Greg Wise: ‘Strictly is not really about dancing. It’s about being alive’
Actor Greg Wise took part in Strictly Come Dancing because his late sister Clare would have been “bemused and thrilled” to see him on it. He also saw it as a chance to talk about death and grief on prime time Saturday night TV.
Greg Wise ready to take to the floor. Image: BBC/Ray Burmiston
Actor Greg Wise left Strictly Come Dancing before the halfway point of the competition this year. But he quickly came to understand the show in a deep way.
He took part, he says, to talk about grief and death.
Wise had planned an autumn holiday with his wife, Dame Emma Thompson. When Strictly called, it didn’t take long to change the plan. It was Jeremy Bentham’s fault.
“Do you know Jeremy Bentham? He is stuffed on Gower Street. He said that legislation should be enacted on the greatest happiness principle – so what will bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number is how we should legislate,” says Wise.
“She [Thompson, who is typing away behind him in their kitchen as we talk] had just done three films back-to-back and was coming to the end of playing Trunchbull in Matilda. We’d organised ourselves a lovely autumn – taking our first holiday in seven years, spending time in Scotland seeing the autumnal colours, finishing the Italian course we started last year.
“Then the Strictly offer came through and within five minutes we kicked into the long grass all those plans. Because of the greatest happiness principle. Because Strictly gives an enormous amount of people an enormous amount of happiness.”
It does. But this television show, as regular viewers all know, is about so much more than dancing.
“The thing about Strictly is that you can look at it through so many different prisms. You can look at it as just a banging Saturday night bit of fun. But it is profound.”
Wise took part, principally, as his late sister Clare, who died in 2013, would have been “bemused and thrilled in equal measure that her little brother was doing this”.
“I felt so privileged to be able to talk about death and grief on prime time Saturday night telly. Because this is when we need to have these discussions. We need to bring the D word out of the darkness, that’s the point – we need to be able to sit with our mates in the pub and talk about end of life.
“And where we are now, everybody has suffered. Everybody knows someone close that’s died. Everybody’s grieving. There’s a lot of pain around and a lot of confusion, because we don’t talk about this stuff.
“So for this massive, glittery, wild primetime Saturday night dance programme to go off on a little tangent? That is why I was here. I was here because of death and grief and celebrating the relationship that I had with my sister.”
“Another thing I think is key – and Emma and I have talked an awful lot about this in terms of storytelling – there is nothing more interesting than watching someone learn how to do something. It’s unbelievable drama. Incredibly potent.
“When Rose took one step, before her waltz had even started, I was in fucking tears. Can you imagine?
“Her exquisite partner Gio had said how he realised the previous weeks they’d been face to face and now they were doing a waltz and Rose had to turn away from him?
“I was in a puddle on the floor at the end of that dance. It was one of the most beautiful and touching things I have ever seen. Here is this girl, she is deaf, and she is dancing live for the nation on a Saturday night. Amazing!
“Strictly is about being a human being. It’s about overcoming whatever obstacles you have set up for yourself or have been set up for you and going: ‘I’m going to give it a go’. And it’s fantastically exposing, because it’s live. That’s what makes it so extraordinary. You’ve got real jeopardy.
“So it is a remarkable show. Because it is not really about dancing. It’s about being alive.”
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