Strictly Come Dancing pair John Whaite and Johannes Radebe became early favourites the second they hit the dance floor together, and have managed to hold their place around the top of the leaderboard over the course of this year’s series.
But the Great British Bake Off champ has admitted the groundbreaking partnership almost never came to be, as he initially asked BBC bosses if he could dance with one of the straight male dancers already on the show.
In a new interview with Attitude magazine, John explained that when he first signed up, he was so concerned about social media trolling that he wanted to dance with a straight man.
“I was honoured, of course, because not only had I wanted to do Strictly ever since I saw it when I was a little boy… but also, as soon as I found out, I felt a little bit anxious,” he told the magazine.
“I knew that it was an important thing to do, that it was hopefully going to change the way TV is, change the way that children feel when they watch TV – it’s massive – but I was expecting to get a lot of hate, like [people] sliding into the DMs and saying, ‘You’re disgusting’ and that kind of thing.”
He continued: “At first, I said, ‘Can you put me with a straight partner?’ because I [believed] that that would be the only way it would be accepted, and then, about a month before we were partnered up, me and you, I [thought], actually, I want it to be Johannes; it has to be Johannes, because it’s such an important thing for both of us, it would be wrong for it to be anyone but Johannes.
“The fear in my wanting to please people got in the way and let me say, ‘Can you put me with a straight man?’.”
Johannes has revealed he had similar reservations, after a previous routine he performed with Graziano Di Prima was the subject of complaints from viewers.
“I’ve always wanted to be a part of this, and I’ve always cheered same-sex partnerships, and I’ve done things to add to this moment, I would like to believe,” Johannes told Attitude.
“But in that, there was criticism and fear and negativity that we received when I danced with Graziano, complaints and stuff like that. I didn’t want that again.”
“Then I remember thinking, what if it’s successful? I realised that there’s people who want to see it, that would love to see it more than what I’m feeling.”
John added: “I don’t want to name anyone, but there were people in my life who would say to me, ‘Don’t be too gay.’ I was at a wedding once, for example, and I was dancing my little heart out, and this person said to me, ‘Don’t be too camp, don’t be too gay’, as though it was a bad thing. And so, I feel like I’ve had to mute that part of me, especially when it came from somebody I love.
“[When] we did the Cha Cha… I just switched, and I smiled, and my hips were going. I felt alive, no one could touch me.”
The pair revealed last week that they have turned off most of their social media accounts since Strictly began, in a bid to block out homophobic abuse.
Johannes added: “I did it for the sake of my mental health. For me to function properly and give John the experience he deserves, I need to be fit mentally and physically.
“If you consider what people are saying about you on social media you would never survive an experience like this.”
This week, they’ll be tackling a Rumba, with John commenting that he’s anticipating “complaints” as their routine is so “intimate”.
Read John and Johannes’ interview in full in the new issue of Attitude, on sale now.