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Claudia Winkleman: ‘Representation is everything’ on this year’s Strictly

The Strictly co-host sheds light on casting decisions on one of the biggest shows in the BBC calendar.

Fun, elegance and joyful abandon are the terms more commonly associated with the BBC’s smash-hit dance competition Strictly Come Dancing, but representation and inclusivity are becoming watch words too, according to co-host Claudia Winkleman.

EastEnders actor Rose Ayling-Ellis, the first deaf person to dance on the show, has taken the competition by storm in recent weeks, raising pulses, awareness and top scores from the judges in equal measure. The cast and crew have been leading by example and making sure they are inclusive.

“We have all done awareness courses,” says Winkleman, in a new interview in The Big Issue magazine out on Monday November 22. “I’m trying to learn as much sign language as possible – not necessarily to do on screen, but for when I’m communicating with her off air. The first thing I wanted to learn – although I haven’t needed to use it yet – was how to say ‘The judges are horrid.’”

This isn’t the first time the show set out to use its sequins and sparkle to address more serious issues of inclusivity. Producers have been praised for introducing same-sex couples, members of the LGBTQ+ community and Paralympian athletes in recent years.

“I’d like to think that it wasn’t controversial,” says Winkleman, in a new interview in The Big Issue magazine out on Monday November 22. “I think it’s important, but I would also say – and maybe I just have a positive outlook – that I think most of the UK just go [shrugs].”

“Strictly decided a while ago to try and widen who was doing it,” she added, “because representation is everything.”

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That wasn’t always the case among TV executives. Winkleman became co-host alongside Tess Daly when Bruce Forsyth retired in 2014, a move that was seen as controversial at the time.

“They were like, ‘Two women!?’” Winkleman exclaimed. “We were like, erm, OK, all right, well, we’ll give it our best shot.”

But the average viewership for the seven full series since that change has never dipped below 10 million per episode as the show goes from strength to strength.

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She also shed light on the Winkleman family Christmas plans, which include joining together to help out at the local food bank “either on Christmas Eve or in the run up” and putting together a reverse advent calendar.

“We’ve been doing that in my house forever,” she said. “Where you get a box, and every day in December we take turns to put something in it.

“It could be fancy biscuits, perfume, one excellent idea was to get cinema vouchers. It’s a really clever idea. Then you deliver it to the food bank towards the end of December. My kids really go to town.”

The full interview with Claudia Winkleman will be in The Big Issue magazine from Monday November 22, available from your local vendor. Find your local vendor on our vendor map or sign up for a subscription to make sure you don’t miss out.

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