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Monday, 26 July 2021
GRAHAM BELL says he is nervous but excited about his making his first appearance on ITV’s Dancing on Ice.
The Henley television presenter and former Olympic skier has just finished training for the 13th series of the reality show, which starts on Sunday.
He is among 12 celebrity contestants who will perform with a professional dancer and one pair will be eliminated each week.
Also taking part are fellow Olympian Colin Jackson, comedian Rufus Hound, model Rebekah Vardy, musician Myleene Klass and West End performers Denise Van Outen and Jason Donovan.
Bell has been chatting regularly with his rivals by phone or online as they have had to rehearse separately since the second coronavirus lockdown was imposed in early November.
Bell, 54, had never skated before apart from “messing about” as a child.
He says his skiing background helped a little but he had to improve his upper body strength and unlearn several habits once training started in mid-October.
He will appear in a choreographed group routine on Sunday before dancing in his first competitive number with professional figure skater Yebin Mok, from Manchester, next week. Bell said: “Everyone’s absolutely bricking it right now, even the contestants who are good at skating.
“I know loads could go wrong, especially from week two when I’ll be judged. This week will be a good chance to just practise my skills.
“I’m used to pressure in competitive sport so I’m doing a lot of ‘visualisations’ where I try to imagine what it’ll be like with all the lights and cameras focused on me.
“I’ve been chatting loads with Colin while Rufus has been a good laugh. We all agree it’s going to be weird because there won’t be a live audience, which wasn’t expected back when rehearsals started.
“I’d hoped that my family would be able to attend but the situation has changed enormously.
“They’ll be watching from home instead and the contestants will be cheering each other on. I suppose it could change by the end of the series but it’s pretty unlikely. The Prime Minister is due to make an announcement before the 10th episode in late March so we’ll see what happens.”
Because of the pandemic, the couples mustn’t dance within 2m of one another so they took turns training at various rinks, including several public ones and at ITV’s studio in Bovingdon, in small groups or even by themselves.
Mok, whose husband Tom Naylor danced with Coronation Street actress Lisa George in the 12th series, taught Bell the basic skills, including keeping his shoulders back and neck forward to maintain a good posture or “top line”.
He also had to bend his knees and ankles without pushing his hips forward, which would be bad technique in other types of exercise, and keep his legs straight when he struck them out.
Sometimes the couple have danced all day but more strenous sessions were cut to two or three hours so they could recover.
He also did stretching and strength exercises off the ice, including some at Athlete Service in Greys Road, Henley.
On one occasion the pair trained beside former Olympic figure skating champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who are to judge performers alongside street dancer Ashley Banjo and actor John Barrowman.
Bell, who lives in New Street with his wife Sarah and grown-up children Louis and Lottie, said: “Yebon would have been my first choice so I was really pleased that we were partnered up.
“We both teach so it was interesting to see her using the same motivational techniques that I use on my students.
“She’d say, ‘Right, shall we have lunch or try that once more?’ and you just knew you’d end up having another go.
“It took a while to learn the basics and I hadn’t to stop myself forgetting them once I moved on to the more advanced stuff.
“Because of coronavirus restrictions, there’d be days when it was just the two of us at a massive ice rink with one other guy there to turn the lights on and off. That was pretty spooky.
“There was also a real sense of pressure when I realised Torvill and Dean were on the same rink — it felt unreal to be skating next to them.
“Skiing helped me with balance and glide but I’m used to crouching in an aerodynamic position rather than making myself tall and elegant. We did a lot of work with a band holding my shoulders up, which was very tiring, and I had to improve my flexibility too.”
The couple have been given the music for their second and third weeks and have choreographed routines for these as well as a “skate-off” routine, which they will perform if they’re up for elimination.
Bell said: “We’ll always be juggling three routines to cover each upcoming episode and the one after that.
“I’m really proud of our current skate-off and almost want a chance to show it off, even though that’s a sign you’re not doing too well.”
Whether he wins or not, he said he would skate regularly in future.
“I’ve definitely found my summer training sport,” said Bell. “I recently went skiing for the first time in almost a year and my balance was far better than it would have been otherwise.
“I’m going to keep it up and I’m looking forward to getting the family involved as well.
“The children already want me to teach them to skate, though I suspect Sarah might need a bit more persuading!”
The programme will mark Bell’s debut as a reality show competitor, although he was performance director on Channel 4’s The Jump.
It will be presented by Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield.
• Dancing On Ice will be broadcast on ITV on Sunday at 6pm.
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