HOW WE MET

JAYNE TORVILL AND CHRISTOPHER DEAN
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Jayne Torvill, who is 37, grew up near Nottingham. She started skating when she was nine, and has been skating with Christopher Dean since she was 16. She lives with her husband, an American sound engineer, in homes in London and Sussex.

Christopher Dean, 37, also grew up near Nottingham. He has been skating since he was 10. He and Jayne Torvill won a gold medal at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. He lives in Buckinghamshire with his second wife, the skater Jill Trenary

JAYNE TORVILL: Nothing stands out about our first meeting. Although we didn't know each other, we were both going to Nottingham Ice Rink a couple of times a week, and having lessons. I remember him as a boy with incredible blond hair. The only incident which sticks in my mind was when he was skating near the barrier: he fell over and broke his leg. He must have been 12, and I was 13. What really surprised me was seeing him later in the day, with his leg in a cast. He'd come back to the rink, because he wanted to have a look at the scene of the crime. In the 20 years that we've been skating together, Chris has had more accidents than I have.

Until we became partners, the only time we had danced together before was in something called Drawn Part-ners. These events, for skaters who were training, were held on Thursday evenings, before the ice rink was open to members of the public. Judges came into the rink and all the names of individual skaters went into a hat; you could find yourself dancing with anyone. We were paired together twice, but it never occurred to us that this was something we might do seriously.

When I was 12, Michael Hutchinson became my first partner; Michael was four years older than me. When he was 18, he already had an office job and a girlfriend. One day he said he was planning to give up skating with me, so we stopped training so hard. When we entered the next Senior Pairs competition, we didn't skate very well. It was a sign that the partnership was as good as over. It just happened that Chris and I were without partners at exactly the same time.

By then, we were both 16. I had a job with the Norwich Union Insurance Company and Chris was training to be a policeman, but skating was a major part of our lives. Neither of us knew exactly how we were put together, but when Janet Sawbridge, Chris's teacher, said, "How would you like to skate with Christopher Dean?" I shrug-ged and said, "Why not? I'll give it a try." Inside, I was excited by the idea.

When we met for a trial session to see if we could be partners, we didn't want anyone watching us. Ice-skating is a small world, full of gossipy people, who like to know everyone's business. The last thing Chris or I needed was other people talking about the two of us. We agreed to meet at 6am, on a Thursday, when we knew we would have the ice to ourselves.

Janet made us hold each other in a dance position, bodies pressed to- gether, probably to find out if we were inhibited about touching each other. As we'd both had partners before, that didn't bother either of us, but we were painfully shy about everything else and hardly dared look at each other. For the next hour-and-a-half, we did basic dance steps. Chris is 10in taller than me, so Janet explained how if I raised my free leg higher, I could compensate for the height difference. We danced together in the dance interval that evening, which was like a public statement. A few days later, Janet asked me, "Do you think you'll stay together?" We looked at each other, um'd and ah'd, and said that we'd give it another week.

Since then, we've lost count of the mornings we've had to get up at 5am so that we can have free ice time. Chris is always brighter than I am in the mornings. Often, we don't even say good morning to each other.

Chris and I have built our partnership on trust. I know that the moves we do are safe and that he won't drop me. He's always been the creative, energetic one. I'm slower to take it all in. He also worries much more than I do . I think it's to do with him always wanting to be the best at whatever he does.

We're close friends as well as partners. It upset me a lot when he was married to his first wife, because all the time we were skating together, I knew that he wasn't happy, and our work- was suffering. Isabelle and I didn't get on, and Chris and I would argue on and off the ice. Emotionally, I had to take one step back and not interfere. Now he's married to Jill, it's completely different; the four of us get on well. He's so obviously happy.

From our first practice session together, Chris and I have always had this vague arrangement that we'll give it a bit longer. If Phil and I decide to start a family, it would change the way we work, but I'm not ready for that yet. So it's like it's always been - another month, another year - then we'll see.

CHRISTOPHER DEAN: When Jayne and I did the trial session 20 years ago, I was desperate for a partner, because I wanted to dance again in competitions. I remember that dancing with Jayne didn't feel right, but it didn't feel wrong. It just felt different from dancing with my previous partner. Afterwards, we decided to give it a go for a while.

In 1976 Janet put us forward for selection in two European competitions - Oberstdorf, south Germany, and St Gervais, in France. That trip was our baptism of fire. The National Skating Association gave us our tickets and both of us took days off from work, drew out our pocket money, and hoped it would be enough for the two weeks we'd be away. We arrived in Zurich at night, but the train to Oberstdorf was leaving the following morning. We had nowhere to stay, so we just sat in the airport lounge and dozed. I'm a terrible worry wart, so, on our journey next morning, I couldn't sit still because I was convinced we were in the wrong part of the train, which was about to divide. I kept saying to Jayne that we weren't going to Oberstdorf at all. Because the two of us were hardly more than kids, we had to rely on each other.

It was inevitable that we'd become best friends: we've been through so much together. When we started, Jayne and I never had everything on a plate - we've always somehow had to find time to make the most of practise sessions. It didn't matter how tired we were; we made each other work: that was what was important to us.

In the 1979 British championships, we received our first score of six, and took part in competitions - the Europeans and the Worlds. In the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, we came fifth. In August that year we knew we were at a turning point. We couldn't have the time we needed to practice because we had to work, but as we had no sponsors, it was the only way we could afford to skate. We realised that if we wanted to train properly, we'd have to risk everything and give up work. Nottingham City Council gave us a grant of pounds 42,000 over three years to help us "go for gold" at the Olympics. It made all the difference to our lives. With the money, Jayne and I opened a joint bank account where every penny went on skating and had to be accounted for.

I've had more injuries than Jayne, but neither of us is afraid of complicated moves because we have such trust in each other. Sometimes, if it's a difficult bit of choreography which is new, we'll try it out in a room first, before we do it on the ice. Waiting to skate, before a performance, we tend to pace around one another, like lions. We don't talk to each other much.

People have always seen us as a fairy-tale couple. We were thrown together at a time when teenagers who were more outgoing might have started an affair. But we were both focused totally on our skating, and shy, not to say prudish. True, we were attracted to each other. But there was never anything physical between us that could have spoiled our friendship and our skating relationship.

The ice-rink is our canvas, just like the screen or the stage is a canvas for actors and ballet dancers. If people want to believe that ours is some great physical passion, that's fine. It means that what we're trying to get across in some of our routines has worked. Jayne is her own woman and very much Phil's wife, and I'm Jill's husband. But if the audience want to believe that it's Christopher Dean and Jayne Torvill who are the fairy-tale couple, we're happy for them. We know it's only make-believe. !

Comments