, each year, the theme is different.

“The challenge is to better yourself every time, always trying to make it bolder, more theatrical. For 2019, there’s a water theme mixed with a disco feel. The current TV series began with a dance staged in and around the fountains at Somerset House and I wanted to continue that theme.

“I’m also keen on fantastic costume changes. The sparkle you are able to achieve with all the lights in the arena is incredible. It’s really something seeing the celebrities and pros dazzle in front of your eyes!”

Arena audiences are in for a real treat, says Craig, with a fantastic evening of entertainment, showcasing all the amazing choreography and incredible live music for which Strictly is famous. They’ll experience a host of breathtaking dance routines together with all the glitz, glamour and magic of the TV show live on stage. ‘This is a must-see spectacle for fans of all ages.’

As well as enjoying the glittering routines, audiences also have the power to decide who wins the coveted Live Tour Glitterball Trophy at the end of each show. After each celebrity couple has performed, the tour judges will provide their invaluable critique and scores but the audience can also text their votes for their favourite couple and ultimately decide who wins.

So, Craig’s looking forward to it on a personal level?

“How could I not?” he says. “The atmosphere, the level of excitement are something it’s hard to describe if you haven’t experienced it for yourself. And, from a personal point of view, if you’re appearing, with 12,000 people cheering you on, you get some idea of what it must feel like to be Lady Gaga.’

Darcey Bussell has been a Strictly judge for seven years now, but the tour at the beginning of 2018 was the first time she’d been on the road with the show.

“It was lovely to see the enthusiastic reaction of the audiences,” she said. “I’m used to Elstree, where the live TV show is filmed in front of 500 guests, but that doesn’t prepare you for being in front of thousands of fantastic Strictly fans.”

As a ballet dancer, she’s well used to regional tours. “People always appreciate it, I think, that you’ve made the effort to come to their city. But the enormity of the arenas where the Strictly tour takes place is something else. I simply couldn’t believe the noise levels.”

She also valued having the time to get to know the professional dancers as well as the particular celebrities. ‘On a Saturday, it’s not so easy to chat as it is such a busy day. But you become one big family on the road. It reminds me of when I did my first big tour with The Royal Ballet, to Asia, when I was 18. It was the most exciting experience, and even with the hard work, I’ll never forget it – I feel the same way about the Strictly tour.’

Bruno Tonioli is a practised hand at the Strictly tour.

“I’ve missed a couple of years because of other professional commitments but I must have done seven or eight now,” he said. “I love it. It’s only when you walk into those packed arenas that you truly appreciate the strength and success of Strictly.

‘These are the real fans! To be honest, it makes you feel like a rock star. It certainly gets the adrenalin pumping. I’m always apprehensive before I go on stage but I’d suspect myself if I wasn’t. Nerves mean that you’re taking it seriously.”

But it doesn’t faze him at all, he says, that Craig is directing the show.

“’I’m a professional and it’s my job to follow his direction when necessary. But most of the time I’m doing what I do on the TV show, only on a much, much bigger scale. And it’s not as though Craig is telling me what to say.” It’s simple: I’ve always liked working with him.’

He’s known Darcey since he saw her debut with the Royal Ballet some 25 years ago. ‘I have the greatest respect for her as I do for Shirley although I must be careful not to bump into her when I get a little over-enthusiastic!

‘But, seriously, we all have a huge mutual respect for one another. We may come from different disciplines but dance is what links us. And this time, of course, audiences are getting all four judges, something that has never happened before. I’m looking forward to it immensely. Well, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it so much.’

He’s not alone. Not only audiences, it seems, have good things to say about Strictly Live. For the Daily Telegraph, in a five-star review, it was ‘the happiest show in town’. The Mail on Sunday praised the production’s ‘slick excellence’ while Metro highlighted the ‘family friendly fun’. For the Daily Mirror, the evening was nothing less than ‘a high-octane spectacular’.

This will be head judge Shirley Ballas’s first Strictly tour and she can’t wait.

She said: “Apart from anything else, it means that I’ll get to meet so many of the people who’ve watched and enjoyed the show at home.

“I’m told by the other judges that the atmosphere, the energy are something that have to be tasted first-hand to be believed. The four of us get along very well so I’m expecting it to be a fun extravaganza.”

Craig has already asked Shirley if she’d like to dance at each venue.

“I’ve said I would,” she said. “But no, the prospect doesn’t make me nervous so much as excited in anticipation. I’ve got rid of all my nerves now on the TV show. This is my second year and I feel much more relaxed this time round.”

Shirley has known Bruno for a dozen years now. ‘He’s a judge on Dancing With The Stars in America and my son, Mark, is a professional dancer on the show. In fact, he’s won it twice. Bruno is a spectacular human being in my book.’

Darcey is a newer friend whom Shirley didn’t meet until Strictly 2017. ‘But she’s so easy to like: kind, funny, caring.’ And Craig? ‘Craig is Craig. What can I say? He’s larger-than-life on screen, but behind the scenes, he’s a real softie.’

The demands of a tour don’t worry Shirley. ‘I’ve travelled all over the world since I was 16 so I’m used to living out of a suitcase. I’m quite happy to move from hotel to hotel.”

Strictly Come Dancing Live, Manchester Arena, Saturday, January 26 and Sunday, January 27. Details from www.strictlycome