Move over, Caroline and co: six Strictly superfans are taking to the dance floor for Comic Relief, all of whom have been nominated for being amazing human beings well deserving of a treat.
In their own words, two of the contestants tell us their stories – and their hopes for their turn under the glitterball…
33, Royal Marine and presenter for Forces TV and BFBS who lost his leg in Afghanistan
My leg was blown off me in Afghanistan almost four years ago in Helmand Province. We were on a foot patrol. A friend of mine stepped on an improvised explosive device, and another guy and I survived it. We were taken back to Camp Bastion, where we were put into a medically induced coma and then they flew us back to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. I woke up in the intensive care unit.
The prerequisite for getting onto The People’s Strictly is that you need to be an extraordinary human being in some way [the six participants have been chosen for their work helping others]. I managed to sneak in somehow, which was humbling but also puzzling.
My boss from my time in Afghanistan, a retired Major from the Royal Marines called Steve McCulley, nominated me for helping other injured Marines through rehab. Steve came to J Company five months before our deployment into Helmand Province, so I’ve known him for just over four years.
He’s a Major, I’m a Lance Corporal – he’s so far above me in the food chain that it’s actually a bit scary. We weren’t friends before I was injured – he was my boss. We were on a first-name basis: his name was “Sir” and mine was “Lance Corporal”. But he has always been an extraordinary leader of men, an extraordinary human being, and a young, creative officer in the Royal Marines who had an incredible career ahead of him, had he not been blown up the day after I was.
But I only discovered that when I woke up in intensive care. That’s when Steve came around the corner, in a wheelchair. I was like, “Boss! What are you doing?” Almost instantly he said, “You don’t need to call me Boss. My name’s Steve. Call me Steve.” And from that point on, he and I have become very close.
It turns out Steve was brought back to Britain on the same flight as me. The day after my patrol was blown up, he went out looking for the guys who did it and got hit himself – he was in a really bad state., but he pulled through. We both did.
I’m actually still in the Royal Marines, but when you’re injured and, like it or lump it, you have to go into a different line of work, they help you to retrain. I want to be an actor. I’ve always been a performer: I majored in ballet at university in Canada, where I’m from. I was even an intern at a modern dance company, but never thought I could make a living from it, and somehow ended up in the Marines.
I didn’t think I would ever dance on a stage in front of an audience again. After Afghanistan, I wasn’t sure I’d ever dance again, full stop. To be honest, when I first found out I had been chosen for The People’s Strictly I reacted negatively. My first thought was, “Why would they ask a one- legged guy to go on a ballroom dancing show?” Yes, I’ve had dance training, but I haven’t danced in ten to 15 years and I’m missing a leg – a whole bunch of negative thoughts of just pure bitterness.
But a few days in, I realised: “I am a one-legged Royal Marine Commando from Canada. I am going to raise money for kids. I am going to raise money for people who need it, for Comic Relief. I’m going to help.” And you know what? If you want to be a broad- caster or a presenter, it’s pretty good exposure, too!
Turn the page to meet the next dancer…