HELLO! DIGITAL COVER STORY
Rose Ayling-Ellis shares real reason for joining Strictly Come Dancing
She's an inspiration to the nation
Rose Ayling-Ellis and her professional Strictly Come Dancing partner Giovanni Pernice look very much the winning team as they pose exclusively for HELLO!.
The 26-year-old EastEnders actress made history when she became Strictly's first-ever deaf contestant, and with the couple's mesmerising Viennese Waltz to the Alicia Keys song Fallin' in week five – which featured an exchange in British sign language, had viewers in tears and earned them their first ten – it's no wonder Rose and Giovanni have become firm favourites to scoop this year's coveted Glitterball trophy.
READ: Giovanni Pernice breaks silence on Maura Higgins split
We sat down with the pair earlier this week where Rose posed for our Digital Cover – our first using sign language – and revealed just how happy she is to be inspiring viewers at home.
Rose Ayling-Ellis stars on our Digital Cover
How have you found your Strictly experience so far?
Rose, who relies on counting to keep in time with the music and who also lip-reads, as well as having a sign language interpreter on the show, said: "Everyone I spoke to beforehand who has done Strictly said it's the best experience and it really is.
"Even when I'm lying in bed at four in the morning with the steps running round in my head, thinking, 'Noooo, I need sleep!' and even when we have a bad day and I just can't seem to get anything right, I love it and I don't want it to end."
WATCH: Giovanni Pernice and Rose Ayling-Ellis play HELLO!/Goodbye
Your Viennese Waltz earned you your first ten. You must have been thrilled?
Rose: "That was all Giovanni's idea. I have to give him all the credit for that."
READ: Giovanni Pernice and Rose Ayling-Ellis move fans to tears with 'exquisite' dance
Rose and Giovanni are favourites to lift the Glitterball this year
Did you know that searches for 'learn sign language' have sky-rocketed since you joined Strictly?
Rose: "That is exactly why I'm doing this and why I now want to stay, week after week. I love it when someone gets in touch to tell me about a child who was self-conscious about signing but now wants to learn more, or children who'd hidden their hearing aids but are now wearing their hair up to show it off. It's like being deaf is cool now!
"I hope that by seeing me on TV, they see that they really can do anything they want to because I didn't have that growing up.
"My confidence has grown. I feel I can just be myself now," says Rose
"It's not just the children either. I hope parents will start to realise that it's not the end of the world. My mum has told me it makes her really emotional when she hears how the parents of deaf children have been moved and inspired by what I'm doing because she had never even met a deaf person when she had me and she had so much fear. She's very proud of me."
READ: Giovanni Pernice reveals his dream royal dance partner
How does it feel to have made history as the first deaf person on Strictly?
Rose: "I don't want this to be a case of, 'She was on it, so we've done that now.' It needs to be, 'She did this, now let's hire more people with disabilities in this industry.' I am just one person. We are still behind when it comes to diversity and inclusion. There is a lot of room for improvement."
"I knew I had a really good student," says Giovanni
Giovanni, did you know you had a potential winner in Rose from the start?
Giovanni: "I knew I had a really good student. I always say it's the strongest mindset that wins the competition rather than the best dancer. Strictly is hard on the celebrities – much harder than most realise when they sign up – but if you're able to survive 13 weeks mentally, then you're halfway there. Rose is strong-minded. And she listens."
Rose: "You learn so much about yourself doing the show. I've never done a sport, so I've surprised myself at how, every day, I can push myself a bit more and a bit more.
"You learn so much about yourself doing the show," says Rose
"And my confidence has grown. I feel I can just be myself now. Going into a show that's such a huge platform and being yourself is scary because you're so exposed. But the response has been so positive, I feel like, 'Oh, ok, that's good, I'll just carry on being me then!'"
READ: Gordon Ramsay finally breaks silence after daughter Tilly is body-shamed
Giovanni reckons he could learn sign language "in a week"
Rose, how do you think Giovanni's sign language is coming along?
Rose: "He has a natural instinct. Some people pick it up quicker than others and Italians are very expressive, which I think helps. Giovanni says sign language makes sense. He reckons he could learn it all in a week."
Giovanni: "I could, if I really try!"
For the exclusive interview and photoshoot, pick up the new issue of HELLO! magazine out on Monday.