Will Bayley: ‘I Contemplated Doing Some Strictly Moves As My Celebration At The Tokyo Games’

The Paralympian explains why he's finally over the disappointment of having to withdraw from Strictly Come Dancing back in 2019.

“I never really thought that you could connect with a dance, and I didn’t really believe it until during that week when I felt something,” Will Bayley says as he recalls his emotional Couple’s Choice routine on Strictly Come Dancing.

The Paralympic table tennis champ, who was born with arthrogryposis, served up one of the show’s most moving routines ever when he and partner Janette Manrara performed a contemporary dance to 7 Years by Lukas Graham to tell the story of his life and the struggles he has overcome.

The 2019 contestant continues: “On the Monday, we went to Great Ormond Street and visited my old room in the ward and we went through the steps, and Janette wanted me to feel the emotion, and that’s what I think I did during that week.

“I didn’t even feel like there was an audience when we were doing it because it was our own little moment.”

The routine bagged Will his highest score on Strictly – an impressive 32 out of 40 – but disaster sadly struck the following week when he suffered an injury during training that eventually forced him out of the competition altogether.

In the latest instalment of our Back To The Ballroom series, Will reveals why he’s finally over the disappointment of having to quit the show, and tells of how there was nearly a Strictly-inspired moment when he won silver at the Tokyo Paralympics earlier this year...

Going on Strictly was shell shocking...

Obviously I knew the show was popular, but I don’t think I knew how popular it was until I was in it. During that period, I was going to shopping centres or something like that and everyone knew me – I wasn’t used to that. So that was the most shocking thing about how things changed.

It’s quietened down since but at the time it was surreal really and life changing for that moment. Since then, I’ve managed to carry those fans through to table tennis, and people who watched me on Strictly have carried on following my progress, so that’s nice.

I learned more about dealing with nerves and stuff on Strictly than in sport…

The nerves on Strictly are like nothing like a table tennis game because at least you know what you are doing with table tennis – you’re comfortable and you train all your life for it. With dance, I didn’t really have a scooby what was going on, I felt like I was holding on for dear life for most of the dances. You’re also well aware that 12 million people are watching you.

There were a few dances where there were big lifts and I’m thinking in the back of my mind, ’“What happens if I drop Janette?” because I did drop her plenty of times in training. So it was pretty full on and high pressure.

Will Bayley
Will Bayley
SOPA Images via Getty Images

But being on Team Strictly is quite similar to being on Team GB...

You’re all working towards a goal and everyone who is in it is really successful in their own way so they have a certain type of determination and fire. It’s like in Team GB, we all support each other and get the best out of each other and that’s what I felt during my time on Strictly.

I trained next to David James and Kelvin Fletcher most days in the dance studio – we were literally next door, so we would pop in and see each other for lunch and motivate each other.

It was brilliant training next to Kelvin, and to be fair, it actually wasn’t daunting!

Will at the Tokyo Paralympics earlier this year
Will at the Tokyo Paralympics earlier this year
Tasos Katopodis via Getty Images

I do remember the first time I saw Kelvin dance, though...

Janette and I were watching him on the stands on the Friday before that Saturday’s first live show, and I just remember looking to Janette and not even saying anything just thinking, “errm, is this the standard? Is this what I’m up against?”

Janette just laughed. We didn’t even say any words, there was nothing said. It was just ridiculous, but he was amazing and probably one of my best friends throughout it. He supported me so much because I struggled a lot physically and with balance and stuff like that, and he was trying to help me all the time.

I’ve definitely got over that disappointment of having to pull out of Strictly…

Blackpool was what I wanted to get to, that was my main goal. And also to do the Jive, which is the one I got injured on. It was my favourite dance and it’s what I was looking forward to, so it was disappointing. It was the best week I’d had in terms of training and the most confident with the dance.

But it happens and I don’t have any regrets. It is what it is and I am looking forward to new challenges. Strictly was a great experience.

I would absolutely, 100% go back for a Christmas special. I would love to do that, so never say never.

Coming back for the final was amazing

The atmosphere was incredible. I had so much support from everyone and it was just great to watch those guys doing so well. I love them all and I was blown away by the standard in the final.

Janette had my back when I needed her to and that’s what you need in a team mate...


We got on so well, she was so supportive. She stayed in contact throughout my injury and to now, and that’s really nice. I think we’ll be friends forever.

Sometimes because of my disability, she didn’t know what I could or couldn’t do. She was always changing the dances. With the Pokemon dance we did, she literally had to change it hours before because she’d been trying with these couple of steps all week and I couldn’t do it. I think her versatility is why she was put with me, because she can mix it up.

If I’d had to dance with anyone else, it would have been...

There’s probably two – Katya and Oti. Katya because I really got on with her and she was so funny and cracked me up every time I saw her. She was so lovely and very friendly, but I know she’d work me very hard and I’d have buzzed off that.

Oti Mabuse and Katya Jones
Oti Mabuse and Katya Jones
Karwai Tang via Getty Images

And Oti, she’s a workhorse and she’s amazing. I saw the way she worked with Kelvin and how much she put in. She would have got the best out of me, 100%.

My favourite ever Strictly routine is…

Kelvin’s Samba is up there. And Aston Merrygold is probably my favourite contestant on the show for just how good he was. I was gutted when he got voted out, it was ridiculous.

My dream Strictly celeb is…

Anthony Joshua would be pretty cool. I train near to him in the English Institute of Sport and he’s a really nice guy. To see someone from heavyweight boxing do dancing would be quite interesting. I think he’s got some moves too!

Anthony Joshua
Anthony Joshua
BEN STANSALL via Getty Images

The funniest place I’ve busted out my Strictly moves is…

I’ve tried not to do that and embarrass myself, but some weddings I’ve been to I’ve given it some of the Strictly moves. But nothing too embarrassing. I was thinking about doing it in Tokyo as my celebration, but then I thought, ‘Nah!’. I’d have just looked silly, so I didn’t do that!

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