Rose Ayling-Ellis And Giovanni Pernice On Their History-Making Strictly Journey: 'We've Achieved More Than The Glitterball'

The Strictly Come Dancing favourites talk to HuffPost UK about their magical partnership and how this year's series has changed both their lives.
Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice
Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice
Ray Burmiston/BBC

“To be very honest I hadn’t really watched it before,” says Rose Ayling-Ellis of the show she is currently taking by storm.

The EastEnders actor is the red-hot favourite to win this year’s Strictly Come Dancing, having made history after recording the earliest perfect score in the competition’s 17-year history.

However, prior to signing up for the BBC ballroom series earlier this year and becoming the show’s first-ever deaf contestant, Strictly had been inaccessible to Rose because of its live subtitles.

“I struggled because I couldn’t catch up with what everyone was saying and I found that quite frustrating to watch,” she explains. “I loved watching the dancing bit, but when they were talking, I couldn’t get it because it had live subtitles. I could just never catch up. But now I enjoy it so much more because 24 hours later, the subtitles are on time and I can actually watch it properly like how everyone else watches it.

“Hopefully next year they will repeat the same thing and I can carry on watching Strictly and I’ll become a Strictly fan.”

“She’s going to be watching me with somebody else,” her dance partner Giovanni Pernice remarks. They both burst into laughter as we speak over Zoom in a break from their busy rehearsal schedule ahead of Saturday’s live semi-final.

“Are you going to vote for me next year?” Giovanni asks. “Maybe. Depends if you’re good,” she responds with a giggle.

Rose and Giovanni's partnership has been one of the highlight's of this year's series
Rose and Giovanni's partnership has been one of the highlight's of this year's series
BBC/Guy Levy

Their cheeky but caring bond is as clear to see as it is on TV every Saturday night, and after seven years as a professional on Strictly, it’s undoubtedly Giovanni’s best partnership to date.

Many fans of the show have remarked at noticing a change in the Italian dancer, who made his first appearance on the show in 2015 and has memorably been paired with the likes of Michelle Visage, Faye Tozer, Debbie McGee and Ranvir Singh.

Once known for being a strict taskmaster, viewers say they have seen a softer side to him since being paired with Rose, but he is not so sure.

“I’m still strict!” Gio insists. “I don’t think [my teaching style] has changed, but I have adapted myself obviously for Rose, but I’m still strict. I still know what I want to see from a dance.”

“He’s strict because he cares,” Rose says. “Exactly,” Gio agrees, “If I didn’t care, I would not be not in this position. I know she’s got potential, so I want to get the best out of her, and that’s what we’re doing every week.

“I’m still a horrible person,” he jokes.

“I’ve become a better teacher, for sure,” Gio continues. “The challenge has been rewarding for me because I’ve never really taught this way – it’s been phenomenal. I’ve been squeezing my brain more than any other year because I have to find routines that are suitable for Rose, especially beginnings and ends and moments when we see each other and we know it will be this count, or whatever.

“Obviously I’ve been doing this show for too long and it gets boring in the sense of repeating the same stuff. But dancing with someone like Rose has been good for me.”

Earlier in the series, the pair brought the nation to tears with their Couple’s Choice dance, which featured a silent segment dedicated to the deaf community.

Rose and Giovanni performed a contemporary routine dedicated to the deaf community
Rose and Giovanni performed a contemporary routine dedicated to the deaf community
BBC/Guy Levy

The dance set to Clean Bandit and Zara Larsson’s Symphony has not only clocked up over 1.5 million views on YouTube and been featured on an episode of Gogglebox, but it has had a global impact too – Rose and Giovanni were recently interviewed on US breakfast TV show on CBS Mornings, which she describes as “absolutely mad”.

“I think it had a bigger impact than we thought there was going to be,” Giovanni adds.

Should the couple make it through to next week’s grand final, they could be set to reprise the routine, though Giovanni reveals they will not be able to change anything about the dance, not that he would want to anyway.

“If we do it, we can’t change it, that’s the thing, it has to be the same,” he says. “I think because it was such a powerful and beautiful moment, I wouldn’t change anything about it, there’s no point. It’s like if Ed Sheeran was doing a concert and changed the lyrics to Shape Of You – there’s no point, the song is like that.”

Rose adds: “I think I would relax into it more because everyone knows what is going to happen. The first time you do it, it’s a big moment and I felt the pressure to not mess it up.”

One thing they will be hoping for, though, is a 10 from judge Craig Revel Horwood, as he was the only judge not to give them a perfect score for the routine.

In fact, prior to the semi-final, the acid-tongued panellist had only given out two 10s during the previous 11 weeks – once to Rose and Giovanni for their Halloween-themed Tango, and another for Rhys Stephenson and Nancy Xu for their Charleston in week eight – far less than other judges Shirley Ballas, Motsi Mabuse and Anton Du Beke.

While there has been much made of the inconsistencies in the judges’ scoring among viewers and in the press this year, Giovanni says Craig is right to only raise his 10 paddle for the perfect dance.

He says: “In general for him to give a 10, everything has to come together correctly – the music, the routine, the lighting – and on the night you have to not make any mistakes, because I’ve been in that position before where he didn’t give a 10 because the glasses didn’t work perfectly on Faye in the Couple’s Choice. I agree with Craig, to be honest. 40 is a perfect score, which means you have to do a perfect dance. But I’m happy that he gave [Rose and I] a 10, that’s for sure.”

Of what kind of judge he would make if he ever got the call like fellow professional dancer Anton Du Beke, Gio added: “I’d want to be entertained. Sometimes it’s not about the technical side of it – if there’s a performance that takes you emotionally or you think it’s so good, I think you should put a 10 out, even if there is a mistake.”

Craig Revel Horwood is notoriously tough to impress
Craig Revel Horwood is notoriously tough to impress
Guy Levy/BBC via PA Media

For Rose, though, it’s not just about scores – it’s about how her appearance on Strictly has made a difference to other people’s lives.

She says: “It’s mental, there’s so much reaction. Like today, a lady came up to me and said that her daughter had a stutter and that she’d been bullied at school for two years. But she’d seen me on the telly and it completely changed her life because I speak a bit funny and nobody cares about it, they just treat me completely normally. She started to realise, ‘do you know what, I’ve got a stutter, I am who I am and I don’t care anymore,’ and her confidence has grown and they said they’ve seen a massive change in her daughter.

“She got really emotional telling me about that, and I felt like that was really beautiful.”

Rose adds: “I have quite a lot of reaction like that and that motivates me more because it’s more than just dancing, so much more – it’s changing people’s lives. There’s nothing wrong with being different.”

In a year that has seen two firsts on Strictly – its first deaf contestant and its first all-male partnership in John Whaite and Johannes Radebe – we’re keen to know how Gio and Rose think the show could be even more representative and inclusive in the future.

“I would love to have a blind person because they did it in Italy and it was quite interesting,” Gio says. “Strictly is a massive platform and what Rose is doing this year for the community and kids like this is just outstanding.

“Anything that can help the world, please bring it on Strictly, because that’s what we need. It’s a privilege to be part of it.”

Rose and Gio's Tango earned the earliest 40 in Strictly history
Rose and Gio's Tango earned the earliest 40 in Strictly history
BBC/Kieron McCarron

So do the couple dare to dream of lifting the Glitterball trophy next Saturday?

“We’ve achieved more than the Glitterball this year,” Gio says. “We’ve really made an impact and every week delivered a fantastic performance on the dancefloor. If we win, it’s good – and I want to lift the Glitterball – but if we don’t, we both come out from this show and have made an impact bigger than winning. At the end of the day, this is a massive platform and what we’ve done so far is quite good.”

“I think I would buy a coffee table for it,” adds Rose when we ask if she’s had any early thoughts on where she might put a Glitterball trophy in her home.

Something tells us she might just be paying a visit to a furniture shop in the coming days…

Find out if Rose and Gio have made this year’s Strictly Come Dancing final on Sunday at 7.20pm on BBC One.

Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan Cole

'Strictly Come Dancing': All The Winners


What's Hot