Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Contents - PHOTOGRAPHY DAVID VENNI

Strictly’s Jon­nie Pea­cock and GH’S Ella Dove and their two left feet

Two left feet... when Strictly star and Par­a­lympic cham­pion Jon­nie Pea­cock met Good House­keep­ing writer and re­cent am­putee Ella Dove, the old say­ing was too good to re­sist. But cue the mu­sic and sud­denly there was just a girl, in the arms of a boy, each prov­ing that de­ter­mi­na­tion pips dis­abil­ity every time…

With willpower and be­lief, any­thing is pos­si­ble

The mo­ment I heard that Jon­nie Pea­cock was to be on

Strictly Come Danc­ing, I joked that per­haps I should be his dance part­ner. Between us, I quipped, we lit­er­ally have two left feet. But I’ve learnt at GH to never joke about such things – some clever fea­tures editor is likely to over­hear and make it hap­pen. A few weeks later I’m dressed in yel­low in a beau­ti­ful La

La Land set­ting, twirling around in the arms of Jon­nie. It feels truly mag­i­cal. When I lost my leg, my life was thrown into sad­ness and fear. Now I feel like I can achieve any­thing.

It’s been a year since I lost my right leg and I feel more than a lit­tle awk­ward telling a record-break­ing sprinter that it hap­pened as a re­sult of me fall­ing over while run­ning. ‘Don’t worry, know­ing that won’t stop me,’ he grins. Of course it won’t.

Jon­nie was just five when his right leg was am­pu­tated be­low the knee. It was the only way to save his life when menin­gi­tis at­tacked his brain and the tis­sues in his leg. ‘I re­alise now that I was very lucky,’ he says. ‘It’s not un­heard of to lose all four limbs to menin­gi­tis, or to be left with se­vere brain dam­age. But chil­dren adapt, and I quickly learnt new ways of do­ing things. The sec­ond I could walk on my pros­thetic leg, I was try­ing to run. I kept do­ing it and grad­u­ally it got eas­ier. I had no fear at that age.’

Grit and per­se­ver­ance have served him well. Jon­nie spent his child­hood try­ing to com­pete against able-bod­ied chil­dren in school races, de­ter­mined that his dis­abil­ity would not stop him. ‘I learnt from a young age that no one knows what they are ca­pa­ble of un­til they try,’ he says. ‘I’m still faster than the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple with two fully func­tional legs, which I ad­mit is a great feel­ing.’ As some­one who en­joys over­tak­ing able-bod­ied peo­ple in the swim­ming pool, I know ex­actly what he means.

Af­ter be­ing scouted at a Par­a­lympic tal­ent day, Jon­nie went on to make his­tory, claim­ing vic­tory in the men’s T44 100m twice – in Lon­don 2012 and at the World Para Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships in 2017. Since then, the 24-yearold – awarded an MBE for ser­vices to ath­let­ics in 2013 – has be­come a bea­con of in­spi­ra­tion. He was also the first celebrity and am­putee to dance on Strictly.

‘It’s about break­ing down bar­ri­ers,’ he says. ‘I want to change peo­ple’s per­cep­tions. I’ve never danced be­fore and it’s not some­thing I feel nat­u­rally com­fort­able with, but my pros­thetic leg doesn’t make much dif­fer­ence in terms of train­ing. I’m just as ca­pa­ble as any­one else.’ Of course nei­ther of us can point our toes on our right legs, but apart from that he’s right.

I am not a nat­u­ral dancer. I find my­self apol­o­gis­ing as I at­tempt to bal­ance, try­ing not to knock into Jon­nie and in­jure him. But his en­thu­si­asm is in­fec­tious, and I soon re­lax, laugh­ing when I wob­ble and imag­in­ing I’m Emma Stone to his Ryan Gosling in the Os­car-win­ning movie. It feels re­as­sur­ing to know that I’m sharing this ex­pe­ri­ence with some­one who un­der­stands.

‘When we’re chil­dren, we all want to be the same – whether it’s hav­ing match­ing shoes to your mate at school, or the cool lunch box,’ Jon­nie says. ‘But you know it’s funny – as we get older, we want to be dif­fer­ent, to stand out and find a defin­ing per­son­al­ity. Hav­ing a pros­thetic leg is just like that. It shouldn’t be some­thing we shy away from, or try to hide. It’s a part of who we are.’

Jon­nie Pea­cock is a man who truly makes the most of life and danc­ing with him taught me a valu­able les­son. Some­times, it’s easy to feel down, to only see the neg­a­tives and to worry about how I am per­ceived by oth­ers. But – as Jon­nie says – things could al­ways be worse.

‘Can I ask you a ques­tion?’ he says. ‘How many min­utes of each day do you feel be­ing an am­putee ac­tu­ally af­fects your life? Like, truly, deeply af­fects it?’ I find I’m un­able to pin­point those mo­ments – and that in it­self is the an­swer to his ques­tion. Dis­abil­ity does not mean in­abil­ity. With willpower and be­lief, ev­ery­one is ca­pa­ble of over­com­ing ob­sta­cles, of go­ing on to achieve great things.

There is a dance in­side us all – even with two left feet.

Ella and Jon­nie take to the floor

‘I soon re­lax,’ says Ella, pic­tured here with her al­ter­na­tive pros­thetic leg

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