Love, Loss & a Life on Ice

Torvill and Dean have had their fair share of highs and lows. But they’re as full of surprises as ever, finds Richard Barber
When Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean threw themselves onto the ice at the climax of their Boléro routine at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, the judges could find no faults, all nine of them awarding the British couple the maximum score of 6.0 for artistic impression. Some 24 million British television viewers could only watch at home with a mixture of awe and amazement.

Three decades later, Jayne and Chris have written a new autobiography. ‘We haven’t written a book for 20 years,’ says 57-year-old Jayne, ‘and we feel that a lot has happened in that time, not least the unexpected success of Dancing On Ice. So we thought we should fill in some of the gaps. We’ve also talked a bit about our personal lives, which we feel more comfortable about at this age and stage.’

The world’s most celebrated ice skaters finally retired in 1998 after a tour in Canada. ‘We did it quietly. We deliberately didn’t want there to be any fanfare. But it was quite an emotional time, because suddenly there was a big void opening up in front of us. My ambition at that point was to start a family with my husband, Phil [Christensen]. Chris also wanted kids.’

They met with mixed fortunes. Jayne suffered an ectopic pregnancy and then failed to conceive again despite a number of attempts via IVF. In the end, she and Phil adopted a boy, Kieran, who’s now 12, and a girl, eight-year-old Jessica.

‘I found it quite tricky writing about all of that,’ she says now, ‘just as I did when I talked about it in public for the first time when Chris and I were interviewed by Piers Morgan. I did get a little bit teary, but then, as any parent will understand, you can’t help but feel very protective about your own kids.

‘I couldn’t love my two more if I’d actually given birth to them. Part of accepting not being able to conceive naturally is the realisation that I wouldn’t ever have known these two people.’

By 2005, their private lives more or less on track, Jayne and Chris were ready to embark on a new professional chapter. ‘When we first took the phone call asking us if we’d be interested in teaching celebrities how to skate on television, I think it’s fair Torvill and Dean have had their fair share of highs and lows. But they’re as full of surprises as ever, finds Richard Barber w love, loss & a life on ice to say we didn’t take it all that seriously,’ she says. ‘From our experience, we knew that you have to start very young and it takes many, many years just to perfect the basic movements. Admittedly, we got more interested as we had a series of talks with the producers, but even then we thought at best it would be no more than a one-off.’


In the event, Dancing On Ice debuted in January 2006 and only came to an end nine series later in March of this year, with an ‘all star’ contest won by actor and singer Ray Quinn. The success of the show merely consolidated Jayne and Chris’s fame.

Now, in addition to the new book, entitled simply Our Life On Ice, there is to be a 15-date theatre tour during which they will talk about the extraordinary journey that took them from their native Nottingham to a fixed place in the public consciousness. ‘This will be a new challenge,’ says Jayne, ‘but we’re looking forward to it. It will be an opportunity to spend an evening with people who have supported us down the years.’

They’re currently working on a threepart documentary which will air on ITV in the new year. Details are closely guarded, but it will revolve around returning to Nottingham and trying to teach a group of disadvantaged locals how to skate.

And then? ‘We have a couple of ideas we’d like to pursue,’ says Jayne, ‘but I think I’m going to quite enjoy not spending January and February in the studios at Elstree. And you’re never alone, never bored when you’ve got children to look after.’

Meanwhile, the four decades in which Christopher Dean has skated around the world have been something of a switchback. ‘The first time we got any recognition,’ recalls 56-year-old Chris, ‘was when the local Nottingham Post interviewed me ahead of a championship. I was in the police force at the time, so I can’t have been more than 19. My work colleagues read it and there was a certain amount of leg-pulling. “Oh, you do a bit of skating, do you?” That sort of thing.

‘All that began to change when they started seeing me on TV . The real breakthrough, though, came when I was 25 with the Olympics, which were seen by a global audience. We returned to Nottingham and were driven round the city in an open-top bus.’ Their immortality was assured.

But nothing comes for nothing, and success on that scale inevitably has a price attached to it. The obvious casualties have been Chris’s two failed marriages. The first, to French Canadian world champion skater Isabelle Duchesnay in 1991, ended in divorce after two years.

In 1994, he married American figure skater Jill Trenary, the mother of his two teenage sons, Jack and Sam; the family home is in Colorado. The couple divorced in 2010. By January 2011, Chris had confirmed he was in a relationship with Karen Barber, 53, a former European bronze medallist and, subsequently, a judge and coach on Dancing On Ice.

Torvill-Nov14-03-590Left: Jayne with her first skating trophies Right: Christopher grew up with a strong work ethic

‘Since Karen and I got together,’ says Chris, ‘people are always intrigued to know if anything went on before. After all, we’ve known each other for about 40 years, since we were kids, and have spent quite a bit of time together. But we simply never looked at each other like that.

‘Then, about four years ago, it just happened – we found each other. And I’m pleased to say we’re both very happy. We’ve lived similar lives, we come from similar backgrounds and we have similar sensibilities, all of which make up the foundation of our relationship. One of the many things that draws us together is laughter. Nobody makes me laugh like Karen.’

What does Chris think went wrong in his previous relationships? ‘Looking back now, I think it’s the time spent apart from both of my wives that helps to explain why the marriages failed. I needed to make a living, but it might have been different if they hadn’t lived in America.

‘The work ethic is something I grew up with. My father was an electrician who went to work in the mines seven days a week. I left school and a weekand- a-half later I was a police cadet. To be honest, I feel a bit lost when I’m not working.’

Talking of which, following the theatre tour and the documentary, the diary for next year is looking rather blank. Does he mind? ‘In a word, yes. But I do have some ideas I’m working on.

‘I’ve always thought an ice rink is like a microcosm of the world with all its players and passions and politics. It’s all there. So it would make a good basis for a musical.’ It could also, he thinks, form an unusual setting for a sitcom. ‘There are a lot of interesting characters in that world, a lot of humour.’

He has always been a huge fan of Coronation Street and would dearly have loved to be cast as a character in it. ‘In my mind, I’d have been the guy who owned the gym, but now they’ve got someone else playing that part. So it’s back to the drawing board. I’m determined to make at least one of these projects become a reality. Nothing fills me with more horror,’ he says, ‘than the prospect of staring into emptiness.’

Our Life On Ice, by Torvill and Dean, is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £20. 
In Conversation With Torvill & Dean is at theatres across the UK from 26 November to 11 December: