Rose Ayling-Ellis has described Strictly Come Dancing as "the most inclusive and supportive job" in her career, after she was initially "wary" of appearing on the BBC series.


The EastEnders star delivered the Alternative MacTaggart lecture at this year's Edinburgh International TV Festival and admitted that she "didn't get excited straight away" when asking to take part in the dancing competition.

"I had become very wary of the industry," she admitted. "Every job I have been given, I have always been the only deaf person and it always comes with its challenges and issues. I knew a big part of why Strictly approached me was because I am deaf."

Ayling-Ellis added that she hadn't previously considered "doing a reality show" but that "the opportunity was huge and turning it down felt wrong".

"Saying 'no' is a privilege most people take for granted, I knew I would be the first deaf dancer and saying 'no' to that felt wrong," she explained. "This was a big platform, I knew how popular Strictly was, so, in the end I said yes – I would do it for the deaf community. Little did I know how magical and beautiful it would also be for me personally."

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Ayling-Ellis went on to reveal that she told Strictly producers during an initial meeting that she had never watched the series before because it was "not accessible" to her. "The live subtitles were too slow, leaving me always a step behind and excluded from the jokes – even on iPlayer the subtitles had not been corrected...

"I told them from the start exactly what I needed and that if I was going to be a part of the show, it was vital my deaf culture and identity was part of it too. I wanted my deafness to be present, but not overly emotional or inspirational."

Rose Ayling-Ellis
BBC Pictures

According to Ayling-Ellis, the Strictly team then introduced a number of major changes to the show off the back of her requests. "Incredibly quickly, the team came back to me to say they had amended the live subtitles, as well as the subtitles on iPlayer and they said they had also added audio description for blind viewers.

"In addition to this, they set up deaf awareness training for everybody on and behind the screen and brought in a knowledgeable deaf person to provide consultancy, rather than burdening me with this responsibility. By putting this in place Strictly made me feel heard; it was the most inclusive and supportive job I have ever had, and it has had a profound and lasting impact.

"During my time on the show, I was supported to be 100 per cent myself because the team adapted and allowed me to be, for the first time ever, Rose – not just a deaf person. So, to everyone on the team who played a part in making my experience so inclusive, I would like to say a big thank you."

Best known for her role as Frankie Lewis in EastEnders, Ayling-Ellis went on to win the 19th series of Strictly alongside her dance partner Giovanni Pernice.

Strictly Come Dancing will return to BBC One in the autumn.

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