March 12, 2010
I’ve never seen anyone take to the floor with more exuberance or sheer joie de vivre than Diana Morgan-Hill in this week’s final of Dancing On Wheels.
She doesn’t have any legs to dance with - she lost them 19 years ago in the prime of her life - but boy, did she dazzle partnering Olympic swimmer Mark Frost in the quickstep.
Ironically, as one of the judges pointed out, this was the first performance in the whole competition that brought the able-bodied audience to their feet. Diana and Mark flashed their arms and bodies in synchronicity, demonstrating a wonderful chemistry and warmth, and she was positively radiant.
Her performance was all the more poignant given that the BBC producers saw fit to bring Diana back to Wandsworth Common, the railway station where a misjudged sprint for a train changed her destiny in a split second. As she said herself of the time before that fateful day in 1990: “Another person...another life.”
No wonder Diana faltered a little in training in the days ahead - as Mark said: “When Di gets into one of her dark moments, we don’t take a lot in.” She often felt Brian Fortuna was patronising her, and is ruthlessly self-deprecating about the contrast between her 49-year-old broken body and that of her athletic young partner: “I’m the old bag, and he’s the stick insect!”
The couple have been the great tryers and improvers in this competition, compared to James, who lost his own legs at 19 and is still a young man, and his partner Caroline. The pair have been criticised throughout the contest for slacking off in training.
What James has over Diana, though, is natural technical brilliance, not to mention an awesome amount of upper body strength.
At the end of his final and very virile Jive, he leapt out of his wheelchair into a one-arm stand - just try following that.
No surprise, then, that this athletic chap who can literally make his wheelchair hop, skip and jump, is the contestant going to the European championships in Tel Aviv. But it is the look of rapture on Diana’s face as she raced across the dance floor which will stay with me for a long time.
As she put it herself: “Just learning to dance was the winning ticket.” All of us who have spent decades in a dance-free zone before coming back to the floor will know what she means. And there is no excuse for anyone with or without legs who longs to move to the music to put it off any longer.