Torvill and Dean are now as well known for coaching and judging on ITV’s Dancing on Ice as for skating.
But it was as ice dancers that they made history – winning gold at the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics for their dance to Ravel’s Boléro with the highest-ever score for a single figure-skating programme, including a maximum nine sixes for artistic impression.
They were first paired together at their local rink in Nottingham in the early 1970s and remained a team throughout their careers. They were known as “Torvill and Dean” because that is the convention in skating – the male leads the dance, but the female’s name always comes first.
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Jayne worked as an insurance clerk after leaving school, while Christopher joined the police at 16. It was only after winning gold that they went professional – back then, they had to be amateurs to compete at the Olympics.
For their Boléro routine, Ravel’s music had to be cut from more than 17 minutes to the Olympic maximum of four minutes and ten seconds. In the end, the arrangement was still 18 seconds too long, but as a routine only starts when the first skate hits the ice, they got away with it by spending the first 18 seconds kneeling.
The skating legends are now the subject of a TV drama, written by William Ivory. Dean, 60, has been married twice and has two children; Torvill, 61, is also married with two kids. In all, they won seven British Championships, four European and four World Championships and two Olympic medals.
Theirs was a partnership that flourished both on and off the ice… but how do both skaters look back on their Olympic-winning relationship?
Jayne on Chris
My first memory of Chris is seeing him at the ice rink one Saturday afternoon in 1971. He stood out because he was whizzing around so fast and had blond hair. That’s when I named him the Blond Prince. Every Thursday during the dance club session, there was a thing called drawn partners. The first time I was drawn with Chris, we won the competition. Then it was suggested we become dance partners. I was 14 by then and I’d done pairs skating, but I’d been without a partner for two years, so the thought was exciting.
We were both quiet kids. Our coach would say, “Right, go and do the foxtrot,” and we’d just go and do it. Chris was very competitive. Whatever he did, he wanted to be the best. At that point it didn’t matter to me if I won, I just wanted to do as well as I could. He knew I was reliable – that I’d come in and work hard – but he always complained about me being late.
My timekeeping has got better over the years, but Chris used to get so cross about it. Once, in New York, I was nearly two hours late because I’d been shopping. This was before mobile phones, so when I turned up he was furious. He’d called the hospital and the police because he’d been so worried. Chris expresses his anger more openly than me. He’ll raise his voice. That time, though, he gave me the silent treatment.
His obsession with time is his most annoying characteristic. If a car’s coming to pick us up but it’s not due for two minutes, he starts ringing people to say it’s not there. It’s hard for me to get wound up about anything.
When he was 16, Chris signed up to the police and had to go away on an eight-week course. He was worried about being away so long and suggested that I look for another partner. I didn’t even consider it.
Chris was always the creative one. He’d have a wonderful idea for a lift and I’d have to figure out how to actually land it. I’m the more practical person.
The Olympics year, 1984, was massive for us. Chris was always more nervous than me. We trained so hard – even if we were ill we didn’t take the day off, because we wanted to know that if we woke up on the morning of the final and felt a bit rough, we could still do it
We were favourites, and there was such pressure to perform well. We didn’t have a clue there were so many people watching at home. Twenty four million – amazing! Because of the nature of the Boléro it was very quiet during the performance, but the roar of the crowd at the end was magnificent. We were picking up flowers and took so long to get off the ice that they were already putting up the scores. We heard a roar and looked up and we’d got three sixes [for technical merit]. Then there was an even louder roar, and we saw a whole row of sixes [for artistic impression]. We couldn’t believe it. Nothing has equalled that feeling for me. As you get older, you begin to realise how big a deal it was.
Because the Boléro is very romantic, the media were convinced we were a couple. One journalist said, “So, Chris, when are you getting married?” and he said, “Not yet!” And that was it – there were reports that we were going to get married. I thought, “Oh no! Why did you say that?”
We did actually kiss once – before we were a skating couple. We were in the back of the bus going to a league match, and it just happened. It was a one-off. We never talked about it afterwards. We laugh about it now. Chris comes out with things without filtering them, and on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories he said, “We dabbled.” So that’s what it is now – Dabblegate. It was a kiss!
People say that we act like an old married couple, so I’m sure we could have ended up together, but during that period when you start dating, we were absorbed in our skating. We were married to that rather than to each other. Although people still think we’re a couple. They’ll see me and my husband Phil and call him Chris and he’ll answer to Chris so he doesn’t embarrass them!
At first it was hard for Phil to understand that if Chris and I were performing, we’d have to go away and train for at least six weeks. Phil and I lived in London at the time and Chris was in America, so we had to find neutral ground. Phil would ask, “Why do you have to go away? It’s not for two months.” And I’d try to explain that we couldn’t just turn up and skate. Phil didn’t understand at first, but over the years he’s learnt everything there is to know about skating.
I think I’ve changed more over the years than Chris. I’m more outgoing and confident than I was. Chris has mellowed in his old age. It’s amazing that we’re still working together after all this time. We wouldn’t have thought that even aged 40 we’d still be throwing ourselves around. We’re so lucky to still have the physical ability to do that – and still love it.
Chris on Jayne
Jayne and I went to the same ice rink, but didn’t interact for the first few years. I started when I was ten, and Jayne, who’d started at eight, was 11. She did pairs skating, so she had a partner, and they ruled the roost on the rink.
She then did singles, but by the age of 14 her star wasn’t rising any more. That’s when it was suggested we team up. At the rink there were stands where the mothers would watch. It was bit like the French Revolution – they’d sit and knit and comment on whether the skaters were any good. Because Jayne had been a solo skater and I was a dancer, they said, “Oh no, those two won’t work together!”
The first time we really met to skate together was at 6am. The ice rink was in a really old, hangar-type building and when you put the lights on you’d see the condensation rising from the ice and the rats and mice scattering.
We were very shy with each other. Janet Sawbridge, our coach, made us get into a hold. We were standing nose to nose, hip to hip, and there was nowhere to look except at each other. It felt awkward – for a minute. From then on, both of us wanted to make a go of it.
The first time we stepped onto the ice I didn’t hear any bells – it wasn’t like the promised land – but there was a connection. We both had the desire; in a subconscious way we knew that this was something more than a partnership.
We come from similar working-class backgrounds. My dad was a miner, Jayne’s worked at Raleigh. I didn’t want to go down the mines, and fancied being a policeman. That was going to be my career. Skating was never going to be a career – it was a sport and a hobby. We both knew we had to go to work – that our parents couldn’t afford to subsidise our skating.
Jayne is solid, trustworthy, a great person. She’s not so good on timing, though. I’ve always been a stickler for timing, even as a kid. When I joined the police, you’ve got to be there ten minutes early just to be on time. Jayne’s philosophy is if she’s there ten minutes late she’s on time!
Jayne was so shy, but she isn’t now. I’m more shy than she is. She’s got to a stage where she’s relaxed about her opinions and herself. But I’ve always been the bossier of the two of us. Jayne has always been happy for me to take the lead in a creative way.
The Boléro was a collective idea, though. We’d been using it as a gentle warm-up and it had permeated into our bodies. Nobody was using classical music back then. By choosing Boléro it felt we were leading with what we wanted to do and not replicating what had been done before.
We went into the Olympics as favourites and the press made it a question of how well we would win rather than if, so the pressure was really on us. We knew one mistake would cost us dear. When we won, it was like walking on the Moon. I don’t think anything has affected us so much. Having children is a life-changing event, but in terms of an event that affected our lives thereafter, this was the crowning moment.
“Dabblegate” was just a teenage kiss in the back of a bus. We were 14 years old, and teenagers in the most naive sense. We didn’t talk about it much after. The skating was everything and having a relationship just didn’t occur to us.
There is still a romance, though. I love Jayne. But in a passionate friend way. When couples dance together, it’s very intimate; you spend a lot of time together, it’s close, it’s physical. Strictly Come Dancing relationships are just a flash in the pan, aren’t they? Jayne and I have grown up over decades together. Partners have had to learn to accept our relationship.
We’ve fallen out lots of times, but not to the extent that we’ve ever stopped talking. It was always about little things, but we’d never leave the ice having an argument. Jayne can deal with just about anything. I’m a bit more passionate and have – well, used to have – this aggression and determination. I’ve definitely become more mellow.
We made the decision to retire together. I’d moved to America and had young kids on the way and Jayne wanted to have children. In 1998 we gave our last performance. We didn’t tell anybody, but we knew. It was a huge moment. I cried. We’re both good criers. Jayne used to be the more emotional, but as I’ve got older I’ve become much more sentimental.
Hanging up our boots was tough. For about 18 months there was a sense of identity loss. We were on the phone all the time. I felt a foreigner abroad. But the minute the kids were born, I had roots over there and a sense of belonging.
The first time we got back together properly was for Dancing on Ice in 2006, which I love and hope never ends. These days Jayne and I talk all the time. Since we retired, we’ve not danced with other partners except for little charity things.
When this drama about us was suggested, we sat down together and talked to Billy Ivory, who wrote the screenplay. He’s got such a feel for events and how everything came together. I’ll definitely be watching it this Christmas. At the time you just think, “Done that, let go”, but when you sit down and think about it now, it’s really emotional looking back to the glory days.
Torvill and Dean will air on Christmas Day (Tuesday 25th December) at 9.15pm on ITV