Louise Picken and Adam Brunyee in training for Strictly NHS
Louise and Adam’s Strictly NHS training selfie

Our community mental health nurse Louise Pickin is swapping her uniform for a ballgown and heading to Blackpool’s Winter Gardens on Friday 4 June as one of just 12 NHS staff selected from over 2000 applicants to take part in a star-spangled ‘Strictly NHS’ dance competition.

In doing so, Louise from Cullingworth, who works for the Trust’s South and West Community Mental Health Team, will fulfil a lifetime’s dream to dance with a professional in an internationally renowned venue.

Of the twelve NHS contestants, chosen ‘blind’ from audition videos sent to the organisers from across the UK, six are from Yorkshire. Louise aims to bring the trophy to Bradford, but will have stiff competition, especially from her local rivals, five dancers from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

Six of the couples will perform a ballroom number and the other six a Latin dance, under the scrutiny of a judging panel most of whom are drawn from the BBC’s long-running hit show Strictly Come Dancing.

Louise, a self-confessed Strictly superfan, and her professional dance partner Adam Brunyee from Doncaster, will waltz to the Commodores’ ‘Three Times a Lady’. Training has been tricky due to lockdown and the final itself had to be postponed and then the venue changed because of the pandemic.

Louise explains. “I found out I was in the final 12 in early December and we were originally due to have six weeks training ahead of the live event in February at Blackpool Tower Ballroom. But with increased restrictions due to COVID-19 and renovations starting on the Tower Ballroom, it was decided to move the final to June at the Winter Gardens.

“I’ve had to do a lot of my training online rather than with my partner, so it was great to actually meet Adam in person in April. We’ve been practicing as much as possible since then, whilst of course observing all the correct procedures to stay safe.”

Although restrictions are easing, only 1000 people (a quarter of the usual capacity at the Winter Gardens) will be able to attend the live final, so the event will be livestreamed. Hosted by former Strictly dancer and Take 2 regular, Ian Waite, Strictly NHS promises to be just as much fun as the tv show. And Louise is thrilled to be having her waltz judged by some of her Strictly heros!

“I’m beside myself with excitement, and fear!” she said. “I always watch Strictly as complete escapism from the demands of my job – and now I can hardly believe I’ll be performing in front of the dancers I love to watch. It’s a dream come true.”

On the judging panel are Giovanni Pernice who reached the Strictly Come Dancing final with Georgia May Foote in 2015, Debbie McGee in 2017 and Faye Tozer in 2018; Amy Dowden, a finalist in 2019 with Karim Zeroual; and Flavia Cacace-Mistry, who won the Glitterball Trophy in 2012 with Olympic gymnast, Louis Smith.

Louise commented: “I’ve enjoyed watching how the celebrities who take part learn to dance and now know how they feel!  The professionals make it look so easy but it really does feel alien when you’re just starting out. I’ve had to learn how to stand, hold my head and move my body properly. As for my feet…I’ve never worn ballroom shoes before and I’ve never had blisters like these!”

Tickets are now on sale for the live event and many of Louise’s work colleagues will be heading across the M62 for the final. Louise hopes as many local people will as possible will purchase £20 livestream tickets to watch and cheer her on online.

“I think we all need some Strictly in our lives after lockdown and all proceeds go to NHS charities, so whether you come to the live event or watch online you’ll be supporting a good cause.”