Soap star Rose Ayling-Ellis has made history after winning Strictly Come Dancing 2021 with dance partner Giovanni Pernice.

The pair triumphed in the BBC One show on Saturday evening, defeating Great British Bake Off star John Whaite and his partner Johannes Radebe, the first all-male pairing in the show’s history.

Ayling-Ellis, who is in Eastenders, is the first deaf contestant and winner of the show, with disability equality charity Scope describing her participation in the competition as a “massive step forward” for disability representation.

She has used an interpreter during the series and her couple’s choice dance, which she repeated during the final, shared her experiences of deafness and featured a long period of silence.

Reacting to their win, Ayling-Ellis told Pernice: “I just want to say you’re so amazing, you pushed me to believe in myself more than I believed in myself.

“You’re an incredible teacher and a wonderful friend and we have gone through a lot, and I just want you to know you’ve always got a piece of my heart.”

Pernice expressed his joy saying: “Incredible. I have to say thank you to this beautiful young lady who made all my dreams come true.

“It took me seven years to get that thing and you became the best dancer, the best teammate I could have asked for, you are a dream so thank you for everything.”

After the win was announced, messages of congratulations rolled in for the pair:

Viewers also praised the entire final, with some describing it as the best one ever:

Some people were torn on who should win, with both couples not only performing brilliantly throughout the series but also being hailed as truly inspirational:

Meanwhile, many agreed that, for that exact reason, the real winner of the night was the whole show:

With many were sure to thank for BBC for providing such wholesome and inspiring TV content in what can safely be described as a rather... unsettling time for much of the UK:

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.

Ayling-Ellis and Pernice dazzled by performing a quickstep, their couple’s choice routine and a showdance.

After performing the Romeo and Juliet-inspired showdance to The Rose by Bette Middler, Ayling-Ellis said: “I’ve become more me than I’ve ever been because of Strictly.”

Both pairs had matching scores during the final, with both duos receiving a perfect 40 for their favourite dances and their showdances.

After their couple’s choice dance, Craig Revel Horwood told Ayling-Ellis her performance was “stunning, absolutely stunning”.

Disability equality charity Scope has now has called on more broadcasters to feature disabled people’s talents, saying there is still a long way to go to improve representation of disabled people on TV.

James Taylor, executive director of strategy at the charity, said: “For Rose Ayling-Ellis to have starred week after week on Saturday night prime time – and then lift the glitterball trophy – is a massive step forward.

“However, there is still a very long way to go until disabled people are featured fairly on screen. There are 14.1 million disabled people in the UK and their lives and stories are not being told.

“Seeing disabled people on TV will only help improve understanding and break down barriers. So, the fact that Rose’s journey has been beamed into living rooms week-in week-out is excellent progress and must be the start of real change.”

Mark Atkinson, chief executive at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, said Ayling-Ellis’s appearance on the show has given audiences “a beautiful insight into the deaf community and deaf culture”.

He added: “Her victory isn’t just a personal achievement, but also a victory for the deaf community. She has shown that deaf people can do anything, if society addresses those barriers and provides the right access and support.”

Susan Daniels, chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, said Ayling-Ellis’s victory will have a lasting effect.

She said: “It’s hard to overstate just what an impact Rose has made, not only on deaf children and young people, but also on the public’s understanding of deafness.

“Throughout her Strictly journey, she’s been a shining example to deaf and hearing people alike. This could be a new dawn for deaf children and young people everywhere because it’s clear for all to see that with the right support and the will to succeed, they can aim for the stars.

“Strictly may have come to an end, but we sincerely hope that this surge of interest in deafness and the desire to engage with deaf people continues long into the future.”

Congratulations Rose and Giovanni!

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