Dancing to You’ll Never Walk Alone will be emotional. I was at Hillsborough that day but I was lucky... a boy I was at school with died
WI’m doing it for every other ordinary, middleaged bloke SIMON ON WHY HE SIGNED UP FOR THE DANCE SHOW
hen Strictly’s producers suggested lifelong Liverpool fan Simon Rimmer dance his waltz to You’ll Never Walk Alone, he did not have to think twice.
But the TV chef knows no matter how hard he concentrates on the steps tonight, the Anfield anthem will trigger memories of the fateful day in 1989 when 96 people lost their lives at Hillsborough.
Simon, 54, was there that day and witnessed the tragedy – and nearly 30 years later he still feels lucky to have escaped with his life. The pressure to do justice to a song that “means the world” to him is immense.
“It will probably make me feel emotional, I feel it now just talking about it,” he says. “It’s not only Liverpool’s theme tune before every game but it’s got that association with Hillsborough. I was at Hillsborough that day, so it has an even more poignant meaning to me.
“I’m focused and determined and I’m working my backside off but there’s an extra dimension with it being You’ll Never Walk Alone.
“I stood and watched that tragedy unfold and so aside from the lovely things that You’ll Never Walk Alone gives me, it is also so synonymous with that terrible day.”
A boy from his school, Graham Roberts, was among the victims. And Simon, a father of two, has since become friends with Jenni Hicks, a customer at one of his pubs who lost daughters Sarah and Vicki. He is also now mates with Kenny Dalglish, who was the club’s manager at the time.
“I wasn’t an active participant in the justice campaign but certainly a fervent supporter,” he says with feeling. He found it overwhelming last April, when it was finally ruled that the 96 victims had been unlawfully killed rather than being victims of “accidental death”.
“I genuinely cried all day,” says Simon. “I ended up coming home at lunchtime, when the decision was made, I actually just couldn’t cope with being in work.
“I was an emotional wreck. At last those families were going to get some closure, that was the biggest thing. It was one of the greatest moments in British legal history and showed the power of the individuals who said, ‘You know what, I refuse to accept this’.” Simon was at the match with five of his mates, all hugely affected by the horrors they witnessed as the crowd were crushed, panic broke out and lifeless bodies were lifted on to the pitch. He was 26 and after a frightening experience in the Leppings Lane stand as Liverpool played Sheffield away a year earlier, he and his pals had decided against standing there that day. Simon says: “There was a terrible crush and we had made the decision not to go into the
stand again because it had felt frightening. “The horrible thing was, as we watched it unfold, we knew how it had felt the previous year. So that day and every single day that year, my friends and I just had that feeling of, ‘We were lucky’.” This week, Simon took Strictly partner Karen Clifton to Liverpool’s Anfield ground and showed her the memorial. He says: “You look at the 96 names and think, ‘I was lucky’. Every time I go back I think that.” So there is no doubting Simon will be putting his all into this dance, which he is finding slightly more to his liking than last week’s Paso Doble. His stompy effort, likened to someone crushing cockroaches by judge Bruno Tonioli, earned him just 17 points. He is hoping the emotional connection to this week’s turn will spur him on and the public will root for him. “Whether you hate Liverpool FC or you love them, or you’re indifferent to football, I hope people will see what it means to me,” he says. Simon grew up in Wallasey, Merseyside, and has a degree in fashion and textile design. Having taught himself to cook, he opened his first restaurant, Greens, in Didsbury, Manchester in 1990. After that came the first of many TV appearances, starting out on Granada Breeze then doing stints on ITV daytime, including This Morning. He is best-known for his on-screen partnership with “bestmate” Tim Lovejoy, which started in 2006 on BBC2’s Something for the Weekend and went on from 2012 on C4’s Sunday Brunch.
In 2006, he opened a second restaurant, Earle, in Hale and has written books including The Rebel Cook. Simon met wife Ali, 50, when they were both waiting tables in Manchester.
He says she and their kids Florence, 19, and Hamish, 14, are supporting his dancing by laughing at him.
“My wife rolls her eyes a lot,” he says. “My daughter just started uni. She got a shoutout on the show last week because she posted she wasn’t using her own surname so people wouldn’t know she was my daughter. My son said, ‘Thanks Dad, you’ve committed social suicide’, but he’s enjoying it because everyone’s talking about it. I wouldn’t want them to be, ‘Oh darling, is everything OK?’. It’s better that they’re taking the mickey out of me.” Simon says he signed up to Strictly simply for the joy of doing it. “I’m doing it for the fun,” he says. “There’s part of me who feels like I’m doing it for every other ordinary, middle-aged bloke really.” And he is putting the same determination in as he did when he opened that first restaurant. Long days of working, training and travelling have become the norm. “I knew what I was letting myself in for,” he says. “But since I started I haven’t worked less than 16 hours a day, seven days a week.” Simon is not even cross with the marking, saying: “I don’t disagree with the comments. I was happy with what I did last week. Karen said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t be beige’, and I don’t think I was. All I can do is my best.” Mate Tim Lovejoy has joked that Simon could be leaving early and bookies yesterday had him as the favourite to exit first. He very much hopes not, admitting none of the contestants like to talk about it. He says: “It’s the elephant in the room when we meet up. I hope it isn’t me – but if it is, it won’t be through lack of effort.” Strictly is on BBC1 tonight at 6.45pm.
SAD BOND Jenni lost her daughters A BIT TASTY In his chef gear
TRAGEDY Simon witnessed 1989 horror
FOOTIE FAN Simon, right, out for a Liverpool match with pals in the 80s
DEVOTED At his beloved Anfield
UP FOR TITLE Simon and Karen are training hard