Strictly Come Dancing 2021: Rose Ayling-Ellis becomes first deaf winner

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EastEnders star Rose Ayling-Ellis has become the first deaf contestant to win BBC One's Strictly Come Dancing.

She and her professional partner Giovanni Pernice were presented with the glitterball trophy in Saturday's live final.

Ayling-Ellis paid tribute to Pernice after being named the winner, saying he "always had a piece of her heart".

The couple's victory also marks the first win for Pernice, who has been a pro dancer on the show since 2015.

He previously made it to the final in 2018, 2017 and 2015 with Faye Tozer, Debbie McGee and Georgia May Foote respectively.

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Ayling-Ellis held off competition from chef and former Bake Off winner John Whaite.

The third finalist, TV presenter AJ Odudu, had to pull out of the competition on Friday after tearing a ligament in her ankle.

Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice on Strictly

Ayling-Ellis has played Frankie Lewis, the daughter of Mick Carter (Danny Dyer), in BBC One soap EastEnders since May 2020.

The 27-year-old has been widely praised throughout this series of Strictly for challenging assumptions about deaf people and dancing.

Her participation in the competition reportedly led to a surge in demand for British Sign Language (BSL) courses in the UK.

One routine this series saw her dance with Giovanni without music for 20 seconds as a tribute to the deaf community and an illustration of how people with a hearing impairment can still dance to music.

The actress's victory comes five years after the US version of Strictly, Dancing With The Stars, crowned its first deaf winner.

Model, actor and deaf activist Nyle DiMarco won the 2016 series with his professional partner Peta Murgatroyd.

Prior to that, Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin, who is also deaf, competed on the US version of the show in 2008.

Nyle DiMarco and his partner Peta MurgatroydRaymond Hall

In the UK, Ayling-Ellis was the first ever deaf contestant to have competed in Strictly Come Dancing.

When her casting was announced earlier this year, she gave media interviews explaining how she would be able to hear the music and keep time while taking part in the show.

Saturday's finale marks the end of a relatively successful series of Strictly. Unlike the 2020 series, no contestants left the competition this year due to Covid – however some did have to miss a single week after testing positive.

Similarly, two judges – Craig Revel Horwood and Motsi Mabuse – missed weeks due to Covid. Actress Cynthia Erivo stood in on both occasions.

Other health problems and injuries took their toll on the series even prior to Odudu's departure on Friday.

Peep Show star Robert Webb withdrew on medical advice following heart surgery he had two years ago, while former rugby player Ugo Monye missed a week due to back problems.

Consolidated viewing figures show this series has regularly attracted an audience of more than nine million, making it one of the most-watched TV shows in the country.

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