The first six celebrities have taken to the ballroom as Strictly Come Dancing 2012 got underway on Friday night – with some front-runners already emerging.

The show saw Fern Britton, Nicky Byrne, Michael Vaughan, Victoria Pendleton, Colin Salmon and Denise van Outen make their dance debut, performing either a waltz or a cha cha cha.

And it was Denise who led the leaderboard at the end of the night, scoring 25 out of a possible 40 for her elegant waltz with partner James Jordan.

The actress and TV presenter even managed to please the notoriously prickly Craig Revel Horwood, who told her, “Saved the best till last,” while Bruno Tonioli praised Denise for being “expressive”.

Actor Colin Salmon also showed himself as a potential contender, scoring 23 out of 40 for his cha cha cha with Kristina Rihanoff, and winning himself the first standing ovation of the series.

And while he managed to impress Len Goodman, who told him, “Best cha cha cha of the night,” Craig wasn’t so sure. “There were some moments in there we could have done without quite frankly,” he told the couple.

Meanwhile cricketer Michael Vaughan and TV presenter Fern Britton delivered promising performances, with Michael notching up 20 out of 40 for his waltz with partner Natalie Lowe and Fern scoring 19 out of 40 for her cha cha cha with Artem Chigvintsev – which was the first official competition dance of the series.

New judge Darcey Bussell praised both Fern and Michael, telling the former, “It was a very confident performance, even though the nerves got you,” and the latter, “You started well but as soon as you started to hold you started to worry.”

Craig, however, was disparaging of both, telling Fern her performance “needs a lot more power” while saying to Michael, “With a little more grace and style it might resemble a waltz.”

He was even more critical of Westlife’s Nicky Byrne and new professional Karen Hauer – although it was the latter who really incurred Craig’s wrath after breaking one of the rules of the dance.

“I know you’re new but there are rules,” he said, “and you broke one of them with a lift in this waltz. One foot should remain on the floor all all times.”

He went on to call the Venezuelan dancer “the female Brendan Cole,” and added the couple would be marked down “severely” as a result.

Also getting off to a rocky start was Olympic gold medallist Victoria Pendleton, who finished bottom fo the heap with just 16 points out of 40 after forgetting the steps to her cha cha cha.

“You were a bit like the first time you rode a bike without stabilisers,” Len told her although Darcey was more encouraging. “There’s so much potential there,” she told her, “You can do it.”

The remaining eight contestants will take to the floor in tomorrow night’s show, with Kimberley Walsh, Lisa Riley, Johnny Ball and Sid Owen among those who will be dancing.

The first contestant will be eliminated during the first results show next Sunday night, with scores from this week counting towards next weekend’s result.