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LAUREN WALTZES A WINNER AS STRICTLY KICKS OFF

Peterborough’s Paralympian waltzes her way into Strictly and ESP’s Sarah Tempest is glued to the TV to keep an eye on her progress…

Pile up the sequins, polish up the glitter ball and turn up the spray tan machine to ‘TOWIE creosote maximum’; autumn’s well and truly here so it’s time, once again, to take to the dance floor as BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing is back for series 16. And, once again, Peterborough is well represented as local hero Paralympian Lauren Steadman is taking on the cha cha challenge.

Whilst other athletes will be taking a well earned few weeks off, elite Paratriathlete Lauren, formerly from Sawtry, flew home from the World Championships a double world champion and changed straight from her trainers into her dancing shoes to deliver an impressive waltz. “I have no [more] competitions until April”, she says “so until then, it’s Strictly all the way!”

Missing her lower right arm from birth, Peterborough born Lauren’s disability has always pushed her to be the best she can be and she relishes overcoming obstacles. It’s this determination that has led to her representing Team GP at 3 Paralympics to date, the first time being when she was just 15 years old, and will, surely, lead to nothing less than a podium finish in this year’s Strictly. “I have looked at some of the dances and seen the different styles and the moves,” she says, “and I think the biggest challenge will be getting around certain moves with my arm. I’m not worried about it but I know we’re going to have to think outside the box and perhaps do things differently. But we’ll get around it!” she says confidently.

With the past successes of fellow local heroes Olympic gymnast Louis Smith and singer Aston Merrygold, not to mention Lance Corporal Cassidy Little in The People’s Strictly, Lauren must surely be feeling the pressure of Peterborough’s expectation, but how far does she think she can go in this year’s competition? “Definitely when I start things I’m in it to be the best that I can be. Whether that takes me all the way to the end, I hope it does, I wouldn’t see the point in coming in and not trying to finish but that is just my attitude. If not, I’d just love to get my dancing to the point where I’m proud of myself, I’ve learnt a new skill, gained a new confidence in an area that I didn’t have before , then I’ll be chuffed.”

Having kicked off with a waltz to Des’ree’s ‘I’m Kissing You’ looking every bit the romantic princess, Lauren’s particularly excited about the prospect of more glamorous Strictly makeovers. “I’m pretty sporty so it’s nice to not be in trainers, sweaty hair, no make-up, and sports kit for once!

“I just love the fact that with Strictly, the whole country gets behind you and it’s more of a family and a community. It’s been my favourite TV show since I was a little girl. Every Saturday night I’d sit down with Mum and Dad with our dinner and watch it and I always thought ‘wow’. I suppose every little girl says ‘I wish I could dance like that’ so that sparked it and then it actually became something that might be possible.”

As well as the Paralympian, this year’s Strictly line up is as typically eclectic as we’ve come to expect with a Pussycat Doll, a Steps singer, a newsreader, a comedian, a cricketer, a style guru, actors, a boyband member and a doctor, alongside a few less recognisable names. But as to who will be lifting the famous Glitter Ball this Christmas, it’s anyone’s guess although Lauren, partnered with squeaky clean pro dancer AJ, must surely be in with a great chance. But, no matter whether she jives to Blackpool, salsas into the final or Foxtrots off in the second week, the only thing for sure is that Lauren will give it her all and do us proud. And we’ll be behind her all the way.

Photos: Portraits Ray Burmiston, series shots Guy Levy/BBC

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