Dancing on Ice’s Ian 'H' Watkins and pro-partner Matt Evers talk breaking down barriers as TV Times join them in training…
It was big news when it was announced that ITV's Dancing on Ice would be making history by featuring its first ever same-sex pairing, as former Steps star Ian 'H' Watkins was partnered up with long-time show professional Matt Evers.
There wasn't a dry eye in the house after Matt and H – both openly gay men – performed their first routine to Panic! At the Disco’s hit High Hopes, with Ice Panellist John Barrowman overcome with emotion at seeing 'two men who represent someone like me' on the ice.
With support for the pair showing no sign of waning, H and Matt are firmly focused on pulling great performances out of the bag each week to prove to the millions watching that two men CAN dance!!
TV Times caught up with H and Matt, both 43, in training at the show’s studios in Bovingdon, Hertfordshire, to find out more about how they intend to push the boundaries…
H, why was it important to you to dance in a same-sex pairing on Dancing on Ice?
H: "I think it’s about time it happened. Coming from the LGBT community, it’s important to me and important to a lot of other people as well. In the media world, same-sex couples are common but, for me, growing up in the deep dark valleys of Wales, I had nobody like me; there were no role models. So if, by me doing this, I can make a change to someone’s life who’s perhaps feeling lonely or isolated then I say: 'Let's do it!’"
How did you feel after your very first performance on Dancing on Ice?
H: "I certainly felt the pressure. Just before the music started, Matt said: ‘It’s just me and you and that's all that matters’. I knew I just had to focus and perform the best I could."
Matt: "I’ve done every series of Dancing on Ice and, coming into this series, I wasn't quite sure of how to approach it because it's never been done before, so there was certainly pressure on me as the pro-skater to choreograph a strong routine. H and I agreed we didn’t want to come out all unicorns and rainbows. We just wanted to make a same-sex partnership normal."
The response you got was amazing. You even made Ice Panellist John Barrowman cry…
H: "I know! Overwhelmingly, the majority of people have been incredible but Ofcom still had 16 complaints. That negativity does stick in my mind and it's hard not to focus on those things. It was lovely hearing John say that he saw two people on the ice that represented him. It meant so much to him… and to us."
So, how has training been going?
H: "This has been my bucket list job for so long, so I am enjoying it, but I wasn't prepared for how hard it was going to be. The good thing is, because Matt’s always had a female partner, there’s no precedent set for what we’re doing, so we can make things up as we go along. Matt thinks I’m capable, so he really pushes me."
Matt: "Because we’re trying new things, the learning curve for me is exponential. There was a move in the musicals routine we did, called The Car, where we’re both down on our knees and H supports my weight. Previously, with a female partner, afterwards, I could just pick her up and move her away. But because H and I are a similar size, we had difficulty figuring out how to get out of the move. So it’s also about me learning and having to re-adjust."
Are you able to do any really ambitious lifts?
Matt: "Well, obviously, we can’t do any overhead lifts but, outside of that, we haven't really found much that’s off limits."
H: "Exactly. I’m not a peanut, so I’m not gonna be floating around the air like Tinkerbell! Instead, we’ll be doing Cirque du Soleil and strongman counterbalance-type lifts that are more dynamic. Have I picked Matt up yet? I’ve tried. We’ll always try and change things up a bit."
H, what have you found most challenging?
H: "It’s just the constant battering your body gets daily. I’m 43… and [fellow contestant] Perri Kiely is 24! Plus, I’m a dad, so I’ve got that ‘parent fear’ in my head. I can’t get injured, I have little people to look after. Matt is probably the most popular Dancing on Ice pro and he knows his stuff. My life is literally in his hands. We’ve got a great rapport… and he’s handsome as hell!"
Did you think the dancing you did in Steps would help you on this show?
H: "Absolutely not! I understand choreography but I'm not a dancer, I'm a mover, and they are very different things. I understand music and counts and maybe artistry. But if you don't have technique to marry all that with then, no, it doesn't help me at all."
Matt, how does H compare to his former Steps bandmate Lisa Scott-Lee, who you were partnered with in 2007?
Matt: "H is much more game for trying new things. A lot of the celebrity females can be scared of the ice but, when the men get on the ice, they're a bit more brute-like. So I’d say the major difference is that H will try something immediately."
H: "Matt, Lisa and I got onto the ice together and filmed something recently. She literally slotted straight back into it, doing roll-up lifts and somersaults. I was like: ‘really’!?"
How much would it mean to you to win Dancing on Ice?
H: "At the moment, I’m just enjoying the journey. After that very first performance, I knew I needed to show I could actually skate. Next, I’d like to do a romantic number, just like an opposite-sex couple would."
Matt: "That’s right. We really want to break down that barrier people have when they see two men, that it’s not ‘all about sex’."
H: "I would love to think we could get to the final. My dream is to have two guys performing the Bolero."
Matt: "That would be pretty incredible. That dance is so special to Torvill and Dean, I think they would cry."
H: "Us getting to the final as a same-sex partnership would be such an incredible message to send out to people worldwide. We’d love for there not to have to be a ‘message’ – but it almost has to be a ‘thing’ for it NOT to be a ‘thing’. And next year, hopefully, it won’t be."
Dancing on Ice continues Sundays at 6pm on ITV.
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