By Alex Green, PA Senior Entertainment Reporter
Rose Ayling-Ellis has said she feels “proud” to have encouraged Strictly Come Dancing to introduce sign language interpreters at its live shows, as the tour begins in Birmingham.
The EastEnders star, the BBC One programme’s first deaf contestant, and her partner Giovanni Pernice are among the former contestants and pros taking to the floor at the Utilita Arena on Thursday.
For the first time, the performances will have British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, following a campaign by Ayling-Ellis.
Speaking during the press launch, she told the PA news agency: “I feel so proud of us and I am also proud of Strictly too because they listened and they just do it.
“Everyone in the crew has got deaf awareness training as well, so it is just such a lovely step.
“I feel like it is not actually hard work. They make it easy for me and that is what it should be. So hopefully it will influence other companies to do the same.”
EastEnders actress Maisie Smith was also pictured during the launch after replacing TV presenter AJ Odudu at short notice.
Odudu was forced to pull out of the live final of the 2021 series after suffering a torn ligament.
The shows will also feature Sara Davies and Aljaz Skorjanec, Tilly Ramsay and Nikita Kuzmin, Rhys Stephenson and Nancy Xu, John Whaite and Johannes Radebe, and Max George and Katya Jones.
Ramsay, whose father is celebrity chef Gordon, said appearing on the 2021 series had improved her confidence.
She told PA: “I would say that, for me, it really helped boost my confidence. I was doing things I have never ever done before, wearing things I have never worn.
“I started off really scared and timid but I think Nikita and everyone else helped bring out that inner confidence and fun side to everything.
“So I definitely also see dance in a whole other light. I love it and I don’t think I ever want to stop.”
The tour will feature group performances from the show’s professional dancers while the judging panel will be made up of Shirley Ballas, Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli.
It will be hosted by It Takes Two presenter and former Strictly professional Janette Manrara.
The live tour will travel to Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, Glasgow and Nottingham.
It will finish at London’s O2 Arena on February 13.