Paralympic champion Will Bayley danced his way into the nation’s hearts on Strictly Come Dancing last night as in the first live show he and partner Janette Manrara produced a quickstep that head judge Shirley Ballas hailed as ‘magnificent’. It earned them a total score of 26 – the highest ever score for a quickstep in the first week – which placed them sixth of the 15 couples going in to next week’s show and the first public vote.
Dancing to Paolo Nutini’s ‘Pencil Full of Lead’, Will and Janette (#teampocketrocket) had the crowd on their feet and even earned a standing ovation from Shirley Ballas who said: “What disability? What limitations? That was absolutely off the chart! You had great energy, great poise and a beautiful frame.”
Bruno Tonioli was equally impressed: “Darling you’ve got my heart and you’ve got the nation’s heart already. I mean you love what you do, you love dancing, you love performing and it shows.”
New judge Motsi Mabuse said: “You are a true inspiration” while the harshest critic of them all Craig Revel Horwood commented on Bayley’s “lightning speed of movement” and said, “You told the story brilliantly.”
The morning after the night before Bayley was still buzzing.
“What a night,” he said. “It was one of the most memorable nights of my life. I was number 13 to dance and it was a massive build-up. The tension builds and builds and I said to Janette that I would forget every single step but she said, ‘you’ll be fine, you’re going to do this and you’re going to be great’. It was really exciting backstage and then it happened and everything just seemed to click when we started dancing. The crowd was amazing and I really felt that they were behind me so it was just such a memorable night.”
The 31 year old is used to performing at the highest level in sport but admitted that his live Strictly debut brought nerves of a different kind.
“The nerves were similar to before a major final,” he admitted. “The expectation is not the same when I’m dancing as when I’m playing table tennis but I really thought that anything could happen last night and I could look really silly but in the end it was an amazing experience.
“I was so nervous waiting for the judges’ comments and scores. I can only be as good as I can be and I know I’ll never be a brilliant dancer but I just want to be the best dancer that I can be. Janette told me not to worry too much if the comments were not good but the comments I got were really positive.
“Having my mum in the audience was amazing. She has been through so much with me and has never seen me dance, even at weddings. She is a massive Strictly fan and she loved every minute of it.
“Janette and I trained really hard and learning to dance is similar to table tennis in that you practice different steps and moves over and over again until you get it right, just as I practice shots in table tennis over and over again until they become automatic, and I think that helps me with the dancing.”
Bayley admits that he wants to inspire people with disabilities and has been overwhelmed with the comments he has received.
“The reaction on social media has been amazing and I’ve had such great comments from people. To hear that watching me dance is helping to change some people’s lives is brilliant and I just hope I can carry it on in the weeks to come.”