Strictly Come Dancing 2021 judges reveal their favorites—but who’s on this year’s panel

The Strictly Come Dancing 2021 judges have given their initial verdicts on this year's line-up

Strictly Come Dancing 2021 Judges Shirley Ballas, Craig Revel Horwood, Anton Du Beke and Motsi Mabuse
(Image credit: Judges images credit BBC)

The Strictly Come Dancing 2021 judges are ready and raring to go as the hit BBC show prepares for its eagerly anticipated launch show—and they’ve given their initial verdicts on this year’s contestants. 

The Strictly Come Dancing launch show 2021 is almost here and already fans can’t wait to see their favorite professionals and brand new contestants putting their dancing skills to the test. The Strictly Come Dancing 2021 lineup includes everyone from Great British Bake Off winner John Whaite to soap stars Katie McGlynn and Rose Ayling-Ellis. From the moment Strictly Come Dancing 2021 starts and the 2021 pairings are announced they will be well and truly put through their paces by their professional partners. And it’s not just the dancers who make this hit BBC show so compelling, but the judges, who cast their all-seeing eye over every dance move. 

But who are the Strictly Come Dancing 2021 judges and what have they said about this year’s contestants ahead of the launch show?

Strictly Come Dancing 2021 judges—and their favourites to win 

Shirley Ballas

Strictly Come Dancing 2021 judge Shirley Ballas

(Image credit: BBC)

Joining the Strictly Come Dancing judging panel in 2017, Shirley Ballas replaced Len Goodman as Head Judge after his departure. And Shirley’s dance credentials certainly speak for themselves as she is considered by many people to be one of most renowned professional dancers in the world. 

As reported by the BBC, Shirley remains the only person to have won the British Open to the World Latin American Championships in Blackpool with two different partners. She is also the youngest ever female dancer to reach the British Open to the World Dance Championship finals.  

Shirley Ballas attends the "Strictly Come Dancing" launch show red carpet arrivals at Television Centre on August 26

(Image credit: Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage via Getty)

With such experience in this field, Shirley certainly knows what to look out for as she prepares to cast her eye over this year’s celebrities’ dances. Earlier this year, the Head Judge shared her excitement at the Strictly Come Dancing 2021 line-up as she appeared on ITV’s Loose Women. 

Shirley reportedly told the Loose Women panel in August that, “Of all panels, you have never seen such celebrities as you are going to see on this particular show.”

She went on to add, “[Strictly’s executive producer Sarah James] just delights every time, she tweaks here, she tweaks there, she’s outside the box. She is bringing a show… just when you think it couldn’t get any better, it does.” 

Shirley Ballas attends the National Television Awards held at The O2 Arena on January 22, 2019

(Image credit: Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Now, with the launch show almost upon us, Shirley has given fans a hint of what lies ahead as she unveiled her thoughts on some of this year’s contestants. During an interview with Hello! magazine in September, she told the publication that she believed they have a “really great cast”. 

"Dan Walker looks like he'd be an ideal ballroom person and AJ Odudu has got such a great, larger-than-life personality, so she's going to bring something really unique and special. Tom Fletcher is a musician, so you would think he has rhythm," Shirley suggested. 

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Whilst the judge is also keen to see actor and Emma Thompson's husband Greg Wise take to the dance floor. He has spoken of how his decision to take part is in honor of his late sister Clare and Shirley expressed her belief that, “anybody who dances from the heart is always more unique."

She explained, "It's not always just about footwork, it is about that soul and performing in that honest, giving way, so that's lovely to watch."

Craig Revel Horwood

Strictly Come Dancing 2021 judge Craig Revel Horwood

(Image credit: BBC)

Craig Revel Horwood has been a Strictly Come Dancing judge since the very first series of the hit show. Born in Australia, he made his mark in productions such as West Side Story, La Cage Aux Folles, Me and My Girl there before traveling to Europe. Honoring the immense success of his stage career as well as his talents as a choreographer, Craig has received several highly-coveted Olivier Award nominations for his work on musicals My One And Only and Spend, Spend, Spend. 

As part of the Strictly judging panel, Craig is sometimes referred to as the show’s “Mr Nasty” by fans for his direct and honest approach to delivering dance feedback to the celebrity contestants. And ahead of his return as one of the Strictly Come Dancing 2021 judges, he has already given his initial thoughts on this year’s lineup.

Craig made a recent appearance on ITV’s Lorraine where he revealed exactly who was standing out so far and who he thought might struggle.

"Judi Love's sort of standing out, not because she's front row centre but because she's fantastic,” he said of the comedian and presenter. "Her personality is brilliant. I saw her on the pre-record for this coming Saturday, she looks amazing. I can't wait."

The Strictly star then went on to discuss Olympic Gold Medalist Adam Peaty, explaining, “He's so competitive, I saw him wriggle his hips as well, they're quite liquid."

Craig Revel Horwood attends the opening night of MAMMA MIA! The Party at Building 6 at The O2

(Image credit: Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Mamma Mia)

But when it comes to who Craig believes at this early stage might not pick things up so easily, he revealed that it’s presenter Dan Walker he’s “worried about”.

"If you're asking who I'm worried about, yeah Dan a little bit in the latin because he's so long he's got so much to control of that body,” he stated.

Whether or not Craig’s predictions do come true, fans will just have to tune in for the Strictly Come Dancing 2021 launch show to find out!

Motsi Mabuse

Strictly Come Dancing 2021 judge Motsi Mabuse

(Image credit: BBC)

Motsi Mabuse became a Strictly Come Dancing judge in 2019 and has won the hearts of Strictly fans with her enthusiastic response and encouragement to each year’s celebrities. Throughout her time as judge, she has also watched proudly as her sister, professional dancer Oti Mabuse, has won the glitterball trophy twice, firstly with former Emmerdale actor Kelvin Fletcher and last year with comedian Bill Bailey. 

Born in South Africa, Motsi has competed at championships around the world and went on to join the cast of the German version of Strictly, entitled Let’s Dance. She finished in fifth and sixth place with her celebrity partners during her time on the show before becoming a judge on Let’s Dance. 

Jorge Gonzalez, Motsi Mabuse and Joachim Llambi on stage during the 1st show of the 13th season of the television competition "Let's Dance"

(Image credit: Photo by Joshua Sammer/Getty Images)

Now Motsi has spoken out to share who she thinks could do well on this year’s series of Strictly Come Dancing. The Sun reports that the judge and dancer made the revelation on Good Morning Britain that EastEnders actor Rose Ayling-Ellis is one to watch.

Asked whether or not she’d seen the contestants dancing yet, Motsi responded, “Yeah we did, we could see people a little bit, not much. They were just dancing a tiny bit. But you could see, I feel she has talent. 

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"I think all opportunities are open, it’s just the question of how she will cope with everything else. But I would say she is really someone to watch out for,” she added. And Rose wasn’t the only contestant that had caught Motsi’s attention.

When asked about McFly singer Tom Fletcher, Motsi told Good Morning Britain, “He’s going to be amazing, I can tell you now. He did one jump, he did a spin, he walked and I was like..” she said, looking impressed, before going on to add that his personality “shines through” in his dancing.   

It’s not yet known exactly who Rose or Tom will be partnered with, but they certainly seem to have got Motsi’s seal of approval so far.

Anton Du Beke

Strictly Come Dancing 2021 judge Anton Du Beke

(Image credit: BBC)

A newcomer to the Strictly Come Dancing 2021 judging panel, Anton Du Beke is already well-known to long-time Strictly fans. The dancer has been a much-loved professional on the show for 17 years since he made his debut in 2004. Throughout the years he and his celebrity partners have delivered some of the most memorable performances in the show’s history, with some of his partners including politician Ann Widdecombe, ITV star Ruth Langsford and Andy Murray’s mother Judy Murray. 

Anton has previously stepped in as a temporary judge on the 2020 series. Now all these years later, he has made the move from professional dancer to become one of the Strictly Come Dancing 2021 judges. This comes after the uncertainty surrounding international travel restrictions reportedly meant that former Strictly judge Bruno Tonioli was unable to take part. 

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So far Anton has not yet revealed his predictions for this year’s show, though he has previously opened up on the kind of judge he believes he will be when it comes to scoring the contestants’ efforts.

According to The Mirror, the dancer opened up during an interview on Steph’s Packed Lunch and suggested that he aims to be a positive and encouraging judge. Anton joked that the contestants “aren’t going to get much” of this approach from the “other end of the desk”.

He added, “I’m going to come from the perspective that I know what it’s like. I know what they are trying to achieve…so I shall take all of that into perspective really. I hope they all dance wonderfully, I know they'll be doing their best, and I'll be encouraging."

Anton Du Beke attends the "Strictly Come Dancing" launch show red carpet arrivals at Television Centre on August 26, 2019

(Image credit: Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage via Getty)

So whilst Anton might not yet have disclosed his first impressions, if any of the contestants on this year’s Strictly Come Dancing do find it a challenge, he will be there to offer constructive and supportive advice, knowing just how they feel.

The Strictly Come Dancing 2021 launch show airs on September 18 at 7.45pm on BBC One and will also be available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

Emma Shacklock
Emma Shacklock

Emma is a Senior Lifestyle Writer with five years experience working in digital publishing, ranging from book publishing to magazines. She currently looks after all things Lifestyle for Woman&Home, GoodToKnow and My Imperfect Life.


Before she joined Future Publishing, Emma graduated from the University of Warwick with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Comparative Literary Studies. After leaving education, she started out her publishing career in the world of books, working as a Publisher for an independent digital publisher specializing in back-list and debut commercial fiction novels. With a huge book list and a passion for bringing the best stories to the broadest audience possible, Emma filled her spare time with reading the latest best-sellers and catching up on hit adaptations.


In 2017 she joined TI Media as a fiction writing coordinator on Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Weekly Fiction as part of the features team. From here, she used her love of books, working to bring short stories to our dedicated readers and began writing for the books pages of Woman, Woman’s Own and Woman&Home, as well as online features ranging from genre round-ups to travel pieces for womanandhome.com. 


After honing her skills, Emma branched out online in 2020 when Future gave her the opportunity to focus on digital-first. When she’s not writing about the next big lifestyle trend, she enjoys cooking, long walks and watching as many crime dramas as she can!