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Strictly producer reveals how show is preparing for first deaf contestant

EastEnders star Rose Ayling-Ellis (BBC)
EastEnders star Rose Ayling-Ellis (BBC)

EastEnders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis, who will be Strictly Come Dancing’s first ever deaf contestant, will be accompanied by an interpreter on the show and the production team is doing deaf awareness training and learning sign language, producer Sarah James has said.

The soap star, who has played Frankie Lewis since 2020, has made history as part of the line-up of the 2021 series.

James, who has been executive producer of the show since 2019, said: “I think already myself and the team have learned a lot from Rose.

“She’s an amazing person, she is also very honest about what she needs and what we need to adapt, so it’s been an ongoing conversation.

“All of the team are doing deaf awareness training, which has been brilliant, and we’re learning some sign language, and that’s been brilliant as well.

“Obviously, Rose will need an interpreter with her at all times so she will always have an interpreter with her in training.

“And then on the show, you may see an interpreter occasionally on camera – obviously she’ll need somebody to interpret the judge’s comments and her chats with Claudia (Winkleman, one of the show’s presenters).

“But other than that, I know that Rose is looking forward to the show just like everybody else and I can’t wait to see what she does.”

Great British Bake Off star John Whaite will also make history on the show as part of the first male same-sex pairing.

It follows on from the first all-female pair of Olympic boxer Nicola Adams and Katya Jones last year, who had to pull out mid-series after a positive Covid test.

James said: “It’s definitely something that we’ve always wanted to do and I’m really excited about John doing it.

“I think he’s already proven that he’s an amazing spokesperson for it and he’s a household name and he is just a brilliant guy, so I’m really looking forward to it being John this year.

“I think Nicola and Katya were amazing last year, and I think everybody really, really enjoyed that partnership.

“It was obviously a shame that it was cut short because of what happened, but they’ve 100% paved the way, the research that we’ve done since has proven that everybody really, really appreciated that partnership.”

James also addressed how the show will be made safely this year, confirming most of the professional group routines will be filmed in advance, as they were last year.

She added: “When we get into the live shows, they will be tested weekly, and they will bubble up with their celebrities like last year.

“And we will keep everybody distanced from each other, so you won’t see them all up in Claudia’s area, they will be sitting in the audience like last year, on their little tables, which I think worked really nicely.

“Keeping everybody safe and keeping the show going is obviously our priority, so that’s why we’re doing this again.

“We will have a limited audience again, like last year, so we will have some audience, which is nice, but it won’t be a full audience, sadly.

“And the better news is, obviously last year, the isolation period if you received a positive test was 14 days, but this year, it’s 10 days.

“So if a celebrity does receive a positive test, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are out of the competition, it might be that they could miss a week and still get enough training in to return. So that is slightly better news than last year.”

Strictly Come Dancing will return to BBC One on Saturday September 18.

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