SHALL WE DANCE?
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