Former EastEnder Kara Tointon was celebrating today after being crowned winner of this year’s Strictly Come Dancing.
The 28-year-old actress took the coveted glitterball trophy after dazzling judges with a series of “first class” routines in last night’s live final.
Tointon, 27, received the highest number of votes from the British public, pipping Matt Baker to the title after third finalist Pamela Stephenson was first to be eliminated.
After winning, Tointon fought back tears and said: “It’s just the most special thing that I’ve ever achieved.”
The actress, from Essex in England, then turned to dance partner Artem Chigvintsev and said: “I want to thank this man, he’s been wonderful. I made the most fantastic friend for life.”
The Russian-born dancer thanked her and described her as “amazing”.
Presenter Baker, 31, who was a pre-final favourite to take the trophy, said the romantically linked pair were “worthy winners”.
Tointon and Chigvintsev drew standing ovations throughout the tense final of the BBC1 ballroom competition, and their performances were rewarded with a host of top marks from the judges.
Her Viennese Waltz to 'Cry Me A River' perhaps drew the most applause and prompted judge Craig Revel Horwood to say: “I would kill to be able to dance like that, I thought it was amazing.”
Alesha Dixon echoed his praise, adding: “I’m quite sad that that is the last dance we are going to see you do.”
Addressing the pair, she said: “Together you are first class.”
Bruno Tonioli went a step further to say: “You danced to a level that we hardly ever see here. Whatever happens, this was incredible.”
Speaking for herself and her partner after the triumph, Tointon said: “We couldn’t be happier.”
The remark came after presenter Tess Daly fuelled suggestions the pair were romantically linked, telling the audience that Chigvintsev had promised to take his partner on a “date” now the show has finished.
In the climax to the eighth series, the final two couples performed four routines including their highest scoring dance from the series and a “no holds barred” show dance.
Tointon, who was nursing a wrist injury, still managed to wow the judges with handsprings and cartwheels in her show dance to Queen’s 'Don’t Stop Me Now'.
Revel Horwood said: “I have got to say how much courage you have to do a routine like that because that is difficult stuff.”
But other judges cast doubt on her chances, with Tonioli branding the performance “not the blockbuster it could have been”.
However, she received the ultimate compliment after her final performance when Dixon termed her “the most exquisite dancer I’ve ever seen on 'Strictly Come Dancing'”.
Earlier, Baker also drew huge cheers after he too put on a gymnastic show dance with partner Aliona Vilani to the Bodyrockers hit 'I Like The Way You Move'.
Psychologist Stephenson, wife of comic legend Billy Connolly, was the first finalist to be eliminated.
Before she bowed out, she won unanimous applause from the judges as she took to the stage in a striking turquoise dress with partner James Jordan.
The pair drew massive cheers from the audience after they performed to 'I’ve Had The Time Of My Life', which featured in the film 'Dirty Dancing'.
But though the New Zealand-born 61-year-old’s effort was termed “a terrific, uplifting tribute to a movie classic” by Tonioli, she failed to win over the public and received the fewest public votes meaning she left the competition.
Graciously accepting defeat, she smiled as she thanked Jordan saying: “James, you have been just incredible. You have made it the most joyful experience I have had for a really long time.
“Your patience, your dedication, your talent has been outstanding. Thank you very much.”
The best-selling author, actress and clinical psychologist has admitted it will be hard to go back to work after her time on the dancefloor.
She had said she was proud of her performances which have seen the judges give her perfect scores twice.
The final also saw the return of this series’ eliminated couples who took to the floor one final time along with Paloma Faith, performing a new group dance to her single 'Upside Down'.