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LIZ JONES: Captivating, beautiful, serene… I’ve been deaf since I was 10 and Rose’s dancing gives me goosebumps 

The date and the dance is etched on my brain. November 13 2021. Rose Ayling-Ellis is on Strictly, performing an intimate Latin routine with her dashing partner, Italian Giovanni Pernice.

It’s an awful piece of music — Symphony by Clean Bandit featuring Zara Larsson. All synthesizers and wailing.

Yet despite the soundtrack, EastEnders star Rose dances beautifully. Dipping, twirling. She looks radiant, confident. You would never know to see her move that she’s been profoundly deaf since birth.

Rose, who has not only reached tonight’s final but is the favourite to win, is the one contestant who cannot appreciate the orchestra behind her.

Although she has a hearing aid — which enables her to pick up some of the music — the fluidity and precision of her movements is all down to a mind-boggling combination of her counting the beats, feeling vibrations, muscle memory and practice. Practice. Practice.

Think about that for a minute. Not only the incredible mental and physical feat involved. But to realise that this young woman, whose dancing is so utterly in tune with the music, has never heard more than snatches of a Mozart sonata or Bach sarabande. How limiting, how awful.

And then . . . part way through their routine, the dance floor falls silent. The music stops. Rose covers her partner’s ears, and they keep dancing. For the first time, she leads him, and importantly the millions watching, into her reality.

BBC handout photo of Giovanni Pernice, Rose Ayling-Ellis during rehersals for Saturday's BBC1's Strictly Come Dancing. Issue date: Saturday November 13, 2021. BBC handout photo of Giovanni Pernice, Rose Ayling-Ellis during rehersals for Saturday's BBC1's Strictly Come Dancing. Issue date: Saturday November 13, 2021.

BBC handout photo of Giovanni Pernice, Rose Ayling-Ellis during rehersals for Saturday’s BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing. Issue date: Saturday November 13, 2021. 

For a long few seconds, there is no sound. We are underwater, or in outer space. Rose keeps dancing. And smiling.

Instead of this new, silent world being terrifying and, that dreaded word, disabled, it’s captivating and beautiful and moving. Rose is flying.

As someone who’s been profoundly deaf since a childhood bout of measles, it was a rare moment of television that gave me goosebumps.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a Strictly fan. It’s too extrovert and old-fashioned. Comforting yes, but cutting-edge? Never.

A bunch of pop stars, actors and tired celebrities who learned to dance in drama school competing for the naffest trophy on TV. Sprinkled not just with glitter but the requisite diversity box-ticking we’ve come to expect of the BBC. In my view, tokenism of the very worst kind.

But then, I saw Rose dancing. And what I saw was incredible — not just that she could do the jive and the paso doble so convincingly, but that she’s smiling, all the time! She is unapologetically happy in her own skin.

I find this incredible because I have lived my life unsmiling, cowed and fearful.

Rose Ayling-Ellis, Giovanni Pernice, Saturday Dec 11. Rose Ayling-Ellis, Giovanni Pernice, Saturday Dec 11.

Rose Ayling-Ellis, Giovanni Pernice, Saturday Dec 11.

There isn’t one photo of me as a child when I look happy. Instead, I’m scowling, anxious and confused. Afraid I was going to be run over by a car I never heard coming. Barked at by a teacher for not answering a question. Discarded by boyfriends because they grow tired of having to talk dirty loudly.

The only deaf person I’d seen as a child was in the film Mandy, the true story of a girl born both deaf and blind. She learns to speak by feeling the vibrations of a balloon held against her lips: ‘B, b, b.’ That film terrified me. If only I’d had Rose to look up to.

I’ve never been able to enjoy key moments of my life. I heard not one word the registrar said when I got married: my husband had to prompt me with a sharp elbow. I never did find out what he wrote in his vows, or what my brother said at my niece’s wedding. My mother’s funeral? The hymns, the eulogy? Not one clue.

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My deafness is partly genetic, but mainly due, I’m told by my specialist, to a bad bout of measles aged ten that killed the cells in my inner ear. My deafness was never diagnosed, noticed or mentioned by family. I simply learned to cope.

My mum had seven children, so didn’t notice I just sat in a corner, never saying anything.

At school, I sat in the front row and cribbed from my classmates. In my first big job, I hired an intern to repeat things and write notes. Ask anyone who has worked with me for my catchphrase and they will parrot, ‘What did he say?’

I learned to lip read. Avoided parties. Deafness became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more stressed I became, the less I could hear: my brain is so busy with adrenaline, it shuts off anything non-essential.

In a way, it is possible to limp by. Because deafness is an invisible disability. We’re not even allowed in the Paralympics. People don’t open doors, or smile. They roll their eyes, then turn away, tired of the effort it takes to engage.

The worst part is everyone assumes you’re rude: I didn’t ignore you — I didn’t hear you. For me, Rose is nothing short of a revelation. Unlike me, she isn’t pretending she can hear. And she isn’t ashamed of being deaf.

During Strictly, we have seen Rose teach Giovanni British Sign Language (BSL) — she says he swiftly learned to sign: ‘Shockingly horrible.’ Even judge Craig Revel Horwood delivered ‘A-maz-ing!’ in sign language. How mainstream is that! During Strictly, we have seen Rose teach Giovanni British Sign Language (BSL) — she says he swiftly learned to sign: ‘Shockingly horrible.’ Even judge Craig Revel Horwood delivered ‘A-maz-ing!’ in sign language. How mainstream is that!

During Strictly, we have seen Rose teach Giovanni British Sign Language (BSL) — she says he swiftly learned to sign: ‘Shockingly horrible.’ Even judge Craig Revel Horwood delivered ‘A-maz-ing!’ in sign language. How mainstream is that!

Rose grew up in Kent, attending a mainstream school which, luckily, had extra funding for deaf pupils. She studied fashion at university before becoming an actress.

She had small parts before landing the part of landlord’s daughter Frankie in EastEnders last year. She loves the fact her storylines have nothing to do with being deaf.

During Strictly, we have seen Rose teach Giovanni British Sign Language (BSL) — she says he swiftly learned to sign: ‘Shockingly horrible.’ Even judge Craig Revel Horwood delivered ‘A-maz-ing!’ in sign language. How mainstream is that!

Yet I never learned to sign, because I didn’t know any other deaf people. The first one I met was a neighbour. He taught me one sign, two fingers dragged down each side of the nose. Its meaning? Old woman. Charming.

And for years, I didn’t want to give in and wear a hearing aid. Not just because I imagined them huge and pink (they’re not: modern ones are tiny), but because I had grown inured to the quiet.

But then, in January 2018, I went to a retreat in Switzerland to help deal with the constant state of fear I now realise is down to deafness.

Giovanni Pernice and Rose Ayling-Ellis look super relaxed arriving at It Takes Two ahead of Strictly finals - Dec 16. Giovanni Pernice and Rose Ayling-Ellis look super relaxed arriving at It Takes Two ahead of Strictly finals - Dec 16.

Giovanni Pernice and Rose Ayling-Ellis look super relaxed arriving at It Takes Two ahead of Strictly finals – Dec 16.

The village was car-free, so I thought, fantastic! I can walk around without being on high-alert. And then, bam! I walked into the path of an electric buggy.

So I gave in and purchased several thousand pounds’ worth of hearing aids. The result? A revelation. Owls are really loud! Who knew my washing machine beeped upon finishing? I keep saying, ‘What on earth is that noise?’ and it turns out to be an aeroplane.

Like Rose, who can hear a little with hearing aids, I can hear singing, but I miss consonants, whole words and struggle with accents. I have no idea what happened in the new James Bond.

As for Covid, and face masks? Unable to lip read, I’m again tipped into that murky world of mumbling. The impact of masks on the deaf hasn’t been raised. It’s as though we don’t exist. But now, thanks to Rose, we do. If she wins tonight I will be waggling my jazz hands at the screen, yelling, although I know she will never hear me.

I hope she will feel the good vibrations thundering her way.

Rose, your dance partner said you ‘don’t want to play the deaf card’. But you have, brilliantly.

Lift the glitter ball for all of us who will now, finally, be heard.

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