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Exclusive: Nicola Adams hits back at Strictly same-sex dance critics

"You’re going to have to do a little bit more than that if you want to affect me".

2020-10-22

Interview: Thomas Stichbury

Words: Will Stroude

As a two-time Olympic gold medal-winning boxer, Nicola Adams isn't one to shy away from a scrap - and the sports star is delivering a knock-out blow to critics of her same-sex dance partnership on Strictly

37-year-old Nicola, who was officially paired with professional dancer Katya Jones during Strictly's return to BBC One on Saturday night (17 October), tells Attitude that it's going to take a lot more than Ofcom complaints and Twitter trolls to disrupt her rhythm.

"I’ve been through so much in my life, like people’s comments really can’t affect me now" says Nicola, who was born and raised in Leeds, West Yorkshire.

"Growing up with domestic violence, having to look after my brother while my mum was in hospital with meningitis and almost died... It’s like, when I see comments on Twitter, I’m like, 'You’re going to have to do a little bit more than that if you want to affect me with a couple of words'.

(Photography: Joseph Sinclair)

"I’ve been to hell and back - so keep it coming."

Nicola's Strictly debut was met with widespread praise from viewers, many of whom have been piling the pressure on the BBC One series to introduce a same-sex pairing in recent years,

However, some connected to the show - like former series judge Len Goodman - have appeared to argue that the tradition of mixed-sex partnerships outweighs the potentially life-changing impact for a young LGBTQ person of seeing two men or women dancing together at tea time on a Saturday night. 

"The older generation, obviously, they see that it should be a man and woman dancing," reflects Nicola.

(Photography: Joseph Sinclair)

"But that’s from traditions that were way long ago, where it would normally be for courtship and the man and woman would dance together. But a man and man can dance together, and a female and female can dance together."

She goes on: "We can’t hold onto these old traditions; you can’t just get rid of some traditions and then decide, oh, this one’s okay, we’ll keep this one. We need to be forward thinking and moving forward, otherwise women’s aspirations would still be just to aspire to marriage.

"We’re so past that now. There is so much more we can do."

Nicola, who is currently in a relationship with model Ella Baig, 22, adds that is "feels really good" to be the one to break Strictly's same-sex couple duck. 

Nicola Adams (right) has been partnered with Strictly pro Kaya Jones on this year's series

"I think it’s good that the BBC is finally taking that step and becoming more in this century", she says. "It’s about time, and I’m happy that I’m able to be that person to push it forward and just get everyone over that first initial step.

"It’s always scary whenever you do anything for the first time, but someone has to take that first step and make that change."

Some may dismiss the attention which surrounds the inclusion of same-sex pairings on Strictly as frivolous, but Nicola has seen first-hand the impact that queer visibility can have.

"I remember getting a message from a young girl who was only 14 or 15", Nicola recalls. "She just said, 'Seeing that you’re a lesbian has made me be more confident in myself'.

(Photography: Joseph Sinclair)

"She used to do sport as well and she just said that she always used to hide it from people and she said she always thought it would hinder her career. She said after seeing that, she actually came out…

"I don’t realise how much a small thing like that can help somebody else."

Of course, now the only question that remains is whether Nicola can waltz her way to the business end of the competition, and keep that LGBTQ TV candle burning well into the festive period.

"I wouldn’t say I’m the best dancer in the world, but I like a good dance when I’m at the club", she chuckles. "I’ll probably struggle with the more structured dances, like the waltz and ballroom.

"I’m looking forward to the Latin style of dance. I have quick feet from boxing…"  

Strictly Come Dancing continues this Saturday 24 October at 7.25pm on BBC One.