Jayne Torvill twirls inches from the floor. In the blink of an eye she springs up and perches elegantly on James Jordan’s right shoulder. Not had for a 56-year-old, especially one who hasn’t danced since her dad waltzed her around the local Legion Club as a child.
“Oh my God! You’re amazing!” whoops James. This is high praise from a Strictly Come Dancing professional.
Ten minutes later, the Olympian ice dancer is flopped on a sofa in her dressing room. Evidently the rehearsal wasn’t as effortless as it appeared. Christopher Dean – who was swinging Aliona Vilani around his head a short while ago – is on the floor, ice pack pressed to his knee. “Sorry if we look a bit exhausted! It’s been a long day.”
Last year’s Strictly contribution to Children in Need was pure pantomime: Ann Widdecombe and Russell Grant trussed up as angels. But gold medallists Torvill and Dean have taken their turn on the dance floor seriously. Since Dean jetted in five days ago from his home in Colorado, they have been rehearsing for up to seven hours a day.
“It appealed to us because it’s related to what we do, but at the same time we were challenging ourselves,” explains Torvill.
“There are a lot of similarities between skating and ballroom dancing, but there are a lot of differences, too.”
Such as? Dean rubs his knee ruefully. “Friction!”
Torvill is feeling it most in the bruised balls of her feet. “You’re on demi-pointe a lot more,” she explains, “whereas on the ice you’re usually flat.”
Do they have a new respect for dancing?
“Absolutely,” says Dean. “It’s been a hard slog. The great thing about dancing is that you’re in a studio that’s warm. An ice rink isn’t. It’s nice not to need to wear thick layers.”
For the first time ever, we’ll see them go head to head. Torvill will perform a sexy tango with James Jordan for the Strictly judges, while Dean has chosen to do an American Smooth with Aliona Vilani. Not that the skating pair see it as a contest. “It sounds like we’re competing against each other, but we’re in it together,” says Dean firmly.
“We’re only competitive with ourselves,” adds Torvill.
Despite now living on different continents, they’re clearly as close as ever: finishing each other’s sentences; moving as one when they dance together, to open and close their medley, to Let’s Face the Music and Dance – the song they skated to when they won bronze at the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Dean – who is a year younger – still trains six days a week. In addition to sessions at the gym and rink, he likes to run, hike and bike up Colorado’s peaks. “I come off my bike regularly. I had really bad ‘road rash’ last year. I was doing 35mph down a hill and the front tyre went; I left my left side on the road.
“As we get older we have to work harder to stay in shape… It becomes an obsession. I think we’re a bit obsessed.”
“Speak for yourself!” protests Torvill, who prefers a moderate regime when there isn’t a Pudsey trophy up for grabs.
Obsessive or not, Torvill and Dean won’t be letting a dodgy knee, sore feet or a little thing like friction stop them from dazzling for Children in Need.