1 December 2017Jonnie Peacock: I wanted people to see me on Strictly Come Dancing and question what an amputee could achieve
The steady stream of selfie requests whenever he walks down the street tell their own tale - Jonnie Peacock is no longer just an athlete, he is a celebrity.
Already one of the the country’s most recognisable Paralympians after his triumphs at London 2012 and Rio 2016, Peacock’s profile was catapulted beyond the small enclave of athletics and into the showbiz pages the moment he signed up to appear on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing a couple of months ago.
Having become the first disabled person to appear on the dancing programme - and exceeded his own expectations by surviving until the eighth week of the show - he has cemented his recognisable status in households up and down the country. Families who have no inclination to watch a 100m race now know who Peacock is.
If he was not already a figurehead for amputees in Britain, he certainly is now.
“Getting the opportunity to be the first disabled person to take part in the show was too big an opportunity to turn down,” he says.
“There was a lot I really wanted to push on that front. I wanted to go out there, show a blade one week and show kids that it can be cool.
“But I also wanted to put a pair of trousers on and, to people who perhaps don’t know me, make them question which person was the disabled one.
“Question what an amputee could achieve. Could they lift? Could they do a Viennese Waltz? It’s a different audience to the one that watches athletics so I wanted to change perceptions with that.”
Lasting longer on the show than the likes of TV presenter Ruth Langsford, comedian Brian Conley and singer Aston Merrygold, he certainly did that.
“It’s one of those opportunities that not many people get to do,” he says. “They don’t ask that many people in the world, so to get the opportunity to go on a show like that is insane.
“I just wanted to have fun, learn a new skill and push myself. When you try and do something that is out of your comfort zone you learn a lot about yourself, too. Having to do something that I don’t even like doing sober, but having to do it in front of millions of people, you really learn.”
Continuing his move into prime time royalty, Peacock was named on the 12-person shortlist for BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award earlier this week in recognition of his world T44 100m title won at London 2017.
Not since Tanni Grey-Thompson in 2000 has a para-athlete made it into the top three, but Peacock gives short shrift to the idea of winning the award.
“No. There are some incredible names there,” he says. “For me I would probably vote for either Chris Froome or Lewis Hamilton, just because of their history.
“What Anthony Joshua has done is incredible, but I think he’s at the start of his journey. He’ll probably win it for a long time coming.
“To be nominated is an incredible achievement so I’m very happy about that.
“There’s a lot of hard work that I’ve put in over the past few years and my event is incredibly competitive so to stay there and keep winning doesn’t get any easier.
“It’s got a lot harder since 2012 and we’ve had to change a lot and risk a lot - particularly in 2016 [when he moved coach to Dan Pfaff]. It’s really good to see it pay off.”
With his new dancing skills onboard, Peacock now has the luxury of a first winter in his adult life not spent grinding his body to breaking point having taken the decision to treat 2018 as an off-season.
“It’s a down year for me so usually at this time of year I’d be training six times a week, but I’m just going to do two or three instead,” he says. “I just wanted to take a year out for myself.
“I’d been doing seven years of the sport full on and making sacrifices. I just wanted a year for me where I can go and see my family a lot more, see my friends, go on a night out.
“The sport is still there, it just doesn’t take priority this year.”
In the absence of a gruelling training programme, Peacock’s plans are intentionally hazy. The Strictly Come Dancing tour take places throughout January and February, he would like to do more TV work and he has even joked about turning up to take part in a random decathlon somewhere in the UK.
Having taken the opportunity of changing perceptions with his dancing, he remains intent on using his status to encourage more disabled people into sport, starting with Winter Wonderwheels this Sunday. That event will see Peacock join thousands of people circling Dorney Lake in Windsor around either a 1km, 5km or 10km course - he has opted for the shortest distance, insisting “I’m a sprinter!”.
“We’re trying to get disabled people active again because there’s been a decline in disabled people taking part in sport, which isn’t good,” he says.
“A lot of it comes down to people not believing there is something out there for them, but events like this are things where every single person can come and get involved.
“There are no rules about how to get round the course so it really is open to everyone.
“I guarantee if anyone reading this is thinking ‘maybe or maybe not’ - they will regret not turning. They won’t regret turning up.”
npower is excited to be partnering with Winter Wonderwheels following the success of the Superhero Tri, powered by npower, last summer. Once again Jonnie Peacock is captain of #teamnpower – and will be racing his team to victory on 3rd December. Sign up at www.superheroseries.co.uk