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John Whaite and Johannes Radebe’s Strictly impact is still being felt

Attitude's Gamechanger Award winners waltzed into Strictly history when they became the first male partnership on the BBC’s hit show.

By Tom Stichbury

Johannes Radebe and John Whaite
Johannes Radebe wears tank top by Sunspel, and John Whaite wears tank top by Rufskin and necklace by Pawnshop (Image: Dean Ryan McDaid/Attitude)

It was 10, 10, 10, 10s across the board when BBC bosses announced that Great British Bake Off favourite John Whaite would partner Johannes Radebe in Strictly Come Dancing last year. Making TV history as the UK show’s first male partnership, it marked a much-needed (or, ahem, kneaded) shift in the narrative.

For all its razzle-dazzle and camp-as-tits concoction of confetti, glitter, and Craig Revel Horwood’s drawn-out “Dahlings”, up until this point the series had never really taken its — apologies in advance — cha-cha-chances to truly shine a spotlight on LGBTQ+ folk. Sure, boxer Nicola Adams blazed the trail when she formed one half of Strictly’s cherry-popping same-sex couplings in 2020. However, the casting didn’t land the knockout blow for representation it should have when, no fault of Nicola’s, of course, she was forced to retire from the competition early after her pro partner Katya Jones tested positive for Covid.

Hitting their marks, John and Johannes brought Strictly strutting into the 21st century. The primetime jewel in the Beeb’s crown gleamed even brighter than usual as viewers were served the frankly joyous sight of two — both gay — men dancing together, be it gliding along the dancefloor for a sweeping American Smooth, or going groin-to-groin in a sexy Argentine Tango. Heck, I even enjoyed their rumba — and I bloody hate the rumba. Just a shame it took ol’ Auntie 19 seasons to deliver the gift of the gays. Sidenote: John set a new standard for wearing the tightest-possible trousers. Then again, this man loves to parade his buns.

Ahead of the final, where they lost out to former EastEnders star Rose Ayling-Ellis, I had the pleasure of interviewing the pair for Attitude’s December 2021 issue. They appeared on the front cover together. The temperature in the London warehouse we were shooting in was chilly, and the scandal-sniffing journo in me couldn’t help but wonder if relations between John and Johannes might be frostier than the warmth on display in the show’s almost eye-twitchingly joyous VTs. Nope, their bond ran deeper than Craig’s fake tan.

It was lost on neither how monumental their casting was. “I knew that it was an important thing to do, that it was hopefully going to change the way TV is, change the way children feel when they watch TV — it’s massive — but I was expecting to get a lot of hate, like [people] sliding into the DMs and saying, ‘You’re disgusting’,” John said, adding that he initially requested a “straight partner because I [believed] that, that would be the only way it would be accepted.” Johannes had his reservations, too, having felt the homophobic heat in the wake of his 2019 routine with fellow professional Graziano di Prima, which sparked nearly 200 complaints to Ofcom from the nation’s population of pearl-clutchers. But he refused to give into the fear, realising there were people who “would love to see it more than what I’m feeling”.

Johannes Radebe and John Whaite
Johannes Radebe wears tank top by Sunspel, and John Whaite wears tank top by Rufskin and necklace by Pawnshop (Image: Dean Ryan McDaid/Attitude)

For Johannes, who grew up in South Africa, it also signalled an opportunity to push the boundaries not only with regards to sexuality but race. “I’ve always said, ‘I’m Black and gay and you can’t separate the two.’ I belong and this is how every Black child [should] be brought up in their homes. I’m happy with the United Kingdom. I’m happy to be living in this country because I feel like it’s a very progressive society. Not to say that it’s perfect here. We are representing, and I think this is the bit that we can do towards the fight,” he stressed at the time. 

John chipped in: “One of the most heartbreaking things that I read was about our partnership and [how] if we were in America… the outcry wouldn’t be because we were a gay couple, it’d be because you were Black, and I was white. We’re representing not only for our communities, [but] our personal cultures as well, and how when we collide beautiful things happen.”

And beautiful things have happened. Look no further than the latest run of Strictly, which features not one, but two same-sex duos: comedian Jayde Adams and Karen Hauer, and radio host Richie Anderson and Giovanni Pernice. Progress at its most FAB-U-LOUS.

John and Johannes may not have lifted the Glitterball trophy, but we hope the slightly-less-sparkly Attitude Gamechanger Award will take pride of place on their mantlepiece. Now they just need to figure out how to split it in two… 

Check out John and Johannes’ acceptance speech from the 2022 Virgin Atlantic Attitude Awards below:

Photography Dean Ryan McDaid Fashion director Joseph Kocharian

The Attitude Awards issue is out now

Josh Cavallo on the cover of the Attitude Awards Issue, October 2022
Josh Cavallo wears full look, by Sandro, ring, stylist’s archive, cross necklace, Josh’s own, silver necklace, stylist’s own (Photography: Sam Wong)