Big Norm was people's choice for 'Dancing with the Stars'

By Derek Cheng

Former All Black Norm Hewitt last night became a dancing champion with a combination of class, passion - and keeping his shirt on.

With the finalists locked after two rounds on last night's showdown on Dancing with the Stars, actor Shane Cortese stripped down to his trousers and and partner Nerida Lister tossed aside her coat, revealing a sexy two-piece for a last-ditch, anything goes number.

But after the show, an exultant Hewitt told the Herald: "Shane and Nerida have been amazing competitors, and they have a different style to us ... But I couldn't take my jacket off, I don't have the body that Shane does."

The final had been the culmination of months of hard practice, while the country sat glued to their screens every Sunday night, with an estimated 1 million tuning in - the same as for last year's NZ Idol final.

The judge's scores were tied after two rounds - a quickstep and rumba for Cortese and Lister, waltz and paso doble for Hewitt and his partner Carol-Ann Hickmore.

The judges spent most of the night handing out superlatives to the man who was All Black hooker through the 1990s but also once had to apologise for his drinking.

Judge Brendan Cole: "Norm, what can I say? Your timing was immaculate."

And then, of course, there was the hint of haka in his paso doble - a passionate bullfight dance.

Said Judge Paul Mercurio, of Strictly Ballroom movie fame: "The first time I saw that I got goose bumps, and that time I got goose bumps and now I'm never going to see it again ... bloody awesome."

But with the scores tight, it was Hewitt who was always the public favourite. Even before taking a step last night, Centrebet had him at odds of 1-4 to win.

While the voting split remains a closely guarded secret, a TVNZ spokeswoman said 317,698 votes were cast for the final, of which 83,000 were 0900 calls, and the rest text messages. Each vote registered a cut for the contestants' favoured charity, with Hewitt supporting Books in Homes.

After criticism that charities were getting little, TVNZ said yesterday that charities would receive about 54c from each 99c vote.

Author Alan Duff, founder of Books in Homes, said Hewitt had been a great supporter for 10 years.

TVNZ said it would reveal how much each charity earned from the programme in the next few days.

It has yet to decide if a second series will be made despite the overwhelming ratings success of the show, which is based on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing.

And at the end, Hewitt bubbled excitedly about the show.

He was "over the moon".

"It's been such an awesome experience, a brilliant final, and to come through to a final and then actually win - phenomenal."

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