Giovanni Pernice and Rose Ayling-Ellis with the Glitterball trophy (Guy Levy/BBC/PA)
Rose Ayling-Ellis has said she hopes her Strictly Come Dancing win “changes the perception” of hearing people, after making history as the BBC One show’s first deaf champion.
The EastEnders actress said her victory on Saturday night “didn’t feel real” the following morning, and that she is still coming to terms with it.
The 27-year-old appeared alongside professional partner Giovanni Pernice on BBC Breakfast on Monday morning, after defeating Great British Bake Off winner John Whaite and his partner Johannes Radebe the first all-male pairing on the show, in the weekend’s closely-fought grand final.
Showing off her trophy via video call, she said: “It is so lovely because I didn’t have that when I was growing up. I didn’t have anyone to look up to.
“But also it is important to inspire hearing people to think about what they are doing and to change their perception, so when a deaf person comes for a job interview they don’t have to panic or freak out.
“They can be like ‘They are just deaf, that’s all’ and making it accessible, like how Strictly did.
“I am really excited and I am looking forward to seeing what happens next and how it will carry on.”
Ayling-Ellis said her Sunday had been “very weird” after lifting the Glitterball trophy.
She added: “It was very quiet and I felt like ‘What just happened?’ It didn’t feel real.”
Italian pro Pernice, who joined Strictly in 2015 but had not previously won a series, told the programme he had slept with his trophy.
The 31-year-old said the pair had enjoyed “a fantastic journey from the beginning”.
"We should all push ourselves to include others" 🏆
✨ Strictly champions Rose and Giovanni speak exclusively to… https://t.co/aYLA30076d
He added: “I think we put out there a big, big statement.
“Every time I say to Rose the same thing.
“Obviously it is nice to win the show but I think we managed to put a statement – very important for Rose, very important for the deaf community.
“Every week we would go there, we would smash our dance and we just proved everything is possible.”
Pernice said he is “beyond proud” to have danced alongside Ayling-Ellis and, speaking about accessibility, added: “We all should start to push ourselves to include the deaf community and not just the deaf community – anything else.
“If I did it for 13 weeks, everybody can.”
Following her win, Ayling-Ellis was pictured sharing an emotional embrace with her mother and said she had supported her throughout her life.
“When I won it I was so shocked I couldn’t speak,” she said.
“And then, after, everyone came up to me and said ‘Well done’ and when my mum hugged me I just burst into tears. I just couldn’t stop crying.
“I was proper sobbing and I think it is because, at primary school and nursery school – it goes way, way, way back – where my education was difficult, and my mum had to fight a lot to make it accessible for my education right from the start. So I had that right from the beginning.
“Everything I do was constantly fighting, constantly a battle, to get what I needed. We just didn’t expect it would end up with me on Strictly Come Dancing and end up with me winning it. I can’t word how much that means because we have come far.”
Addressing her plans for the future, the actress said she will embark on the Strictly live tour with Pernice and then return to EastEnders.
During the live final – which went ahead without contestant AJ Odudu who pulled out on Friday due to an ankle injury – both couples performed three dances.
Both pairs ended up with matching scores from the judges, with both receiving a perfect 40 for their revisited favourite dances and their showdances.
However, the panel’s marks did not count towards the final result, which was solely down to the public vote.
An average of 11 million people watched the final, giving BBC One a 57.8% share in the overnight ratings.