Paralympian Will Bayley couldn’t walk as a child but now he’s dreaming of winning Strictly Come Dancing. Here he reveals the huge challenges he's faced and why he wants to inspire people...
Since quick stepping on to the Strictly Come Dancing dancefloor for the first live show of the series, paralympian Will Bayley has won over fans with his infectious passion for dance and his positive attitude.
Even scowling judge Craig Revel Horwood has held back on his usual harsh criticism, while head judge Shirley Ballas gave Will and his pro partner Janette Manrara a standing ovation!
However, it’s fair to say not many of us were familiar with the table tennis champ, even though Will won gold in the 2016 Paralympics and is para table tennis world number one.
But as he tells us, it’s not been an easy road. Will was born with arthrogryposis, which causes extreme joint stiffness, and even had chemotherapy for cancer when he was seven. However, that’s not stopping him dreaming of winning Strictly Come Dancing’s coveted glitterball trophy…
Here Will Bayley tells us about the biggest challenges he’s faced, the dance-moves he’s dreading and which fellow celebs he’s bonded with behind the scenes on Strictly Come Dancing….
Have you always been a fan of Strictly Come Dancing?
Will Bayley: “Yeah, I love the show and my mum, Chrissie, is a massive, massive fan, so it’s something I’ve always wanted to be a part of. I always knew it would be a big challenge for me and my friends said they didn’t think I’d be able to do it, so I really want to prove them wrong!”
Had you done much dancing before?
WB: “No, I’ve never, ever danced before! I’ve never had the confidence to do it, not even in weddings or family gatherings, so this is literally the first time I’ve ever danced. Hopefully I can inspire people who have a disability like me. I want to show people they can bounce back from a serious disability and a life-threatening illness and achieve something.”
How does your disability affect you?
WB: “It’s like severe arthritis in all four limbs, so I haven’t got any movement in my wrists, hands, ankles or feet. I can’t open my hands at all, although I can wiggle my fingers a bit! I couldn’t walk when I was a kid and I had to have a walking frame until I was seven or eight. I also had constant operations on my legs, which meant I was in plaster most of my childhood. Then I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma when I was seven – it’s been a busy life!”
How is Janette supporting you in training?
WB: “She’s amazing. She believes I can do things that I don’t think I can. She’s like, ‘If you keep pushing the results will come!’ Obviously there are things she has to adapt in the routines to make them possible for me and we’re having to overcome massive challenges, but that’s what makes it more enjoyable on Saturday nights because we know the struggles we’ve been through. When we get sixes, for me it’s like tens because it’s taken us so much to get there!”
What are you finding most difficult?
WB: “The lifts are where the pressure gets to me and if I was in charge I’d take them out of every dance. But I also struggle with learning the steps. It just takes me so long and it’s really draining – sometimes I just want to kick myself. It’s frustrating not being very good at something. I’m all effort, no talent!”
How does competing on Strictly compare to competing at the Paralympics?
WB: “Actually I’m much more nervous than I was at the Paralympics! It’s partly because I don’t want to let Janette down. But I also think it’s an advantage that I know what it takes to train hard. Everyone was saying it’s going to be really tiring but I actually feel really fresh. I do feel mentally tired, though!”
Have you bonded with any of the other contestants?
WB: “They’re all so supportive. But Mike [Bushell] is probably the person I’ve been closest too because we were like the worst on the launch show. We bonded there and we’ve always had each other’s back since. I love Mike!”
Your mum, Chrissie, has regularly been in the audience. Is she your biggest supporter?
WB: “Yeah, definitely. But she’s also my biggest critic, too! She’s always like, ‘You could do better!’ Sometimes I’ll go, ‘Janette was a bit tough on me today,’ and she’ll say, ‘She’s not tough enough!’ She’s never been one of those parents to feel sorry for me.”
So what’s your Strictly goal? To get to Blackpool or to go all out and win?
WB: “Before I started this everyone was saying that we’d be one of the first couples voted off. I don’t think there was a massive belief in how good I could be and I didn’t have much faith either. But now I believe in us and I believe we can go all the way. Why not? Nobody thought I could even dance, let alone dream about winning the glitterball trophy!”
Strictly Come Dancing, Saturday and Sunday, times vary BBC1
Photographers: Guy Levy and Ray Burmiston for BBC
(Written by Hannah Davies].