Series 19 of British dance competition series “Strictly Come Dancing” has its winner. Actress Rose Ayling-Ellis became the first deaf contestant ever to be crowned the series’ winner on Saturday night.
Along with her professional dance partner Giovanni Pernice, she beat out competitors including chef and 2012 winner of “The Great British Bake Off” John Whaite and television presenter AJ Odudu, who exited the competition on Friday after injuring her ankle.
Saturday’s win was also the first for Pernice, who has danced on the show since 2015 and made it to the final stage in 2015, 2017 and 2018 with partners Georgia May Foote, Debbue McGee and Faye Tozer, respectively.
Ayling-Ellis is known for starring in popular BBC One soap opera “East Enders.” She plays Frankie Lewis in the series, which has been running since 1985 and follows the daily lives of residents of a fictional East London borough called Walford.
As a deaf person and an advocate for deaf awareness, Ayling-Ellis has garnered much attention for her participation in “Strictly Come Dancing.” She is not only the first deaf winner of the competition — she’s also the first. The series had never had a deaf contestant at all before her.
During a performance in a Nov. episode of the show, she and Pernice danced a 20-second interlude without music. Before the final, Ayling-Ellis shared a video on Instagram that featured several deaf children wishing her good luck. “Because I’m deaf, I like seeing deaf people on ‘Strictly,’” one little girl said. “Look, Rose, I’ve got special ears, like you!” said another. ”Always be proud of who you are,” Ayling-Ellis wrote.
In 2016, deaf actor, model and activist Nyle DiMarco became the first deaf contestant to win “Dancing With the Stars,” the hit American series based on the “Strictly Come Dancing” format. “During my experiences on ‘America’s Next Top Model’ and also ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ I always felt branded as sort of one-dimensional,” he told Variety’s Marc Malkin in 2020.
“I was just the deaf person. There was no real deep dive into who I am, what I liked, what I do every day and things like that.” He has since continued to advocate for deaf representation in entertainment.