Rose Ayling-Ellis made history by becoming the first deaf winner of the BBC competition.
An average of 11 million people tuned in to watch EastEnders star Rose Ayling-Ellis become the first deaf contestant to win Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday.
After being named the winner, Ayling-Ellis paid tribute to professional partner Giovanni Pernice, saying he “always had a piece of her heart”.
The show had a peak audience of 12.3 million – giving BBC One a 57.8% share in the overnight ratings.
Ratings have increased over the series.
The launch show in September was watched by an average of seven million viewers, while 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.
The couple’s victory marks a first win for Pernice, who has been a pro dancer on the show since 2015.
Speaking during the show Ayling-Ellis said: “I’ve become more me than I’ve ever been because of Strictly.”
Shirley Ballas described her as “an inspirational young lady”.
“I know in your heart you did it for the deaf community but for me you did this for every person watching this show,” she added.
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.
Ayling-Ellis performed her Couple’s Choice routine again, which saw her dance with Pernice 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.
For their final dance, the pair performed impressive lifts during a Romeo and Juliet-inspired showdance to The Rose by Bette Middler.
Judge Anton Du Beke held back tears as he told the actress: “I can’t speak, it’s so beautiful. Forgive me for not looking at you or I will cry.”
Ayling-Ellis and Whaite had matching scores from the judges during the final, with both receiving perfect 40s for their favourite dances and their showdances.
Speaking to Claudia Winkleman before the result was announced, Whaite said: “It would be nice [to win the glitterball], I have got space on my shelf because my mum smashed my Bake Off trophy.
“Whoever it goes to, I will be there for them and applaud them and congratulate them.”
Injured Odudu was seen on crutches as she watched the final from the side of the ballroom alongside partner Kai Widdrington.
Speaking on the BBC’s It Takes Two ahead of the show, she said: “We literally had the best experience and on Monday… my ankle just gave way with my ligament rupture, we were gutted, we were ready to smash it.”
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.
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.
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 marked 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.
- CHRISTMAS IN THE MIDDLE AGES: What were the festivities like for our ancestors?
- HOW DO YOU REACT TO A BAD PRESENT? Hayley Pearce on the worst Christmas gifts she has received