If Autumn is made by my weekly watch of Strictly, then Winter is made all the better for the return of Dancing on Ice.
In the long, dull months of January and February, there is nothing more fun then spangles and celebs stacking it (and occasionally soaring) whilst wearing blades.
None is more of a favourite then Dan Whiston. The show’s most successful professional returned this year with a whole new role, so I donned a leotard and tights (not really) and took a chance to sit with him and get the low down on all things DOI.
How do you feel the show has changed since its first years?
I think it has really evolved and changed since I won series one with Gaynor Faye. ITV has invested in the show and so with each series, the production value has gotten higher and higher.
Also, the standard of skating has improved with celebrities now performing more complex steps and lifts than ever before.
How did you get into the show? Tell us about ‘pre-DOI’ Dan
Karen Barber was my coach when I was a teenager alongside Stephen Pickavance. Karen introduced me to Jayne Torvill when I was 16 years old when Jayne and Karen were putting on an ice show at Somerset House.
Jayne booked me to skate in it. I then went on to become a professional skater aged 17 and spent a number of years touring the world appearing in different ice skating productions.
I was then asked to do a TV show called ‘Strictly Come Ice Dancing’ and I was spotted whilst working on that show and asked by ITV to be one of their professional skaters for a new show they were about to make called ‘Dancing on Ice’…..the rest is history.
Has your life changed since joining?
It’s difficult to do a big supermarket shop nowadays without getting stopped in the frozen food section and asked about the show.
Everyone wants to talk about the series and it seems to have captured their hearts over the years. There is such a fantastic wave of support from the fans. The show has opened many doors for me, such as performing on the Royal Variety Performance and appearing in the Olympic and Paralympic closing ceremonies that were directed by the creative genius that is Kim Gavin.
I would never have had any of those incredible experiences if it hadn’t been for Dancing on Ice.
And now I’m Associate Creative Director on the series, so things have changed for me again. I sometimes have to pinch myself about how fortunate I’ve been.
You’ve won no less than three times – is there a secret to your success?
The secret is having fun and working with the celebrities in a way so that they enjoy learning to skate. Dancing on Ice is all about the celebrity, so it’s important to play to their strengths and help them showcase their best skating self.
The more a celebrity enjoys skating, the more time they’ll spend training on the ice and ultimately this leads to them making more progress.
What makes a great celebrity partner?
A great celebrity partner is not necessarily someone who’s the best skater but it’s about them having a great mindset.
If they’re willing to work hard and do the best they can to put on a show, then I think people watching the show at home can relate to them. I also think people like to get behind the underdog or like seeing a big improvement.
On a personal note, what makes a good celebrity partner is someone with a wicked sense of humour who’s also a good cook and invites me around for tea…. or even better they move me into their family home like Linda Lusardi and Cheryl Baker did.
What are your standout moments?
There have been so many standout moments, such as skating in an opening number with Jayne Torvill and also skating Bolero in the finals with Gaynor Faye, Hayley Tamaddon and Beth Tweddle.
However, the aerial routine I performed on the first show of this new series is a massive highlight for me because I created the routine and choreographed the professional skaters.
Gemma delivered a great week one performance
It required me doing a lot of hard training beforehand to get into peak fitness but I’ve been inundated with lovely Twitter messages from viewers, so that made it all worthwhile.
Who are your ‘ones to watch’ in 2019?
I’m not sure just yet as it’s too early to tell and also this years skating stars are particularly strong.
Once the viewers have seen every celebrity skate they’ll probably realise there are quite a few ‘ones to watch’.
I think whoever brings their A game will be at the top of the leaderboard that week. I also fully expect the highest scoring skater to change each week…..so get ready for a thrilling competition.
You have a different role this year – what prompted that and what are you enjoying most?
I truly loved being a professional skater on the show but when the show bosses offered me the opportunity to be Associate Creative Director I simply couldn’t turn it down.
I know you hear people say this but it’s been a dream job so far. Being able to have creative input and getting the chance to work with some world-class creative directors is brilliant.
It’s been great working with Karen and I’m enjoying working with every celebrity, as on past series I only worked with my skating partner. It’s also been amazing working with the professionals and choreographing group routines.
Didi gives out such positive energy that she sparkles without crystals
It’s been reported that you’ve been supporting ‘Beyonce on Ice’, the GC with her fitness ahead of the show – what advice have you been sharing?
I teach a lot of Zumba and one day did a class with Gemma and she was brilliant. She’s got a great rhythm and can move really well.
I want to help her increase her flexibility even more and also help her increase her stamina.
Gemma delivered a great week one performance and I think there is a lot more entertaining to come.
I hope she’s inspired any curvy ladies out there who might have previously avoided ice skating to get on the ice and give it a go.
What would you suggest to an older person who wanted to give ice dancing a show – should they or is it too dangerous?
Didi is our most mature skating star to date and I think she’s already more than proved that age doesn’t matter. When she’s out there on the ice, Didi gives out such positive energy that she sparkles without crystals.
To my mind, she’s the biggest star in the show but she remains so gracious and unassuming. She always arrives at training with a ‘can-try’ and ‘can-do’ attitude, which is maybe something we can all take inspiration from.
What are your passions off the ice?
I love running Zumba classes because helping people get healthy and fit is important to me. I get a real buzz from encouraging people to take up exercise and love seeing their confidence improve.
I’ve got a keen eye for business and am constantly trying to get new projects off the ground and help create jobs in my home town of Blackpool.
I also have a passion for renovating houses and am currently in the middle of quite a large project….so that’s taking up a lot of my time off the ice.
What’s else have you planned for 2019?
For now, I just hope to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m in talks about some exciting performance ideas that are coming up, so hopefully Dancing on Ice will continue to go from strength to strength.
It was last year when the idea of a site for other women like me dawned – active, busy and ambitious women who just happen to be older.
Firstly it was going to be just fashion, but very quickly I realised that if I were going to write anything – then it would have to have more meaning than just that.
I decided to incorporate lifestyle and wellbeing and make the whole thing truly interactive and inclusive. I felt that with these issues covered, then there really was no end to what could be discussed and discovered – and who may benefit as a result.