Strictly’s John Whaite ‘expected more criticism’ of show’s first all-male couple

Strictly Come Dancing’s John Whaite – who made history as part of the show’s first all-male couple – has said he initially intended to dance with a straight partner, and expected much more criticism and disapproval than he received.

The former Great British Bake Off winner and his professional dancing partner Johannes Radebe followed in the footsteps of Olympian Nicola Adams and Katya Jones, who formed the show’s first all-female couple last year before having to pull out due to Covid-19.

But initially, Whaite told the BBC team that he thought he should dance with a straight male partner, “just to make a statement that’s not about sexuality,” he said in an interview with the Radio Times.

“But as I was announced, I saw that people were very pro the male-male coupling. I realised it was a big thing for the gay community. When we’re on the dancefloor, I only want to be voted for based on our dancing. But to deny that our partnership is significant would be a really wrong thing.”

The TV chef said he had anticipated trolling and hate mail. “But it’s actually not been bad at all. It’s been kind and generous. The amount of people we’ve had messages from saying, ‘I’m proud as a straight mum and straight dad to have children grow up in a world where two men can dance together’ has been truly overwhelming.”

He and Radebe said they had compared notes on their experiences growing up, including feelings of shame over their sexuality. Now, Radebe’s mother (his father died when the dancer was 14) gathers her neighbours in South Africa to watch Strictly together. “It’s a big celebration. They’re very proud,” the dancer said.

But the pair were aware that not everyone is a fan. In 2019, the show received 189 complaints after the “offensive” broadcast of its first ever individual same-sex routine, and this year there remains negative comments on social media.

“On Twitter this week, someone said their grandmother has to leave the room when we come on. She won’t watch us,” Whaite said. “I think it’s a fear thing. To see a world where two men can dance together, it can instil the fear of God into people. But let’s leave them behind.”

He added that he hoped straight people would start to do same-sex couple dances to send “a very clear message of inclusion”.

Though he wasn’t concerned about the Strictly curse (where dancing partners begin romantic relationships with each other), Whaite said he understood the sentiment after dancing the rumba. “I felt like I loved Johannes. And I do love him to bits … you can see why people hook up,” he said.

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