John Whaite And Rose Ayling-Ellis Respond To Article Branding This Year’s Strictly Too ‘Woke’

Strictly Come Dancing finalists John Whaite and Rose Ayling-Ellis have spoken out over an article in The Telegraph branding the new series a “woke box-ticking exercise”.

Earlier this week, columnist Allison Pearson wrote a piece about the new series of Strictly, opining: “From mis-matched same-sex couples to the show’s first contestant with dwarfism, it’s clear producers value ‘inclusion’ over entertainment.”

The following morning, John – who made it to last year’s final in a same-sex partnership with Johannes Radebe – admitted he’d read the article and it had given him “a bit of a sleepless night”.

“It’s an article that directly compares my partnership with Johannes to that of Richie [Anderson] and Giovanni [Pernice],” he told his followers on his Instagram story. “It also compares Ellie Simmonds to Rose Ayling-Ellis last year.

“So basically, she’s comparing the two same-sex couples and the two people with impairments or disabilities, and she’s using that comparison to say how ‘woke’ Strictly is this year.”

John called out the article in a string of videos posted on his Instagram story

Specifically referencing a passage in which she said John and Johannes’ dancing was “often beautiful”, while comparing the supposedly “mis-matched” Giovanni and Richie to an “Italian stallion” and a “yappy, excitable Pomeranian”, the former Bake Off winner continued: “I don’t understand why she’s saying that.

“Is it because Richie is, you know, quite a camp guy and that’s wonderful and it should be celebrated? Is it because Giovanni is straight and Richie is not straight? Is it because this year they’re a little bit more flamboyant – and last year we were kept quite masculine, whatever that means, and neutral, whereas this year it’s more of a celebration of queerness and the LGBTQI+ community?

“Why does she need to make the point? Is she saying that same-sex couples are digestible to her if they’re muted and neutral and masculine?”

John went on to say: “If that is indeed what she’s saying… please do not use my partnership with Johannes as a way to undermine or erode the beauty of Richie and Giovanni’s partnership. I don’t think that’s reasonable, and I don’t think that’s fair. So pipe down.”

Giovanni and Richie performing their first routine together over the weekend
Giovanni and Richie performing their first routine together over the weekend

Guy Levy/BBC via PA Media

Following this, John highlighted a section in which the journalist compared former winner Rose to Paralympic swimmer Ellie, who is among this year’s competitors.

“She compares Rose’s ‘beauty and grace’ last year to Ellie’s situation this year, and she wonders how Ellie’s going to be any good in ballroom holds and stuff, because of her height, basically, that’s what she’s saying in the article,” John said.

“Again, in using the comparisons between Rose and Ellie, I’m picking up from this article – I might be wrong, again – but what I’m reading is that if a disability or impairment isn’t visible, and it’s not awkward and it doesn’t kind of break the mould of what’s been before, then it’s digestible. But as soon as it becomes a little bit different to watch, she doesn’t want to see it, basically.”

Nikita Kuzmin and Ellie Simmonds on the Strictly dance floor
Nikita Kuzmin and Ellie Simmonds on the Strictly dance floor

Guy Levy/BBC via PA Media

John concluded: “[Strictly] isn’t just about dancing, it’s about representation and inclusion. I know that word inclusion might make you shudder in your own skin, but get over it.

“It’s about a child or an adult who might be queer or hard of hearing or might have dwarfism, waking up on a Sunday morning, having seen Strictly the night before, and thinking to themselves, ‘there’s a place for me in this world, I belong in this world, I can be here’. That’s what it’s about. It’s beyond the dancing.

“And if you think the BBC showing this broad and beautiful range of diversity and inclusion, which is a true representation of society, is undigestible or difficult to watch or woke, may I suggest you don’t watch. Why get out of bed in the morning if you’ve got such a disdain for the diverse beauty of humanity?”

Rose then shared a clip of John on her own story, thanking John for speaking up and adding: “Remember if you think TV is too ‘woke’, you have been living your life privileged enough to not notice this. It’s a huge deal for those from the minority.

“And please don’t compare me to Ellie, we both have completely different life experiences that it is just not comparable. Just be open to listen and learn. No [two] disabled people are the same, I am myself learning a lot from Ellie, who is amazing.”

Rose gave John a shout-out on her own Instagram story
Rose gave John a shout-out on her own Instagram story

Instagram/Rose Ayling-Ellis

Over the summer, John was among the first to show his support for Richie after it was announced he’d be dancing in a same-sex pairing on the new series of Strictly.

“I’m so bloody pleased that Strictly are doing a male-male couple again this year and hope it is the case every year from now on,” he wrote at the time.

“It has to be. Because queer-inclusion isn’t a box-ticking exercise for one series, it’s a fundamental shift in the narrative for life.”

Strictly Come Dancing continues on Saturday night at 6.30pm on BBC One.

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