Jayne Torvill "I remember..."

Olympic gold medallist Jayne Torvill tells Elizabeth Adlam about her career as an an ice skater.

…my parents had to work hard

My dad George went off early in the mornings to work for Raleigh Bicycles. Mum [Betty] gave me my tea then left for a late shift as a machinist. Dad was home by then, so I had the evenings with him, but by the time Mum got in at 10pm, I’d usually be in bed. Friday nights were special though: Mum got home a bit earlier and I was allowed to stay up. She always brought me a chocolate bar.

 

…PESTERING MY PARENTS TO GO TO ICE CUBS

When I was almost nine [in 1966], my teacher started taking some of us to the local ice rink after school on a Friday. By the second visit, I was hooked. The skating coach maybe saw something in me and said, “Why don’t you ask your parents if you can join Ice Cubs [a skating group]?” So I kept on and on at them and they let me go. This meant I was skating Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, which was really exciting. I loved it.

 

…ALWAYS ASKING FOR THE WHITE BOOTS

My feet were too small to fit most of the ones for hire at the rink—which were brown—until the man behind the counter produced these special white ones. Later, my parents bought me my own pair, second-hand at first.

 

…TEAMING UP WITH CHRISTOPHER DEAN AGED 17

We tried out together at 6am. It was always worth the effort to start early to have space on the rink and not have lots of people staring at us—we’re both quite reserved. I think from the first moment we thought we wanted to be partners, but we didn’t dare say it in case we jinxed it. I’d felt wrong skating alone, but I suddenly felt skating could be perfect again.

 

…CHRIS, THE POLICE CADET

Though we took it very seriously, skating was still a hobby for us. We were both working nine-to-five, me in insurance and Chris in the police. We trained on Monday and Thursday mornings. Then our coach said we needed to skate every day—the repetition was important. This was a wake-up call…realising the total dedication required if we were really serious.

 

…BECOMING VERY AWARE OF MY BODY—IN A GOOD WAY

We gave up our jobs in 1980 to train at a top centre near Munich. [They were sponsored by Nottingham City Council]. We lived in what was like a boarding school, training for up to six hours a day. The food was very calorie-controlled. Although we always had puddings, they were mainly yogurts—no cakes and sweets. But I took great pride in keeping my body in top form. It gave me confidence and helped
to protect against slips and falls.

 

BOLÉRO

By 1984, we’d qualified for the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, but we needed a backing track. We’d always gone for pieces from the musicals, but it started and ended with a fast section, with a slow bit in the middle, and we wanted to get away from that. Courtney Jones, one of our British judges who also designed our costumes, said, “What about starting with something slow that builds to a crescendo, like Boléro?” We’d used it for warming up. Suddenly, we were sure: this was it.

The problem was that Boléro runs for about 16 minutes and we had just four for our free dance. We were allowed to overrun by ten seconds, but our arranger could only get the music down to four minutes 20. However, they don’t start the stopwatch until your blade touches the ice, so that’s why we were kneeling for the first 18 seconds of the routine!

 

…FROM BEING KNOWN IN THE SKATING WORLD TO THE WHOLE WORLD

Though the media exposure was very different from today—there were no Hello! and OK! magazines—we still felt the attention. I can’t imagine what it must be like for young athletes now. We were very conscious of trying to keep focused.

But we turned professional soon after. It was great to be able to earn money from our skating!

 

…MY HUSBAND CAME WITH OUR SOUND EQUIPMENT

We were on tour in the US in the late 1980s and the sound company we rented our stuff from supplied an engineer to make sure it was put up properly. Phil [Christensen] and I stayed in touch, and not long after that he came over to Britain to do a tour with Phil Collins. It kind of went from there. Because he met me in the skating situation, he’s always understood this amazing relationship I have with Chris. It’s hard if you’re on the outside of all that.

We have two children—Kieran, 11, and Jessica, seven. As they’ve got older they’ve realised what mummy does—and did—and they’re quietly proud of me. They would be into skating, but we live in East Sussex, about an hour and a half from the nearest rink. Jessica likes her gymnastics, though.

 

…TOO MANY TEDDIES

I’d collected hundreds over the years—they’d be thrown onto the ice or given to me. I gave them to James House, a local charity for terminally ill children. It was later absorbed by Demelza Hospice, of which I’m now patron.

 

…A PHONE CALL OUT OF THE BLUE FROM ITV IN 2004

They were offering me and Chris Dancing on Ice [the pair had retired from all skating in 1998, after making a comeback in 1994, winning bronze at the Winter Olympics in Norway] At first we thought, Mmm, not sure. It’s a lot easier to teach someone to dance because they can walk in the first place. But we thought, It’s going to be a long process to get them to stand up on ice and learn to skate. However, we learned how to make it more efficient. When it finishes, we’ll go out with a bang. But no more retiring.

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