Will Bayley and his partner Janette Manrara produced an extraordinarily emotional performance on Saturday night’s Strictly Come Dancing that reduced most of the audience to tears and left judge Motsi Mabuse unable to speak.
Dancing to ‘7 Years’ by Lukas Graham they chose a contemporary style for their ‘Couple’s Choice’ that told Bayley’s story through a powerful routine full of passion. It was preceded by a video in which Bayley and his mother Chrissie talked about the many challenges that he has faced since being born with arthrogryposis and then diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of seven. Bayley returned to Great Ormond Street Hospital last week with Manrara and revisited his old ward to meet some of the children undergoing treatment and also paid tribute to his grandmother who bought him his first table tennis table while he was recovering from cancer.
Guest judge Alphonso Ribeiro said: “That was incredibly inspiring. There will be boys and girls who will watch that performance and know that anything is possible.”
“This is you,” said head judge Shirley Ballas. “You came out here, you shared your journey and I’m sure that every child in every children’s hospital is looking at that today and has discovered that no matter what you put your mind to you can do it. You are inspiring the whole nation and I thought it was a beautiful number and so well executed.”
Even Craig Revel Horwood was visibly affected by Bayley’s story and the couple’s performance, saying: “Clear emotional story-telling and a complete inspiration,” while Mabuse was so overcome with emotion she was unable to talk and was consoled by a hug from the Paralympic champion.
“The dance was so personal to me,” said Bayley, “and I really wanted to do it as well as I could. So much hard work went into the choreography of the dance to try and relate it to my story and I felt every single step and I wanted people to feel that as well – the emotion of the dance. It was difficult because a slow dance is hard for me and it was just amazing to get that kind of reaction and it was exactly what we wanted. When we thought about the dance we wanted to touch people and make it different and I think that is what we did.
“You don’t have any idea how people are going to react to your dance because we don’t really show anyone until we perform it on the night. Janette was saying during the week ‘I love this dance’ and it meant so much to her and she was really happy with it. I thought ‘if Janette thinks it is good then it must be good’ because she is very honest with me, but when I saw the reaction from the judges I was blown away and the public reaction has been incredible.”
Saturday night’s performance highlighted the partnership that Bayley has formed with Manrara, who was able to relate his inspirational story into such powerful choreography.
“We are a great team and work really well together,” said Bayley. “When I was partnered with Janette I was thinking ‘she is really nice and we will just have fun’ and she is amazing but she is also really tough and I think that helps me; she is so determined and she understands me and knows how to get the best out of me. She is the boss and I put my trust in her and she helps me a lot – not just on the dance floor but how to manage the pressure. The way she has done the choreography and got the best out of me is amazing; she is so clever.
Bayley admits that he was inspired by the return to Great Ormond Street Hospital and the children he met.
“It was such a special day,” he said. “We went back to my old ward which was built a couple of years before I had my treatment there. We saw my old room and spent a bit of time with Fahida, who is getting treatment for cancer and was amazing. She made me a glitter ball trophy and it gave me a massive lift; if I needed any more encouragement to train and work hard that was it.
“At the start of Strictly I wanted to inspire people and show that I could do this and anything is possible but now I really want to carry on and get better at dancing. I’ve never danced before and I know Craig keeps picking up on the technical things, which is fair enough, and my body needs to loosen up a bit. It has been tougher for me because of my balance and on Mondays we don’t usually learn the dance, Janette is just testing what I can do so we have to adapt it and go back to basics.
“I’m a competitor so I never give up and I want to keep going. I am really loving every single moment so I don’t want it to end. I’ve had such a good run and it is Janette’s birthday on the Saturday at Blackpool in four weeks’ time and that would be an amazing milestone if we could get that far. I’d never have dreamed it at the start but every week I’m picking up the routines quicker and I think that means that I can work on technique more now so who knows what can happen.”