After winning gold medals in the pool, you’d think nothing could ever match up on the ‘thrill-ometer’ for our very own Ellie Simmonds. Well, you’d be wrong, as David Johns discovered…
Ellie Simmonds says being part of Strictly Come Dancing 2022 is the hardest thing she’s ever done. Really, no kidding? “Absolutely,” says the golden girl of swimming. “I’ve never done anything before that’s so challenging. At the end of rehearsals and the shows each week, I’m exhausted and I ache in my body… everywhere!”
None of which prevents Ellie in the slightest describing Strictly as her most exciting time. She’s having a ball – a glitter ball. “I can’t express really how much I love it all,” she says. “I love the dancing, I love the dresses, I love the whole Strictly team, the whole experience. I wouldn’t change anything. And most of all, my pro partner Nikita is just the most incredible person and has become my greatest friend. All the other celebrities taking part are amazing too – it’s true when they say that Strictly is one big, happy family!”
HIPS AND SHOULDERS
We caught up with Ellie for a chat in a brief break in rehearsals as she prepared to dance Salsa in the following weekend’s live show. “It’s all about the hips and Cuban vibes, pushing my body to its limits and with my feet on Nikita’s shoulders – that’s scary,” said Ellie.
Rehearsals are 9 to 6 and full-on every day leading up to the live shows. The Brummie Paralympic star and Nikita were in London to get some advice from choreographers who specialise in the dance. And their tips certainly worked, as Ellie and Nikita sparkled and shimmied across the ballroom floor on the Saturday night, drawing high praise and marks from the judges. Voters watching at home obviously agreed as Ellie sailed through the results show to the next round.
“The support I’ve been getting is amazing,” said Ellie. “I’ve never danced before and obviously we’ve had to figure out and work round the height difference. I think people have appreciated what we’re doing. Being with Nikita every day, our personalities just click so well. I have all my trust in him.”
YEAR TO REMEMBER
Strictly is the icing on what has been a brilliant year for Ellie. She presented an amazing TV documentary on dwarfism which both enlightened and challenged by taking us on a number of deeply personal journeys and confronting some uncomfortable issues. Then came the successful Birmingham Commonwealth Games – Ellie was on the Games board of directors and a key member of BBC’s daily coverage team.
“Yes, it’s been an amazing year,” said Ellie. “Since retiring from swimming I’ve been going onto the next chapter of my life. It was especially amazing to be part of the Commonwealth Games – and I’m still involved in the legacy charity to continue the good work started by the Games themselves.”
You’ll have probably noticed that Ellie says ‘amazing’ quite a lot. “It’s amazing the effect Strictly has on people,” she said. “I asked someone where the nearest supermarket was because Nikita and I wanted something for lunch and we didn’t know the area. The guy turned around and then jumped out of his skin and shouted ‘Oh my god, it’s you!’ It was amazing!”
SIMPLY SMASHING IT
Telling people like Ellie that they are inspirational can come across as a bit naff, condescending even. But in her case, it rings true. When I told her about a brilliant comment piece written in the Guardian newspaper by Cathy Reay in which the disabled author revealed her pride in Ellie for “smashing prejudices”, Ellie said: “Really? I didn’t know about that! That’s so amazing. When you’re on Strictly you get swept up by it and you can forget the impact you can have outside the bubble. It’s not just about us, me and Nikita, it’s great for the dwarfism community as a whole.”
Ellie’s biggest Strictly fans are her parents Steve and Val who said they were worried at first when she decided to do the show. “We were a bit concerned how she would deal with the intensity of it, but deep down there was a real sense of pride that she was breaking down barriers again and showing anything is possible,” said Steve.
PLANS AFTER STRICTLY
Ellie plans to continue pushing the narrative once her Strictly journey ends. She was in the middle of working on another ITV documentary which was put on hold temporarily. “The programme will focus on disability and adoption,” Ellie revealed. “A really high proportion of children in care have disabilities – and I ask, why is that? We look into the issues and I follow social workers to find out more.”
But before that, Ellie had her fingers crossed that her time on Strictly would go on… and on. “I take each week as it comes,” she said, “and I’m enjoying every minute of it.” Whatever happens, Ellie is sure of one thing – she will always ‘Keep Dancing!’