As this year’s Strictly hopefuls get ready to slip on their sequins and strut their stuff, it’s not surprising to hear that last year’s winner, Rose Ayling-Ellis, is feeling a tug at her heartstrings.
“I really miss it,” the EastEndersactress, who was partnered with pro Giovanni Pernice, tells us.
“I loved dressing up and the hair and make-up every week. That was the most exciting thing.”
Rose, 27, raised the profile of the deaf community by appearing in the BBC One show and she and Giovanni even won a BAFTA for their Couple’s Choice number – a dance to Clean Bandit’s Symphony with a silent section.
“I was so nervous,” she tells us of accepting the award. “My knees were shaking when it got announced.
"I was on the stage and I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s Olivia Colman!’
"Stephen Graham and Suranne Jones were there too and Suranne was looking at me directly when I was doing my speech and looked emotional. I was like, ‘Oh my God, they’re listening to me. This is amazing!’”
And it wasn’t just celebrities listening to Rose and her message from the deaf community. A Bill to make British Sign Language a recognised language was also passed after her Strictly triumph, while deaf people have been sharing with Rose how she has helped change their lives.
“When you’re in Strictly you’re in a bubble and you don’t really see what’s going on in the outside world,” Rose tells us over Zoom, joined by her sign language interpreter Kirsty Edwards.
“After I finished and I got out to see the deaf community again, they said more people had been saying thank you to them and more people were signing now.”
Here, Rose tells us about how Strictly changed her life, the new campaign she’s supporting and Love Island star Tasha Ghouri’s representation of the deaf community…
Hi, Rose! Strictly will be back on our screens in a few weeks. Do you miss it?
I really miss it. The experience was magical. I feel like I learnt so much and it’s something I’ll carry for life.
I learnt about the way I think and I believe in myself more. It’s not that I didn’t think I could do it, I always knew I could, but there was a more personal side to it and I learnt a lot about myself. You think it’s just dancing and exercise but it’s about the mental side of things, too.
Will it be strange seeing Giovanni dancing with someone new?
No, I’ll be really excited because the focus will be on the new couple and not on me and Giovanni [laughs].
I actually feel really excited to watch this year because now I can watch it knowing what they’ve experienced and what’s going through
their minds. It will be quite a different way of watching.
And I can actually judge if they’re doing the right dance or not. I’ll be like a judge, I’ll have to get my own number paddle!
Have you found a friend for life in Giovanni?
Yes, for sure. After what we went through, how could we not stay in touch? He’s so busy on his tour and then he’s back in Strictly rehearsals, but we keep in touch and we text.
You’ve become a spokesperson for the deaf community since Strictly. Has that felt like a big responsibility?
It’s an honour to be that person but it also comes with a little bit of pressure and it does feel like a big responsibility. So far, it’s been so much fun and I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and enjoying myself while being that spokesperson.
It’s definitely happened very dramatically and quickly but now people want to learn more and that’s important to me.
It’s the things deaf people have been fighting for for years and it’s happened in the past year, which is incredible. Obviously, I wanted to do the community proud but all I can do is be myself and spread awareness, and hopefully people will listen.
Have you seen a change since the show?
Definitely. There was a woman who came up to me and said that she’d been discriminated against badly at work and she went to court to fight her case and it wasn’t going anywhere.
She was almost going to give up and then she watched me on Strictly and she said, ‘I’m not going to give up, I’m going to give it one more go.’ She did and because society has become more aware of the deaf community, she won the case very quickly after I was on Strictly.
Did you watch Love Island? What did you think about Tasha Ghouri representing the deaf community?
I watched it for the first time in a long time. I hadn’t watched it since 2018 but with Tasha being on it, I did. I think it’s really good.
She’s confident and very proud of her cochlear implant and she doesn’t hide it, which is great. It’s good to see more representation on reality shows and hopefully we’ll see it more on TV dramas, the news, in presenters and in children’s programmes.
I hope it’s not just reality TV, as real representation is when something is covered everywhere.
You’ve been playing Frankie in EastEnders for two years. Can you tell us any behind-the-scenes secrets?
You know the washing machines in the laundrette? Well, they have a man behind them who winds them up to make them look like they’re real washing machines.
There is literally someone behind it who is turning the washing machine round and round. I didn’t know that when I started and I was like, “Ooh!”
You’re also supporting Barbie’s new campaign – Rose, Barbie & Friends – which is celebrating the new Fashionista Dolls and includes the first behind-the-ear hearing aid Barbie. Why was it important for you to get involved?
It’s a really important campaign to be involved with as kids can see a doll that represents them. After children watching me on telly and feeling like someone was representing them, this is something I could do for kids, too.
I also love Barbie and it was my favourite toy, so I couldn’t say no. And there’s not just a deaf Barbie, there’s a Black Barbie in a wheelchair and one with a prosthetic leg, and a Ken with vitiligo.
We all come in different shapes and if we all became more accepting of each other the world would be a much better place to live in.
How much would it have meant to you to have a doll like this yourself?
I think it’s really cool to see a Barbie with a hearing aid because I used to draw it on mine. But with the Barbie I had I used to pretend they were deaf anyway.
It’s important to have the choice. I had so much fun doing the shoot and I genuinely felt like a Barbie doll. My hair was big and I felt like someone had dressed me up. I loved the dress so much, they let me keep it.
What’s next for you?
You will find out more at the end of this month. I’m not allowed to say anything! I’m also doing the Alternative MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival, talking about my experience in the TV industry and covering everything I’ve been through.
Have you suffered a lot of negativity?
We deal with negativity all our lives. It’s no shock to us as this is how society is.
It’s more shocking for people hearing it because they don’t see it. But this is something we deal with every day. This is what we’re working to improve.
The 2022 Barbie Fashionista line is available from retailers nationwide from today, including Smyths, with an RRP of £13.99 each.
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