WITH a standing ovation and glowing comments from the judges, Ellie Simmonds cha-cha-chaed her way into the Strictly history books on Saturday.
She is the show’s first contestant with dwarfism, and there was another memorable moment for the 4ft swimmer — her first time in high heels.
And Ellie’s nerves were clearly misplaced, as even typically picky judge Craig Revel Horwood gushed that she has “fantastic rhythm”.
As for the heels, she had taken no chances, revealing that she had got used to them by wearing them while doing tasks around the house.
Sy het gese: “This morning I was wearing them in while brushing my teeth. I never normally do that.”
Ellie, 27, has achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism that results in short limbs and normal-sized torso, and it led to one particular frustration when she was growing up.
Sy het gese: “As a teenager, I always wanted bigger feet. I am a size two to three, and there’s not much choice for shoes this small.
“They were made for kids, with butterflies or fairy lights. I wanted shoes that looked suitable for adults.
“It never got me upset though. I never cried, it was just part of growing up.”
Die meeste gelees in The Sun
And now Ellie has danced her way into the nation’s hearts — although she admits she was initially nervous about signing up for the show.
She was worried about how the height difference between her and her partner would work, and feared — justifiably — she might get trolled.
Sy het gese: “I’ve had it already. Some people have said, ‘How’s the dwarf going to dance?’ It’s sad and it does get to you.”
An accessibility tour of the Strictly studios in Elstree, Herte convinced Ellie to become the show’s seventh contestant with a disability.
Sy het gese: “When I got the call I did wonder whether I should do it.
Then I thought I’d do a leap of faith. You don’t know until you try.”
Haar boyfriend Matt, who also has dwarfism, helped to convince her.
The pair have been together for two years and have just bought a house together in Cheshire.
Sy het gese: “He was like, ‘Go for it, you don’t know unless you try’. Now I’m so happy I said yes.”
Competitive Ellie has always thrived on a challenge, becoming Britain’s youngest ever Paralympian when she competed at Beijing in 2008 verouder net 13, taking home two gold medals.
And having quit swimming after the Tokyo games in 2021, she was ready to try something new, admitting that she had felt lost since leaving her sport.
Sy het gese: “I’ve been swimming on the team since I was 12. The only thing I’ve known is being an athlete and that structure and routine.
“I’d lost my massive identity and the purpose that I’d had for so many years.”
En Streng means not just a new identity — but a whole new look too.
After years in sweatpants and swimming costumes, Ellie is thrilled by the glitz and glamour, and says she wants the team to “bring it on”.
But she admits she has body hangups too, en gesê: “I’ve typically put on weight since retiring last year.
“Being an athlete and being a woman, you’re very conscious of your body and the insecurities of that, so I was thinking going into Strictly, ‘I want to cover everything up’.
“But then when I was trying the costumes on I ended up trying the crop tops and stuff, and I was like, ‘O my god, I love this!''
While Ellie may face different challenges from the rest of the celebrity cast with her routines, she isn’t worried about being pitted against able-bodied competitors.
It was how her swimming career started when she was just five years old.
As the youngest of five, she looked up to her siblings — of whom only sister Katie also has achondroplasia — and was determined to beat them at everything.
The family home in Walsall had an outdoor swimming pool, which her mum Val said she was barely ever out of because she was “born to swim”.
She was soon competing at Boldmere Swimming Club in nearby Sutton Coldfield, where she took on able-bodied rivals until it stopped being an option when she was eight.
Just two years later she was scouted by UK Sport and selected to train for the national team, leading to the difficult decision to split her family across the country.
It never got me upset though. I never cried, it was just part of growing up
Ellie said: “It was a big sacrifice my parents made for almost six years.
“Mum set us up in a little house to retain as much normality as possible, but it was really tough being separated.”
But the move, Ellie insists, was her choice and was not forced on her by her parents, Val and Steve.
It led to her being the youngest person on the Paralympic Team GB.
Her triumph in Beijing propelled her to stardom, especially when she burst into tears in her interview following her first gold medal win.
Ellie went on to become the youngest ever recipient of an MBE at just 14, the youngest person to guest-edit Radio 4’s Women’s Hour and in 2013 after further triumph at Londen 2012 she was awarded an OBE.
She credits her parents — neither of whom has dwarfism — with her positive attitude to life.
Ellie said: “I’ve always been aware of being shorter, but I felt as if I could do anything.
I don’t remember my mum and dad telling me anything and they certainly didn’t make any special allowances for Katie and me.
“They said if I wanted to achieve something I shouldn’t let it stop me.”
While she has never let her disability hold her back, her swimming career almost came crashing to a halt, due to a bullying coach while she was training for the 2016 Rio Paralympic games.
Sy het gese: “I remember I got IBS [irritable bowel syndrome] really badly because I was so stressed and I remember crying over the phone.
“There was a coach there who was not a nice guy at all, he put the pressure on us. And he knocked my confidence hugely and I’m finally trying to get over it.”
In 2017 an independent investigation into bullying complaints from 13 swimmers found they had faced “unacceptable behaviours”, with one senior coach using “abusive and derogatory language” to athletes.
The impact on Ellie nearly made her quit the sport. She discussed it with her parents and agent, but was persuaded to go to the Games
Although she won gold and bronze medals, it was not a happy experience. Sy het gese: “I hated Rio and I hated everything about it.”
With her self-confidence shot, and feeling “mentally and physically exhausted”, Ellie took a year out from swimming to go travelling, mainly on her own.
In some countries she found that she attracted attention because of her dwarfism.
“I don’t take it in too much, regtig. In Sjina they don’t mind getting their cameras out, but I try to go with the flow.
“In countries where there is not so much disability visible on the streets, they want to know who you are and what you are doing.”
After her adventures around the world, Ellie returned to swimming with a new attitude that sport wasn’t “life or death”.
And she hoped the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics would provide redemption after the challenges of Rio.
Toxic coaching team
But those games ended up being postponed because of the pandemic, and when they were moved to 2021, Ellie was unable to add to her eight-medal tally, and decided to retire, saying she was “leaving at the right time”.
Sy het bygevoeg: “It’s been an amazing part to play in inspiring the next generation and it makes me emotional to see the girls, thinking that they were inspired by me when they watched London 2012.
“Now they’re inspiring that next generation so it is amazing but it’s not just me, it’s everyone behind me and I’m just so thankful for everything.”
With Strictly, Ellie hopes to motivate a whole new audience, following in the footsteps of Rose Ayling-Ellis in fighting for a more inclusive world.
Sy het gese: “If only I had this as a child, watching someone with dwarfism on a dancing show…It’s amazing for disability representation and moving forward.”