Road to success: In his new biography with Jayne Torvill, Christopher Dean reveals how his parents’ split when he was six years old, affected his life
As the best-loved, most famous skating partnership ever to grace a British ice rink, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean are part of the national fabric.
The perfect scores for that astonishing Bolero routine in the Winter Olympics of 1984 signalled a height of artistic achievement that may never be matched.
Their uncanny togetherness on skates led to endless speculation about the pair. Were they boyfriend and girlfriend?
But as Christopher Dean reveals in their delightful new biography, the spur to his success was the collapse of a very different relationship – the sudden and distressing disappearance of his mother, and how that drove a little boy to greatness…
Until I was six, I was fairly happy. Growing up in Calverton, a small mining village on the outskirts of Nottingham, we never had any money, but I was always well-fed and got lots of fresh air and freedom.
I lived with my parents, Colin and Mavis, on an estate that had been built by the council to house miners and their families.
Home was a flat – a kind of maisonette, really. It sounds quite posh but I promise you it wasn’t. We had lino instead of carpets and all of the furniture was either second-hand or on its last legs.
I had one bath a week (a fact my children find stomach-churning), except in the summer when I had a stand-up strip-wash – the weather being far too hot to light a fire – and we had no immersion heater.
But then things started to go downhill. I don’t often talk about this part of my life. In some ways it draws a bit of a blank, and I only remember certain parts. A psychologist would probably tell me that I block out the memories, and perhaps I do.
But on the few occasions that I have discussed what happened with my parents I’m always asked if I saw it coming. I can say in all honestly that I had no idea.
When I wasn’t at school I was playing outside, and when I wasn’t outside I was in my bedroom reading comic books or playing with my Corgi cars.
I was totally oblivious to anything going on outside my bubble. Then, one day, my mum and dad took me to see some friends of theirs. Or at least I always thought they were friends.
When we arrived at their house I was told to sit down in the living room. Soon after, I remember an almighty row ensuing. All four of them seemed to be shouting across the room at each other and I was sitting in the middle. Even at six years old I understood what had been going on.
Doomed marriage: Christopher Dean’s parents Colin and Mavis on their wedding day, with his aunt and uncle
Apparently my dad had been having an affair with the woman, Betty, and my mum and Betty’s husband must have found out. This was obviously the aftermath. Sometime after that, my mum took me to see some friends of hers. I didn’t think anything of this; it was just a trip out. Then all of a sudden she sat me down: ‘Christopher, I’m afraid I’m going away,’ she said.
There was no reason or explanation given, although I knew it must have had something to do with the row at Betty’s house.
I asked her why but she just deflected the question. Then I started to cry. I pleaded with her not to go but she didn’t say a thing. No answer. I remember holding her hand as we walked home, still crying and pleading with her not to go.
After about a week, with nothing further having been said, my fears had all but disappeared. Children tend to live in the moment, and I was no different. Then, one morning, I went downstairs to find my mum standing by the front door with a suitcase. I don’t remember her saying goodbye. One minute she was there, and the next, gone.
Later on the same day, Betty, my new stepmother, arrived with a suitcase. Again, there were no explanations given, and no opportunity to ask questions. It seemed that I just had to get used to the idea.
I remember looking at my dad, hoping he’d sit me down and explain, but he never did. I didn’t know of any other divorced or separated parents, so for a long time we were like the ‘black sheep’ of the estate; there was lots of staring and whispering. Nothing was said out loud, of course. It was very much a taboo subject. My mother had just seemed to disappear and I was never once given any news as to her whereabouts or wellbeing. She was never far away from my thoughts, though.
A couple of years later, on my way back from school, I saw her walking into a flat above the local hairdresser’s. It was a strange moment seeing her after such a long time.
I didn’t know for sure that my father and Betty would have had a problem with me seeing my mum again; but I always assumed that because it was never mentioned, it was off limits.
It turned out she’d moved back into the village. I was excited; relieved even, yet scared of the trouble it might cause at home. That was the overriding thought: What would Dad and Betty say?
For a time, my mum’s return to Calverton remained my secret. I didn’t tell anybody I’d seen her. I just remember slowing down as I passed her flat each day, hoping to get a glimpse of her. And I did some days, but usually just the top of her head.
After a while we did make contact, although I forget how and why. I remember being allowed to go and stay with her once or twice. Again, nothing was said from either side. I was simply delivered to her.
Although Christopher Dean, pictured with his skating partner in the 80s, struggled with his stepmother Betty, he thanks her for introducing him to skating
Then, as quickly as it had started, it all came to a halt and I was no longer allowed to go.
I’ve no idea why or from where the order came; all I know is that Mum and I were to go back to being strangers again.
It wasn’t until the mid-1990s I started seeing my mum again on anything like a regular basis: more than 30 years after she first left home.
She used to come and watch me skate back in our amateur days, but only very rarely, and I was never made aware of it at the time. In fact, it was Jayne’s job to make sure I didn’t find out. It would have been too much of a distraction. I know it took a lot for her to come and see me in those days, as we weren’t actually in contact with each other then.
After she’d seen me skate, that was it, she’d be off – there was no popping backstage afterwards for a chat. My dad and Betty often attended competitions, so it would have been too dangerous.
Much later, when we were making Dancing On Ice, Mum used to come to the studio sometimes and watch. Occasionally I’d look up to where she was sitting and, regardless of what was happening on the ice, she’d always have her gaze fixed on me, as though she was frightened of losing sight of me.
These days my mum and I get along fine. She’s well into her eighties now and I think would sometimes like to talk about what happened, try to offer closure, perhaps. But if I’m honest it’s not something I crave.
For a start, my dad is no longer with us, and I suppose I’m afraid that if we start going into detail I may learn things about him that might taint my memory of him.
In addition to this, I’d only ever get one side of the story.
What would be the point? I don’t hate my dad for having an affair, the same as I don’t hate my mum for leaving me. I prefer to look forward rather than back.
Losing my mum and being an only child definitely went some way to making me who I am today.
I’ve always been very independent and emotionally quite self-reliant. Yes, I’m driven, and if I get it in my head to do something I’ll always give it my best shot. But everything I do, I do with consideration.
My relationship with Betty was naturally quite difficult at times. I always felt like I had to go out of my way to please
I was walking on eggshells a lot of the time, never really knowing what her mood was going to be. Anything could set her off – the slightest thing. You had to be very careful.
The one thing I’ll always be grateful to Betty for is introducing me to ice skating. She’d talked my dad into buying me my first pair of skates. That must have been a huge outlay for them at the time, but it was quite a masterstroke.
She’d skated in her teens and figured that as I was so active I might enjoy it. Betty was also keen for me to take up ice dancing, as she and my dad were always very fond of ballroom dancing.
The first time I skated at Nottingham Ice Stadium when I was ten, I probably fell over around a hundred times. But Dad and Betty could see how much I’d enjoyed it; in fact, it probably gave them as much pleasure as it did me. They started taking me every Saturday.
My dad was my constant in life, he was my hero. The one person I knew who would always be there for me. That alone was monumentally important after my mum left.
Dad and I never had an especially deep relationship, but that wasn’t exclusive to me. If anything it was a generational thing. He was the strong, silent type – a typical miner. We never hugged or said that we loved each other, but I knew he did.
Golden moment: Chris and Jayne skating to Ravel’s Bolero at the 1984 Winter Olympics
With him it was a quick handshake, a ruffle of the hair and a ‘Well done, Buster’. That was enough for me, though.
He didn’t want much out of life: a packet of cigarettes and a few beers once or twice a week – and to be able to work on his car on a Sunday.
He was just a very normal, decent, hard-working man. I remember watching him hand his wage packet in to Betty as soon as he got it. ‘There you are, that’ll keep us going for a bit,’ he’d say.
He loved cars, but could never afford anything decent. He used to choose them by rust: how much it had and where it was. He would have loved a new car, and I’d have loved to be able to buy him one. Unfortunately, he died before I could afford to. He was only 59.
With my own children it’s very, very different.
I can’t help hugging them. I can’t imagine not doing that; not being connected to them.
Is that a result of what happened to me as a child? I don’t think so. I’m not compensating for anything by being tactile. They’re my children and I love them very deeply. I need to have that bond.
I’m very much a ‘that’s just the way it is’ kind of person. I don’t let things fester and tend to just get on and make the best of it.
I never had any heroes as a child, apart from my dad. There were no posters of footballers or pop stars on the walls. I didn’t aspire to be like anybody else and focused all of my attentions on doing what I wanted to do.
It sounds a bit selfish, perhaps, but I had to channel my independence into something worthwhile.
So, as skating became more important, I became totally focused. It was the only thing that mattered.
The truth about THAT kiss and our strange relationship
Moving up the ranks: Chris and Jayne in 1979, aged 20 and 21, when he was a serving police officer. He quit in 1980 to focus on skating
This partnership of ours, which first began almost 40 years ago, is almost impossible to categorise.
First and foremost, we’re friends – the best of friends. We always have been and we always will be. But there’s a bit of husband and wife in there, too; not to mention brother and sister. Then there’s colleague, of course.
As ice skating began to take over both our lives, we came to rely on each other totally, and we’ve never let one another down. We spent almost every waking hour together.
This all became perfectly natural to us, but to the outside world there had to be more to it.
To this day, people still ask us if we ever had an affair. We had a kiss on the back of a coach once.
Chris explains: ‘This only came to light in 2013. It was during an interview with Piers Morgan. He kept asking the usual “did you or didn’t you?” question and before I knew it the word “dabbled” had fallen out of my mouth. “We dabbled on the back of a coach once.”
‘The next morning it was all over the papers: TORVILL & DEAN FINALLY ADMIT THEY “DABBLED”…’
We were very prudish back then, but as time went on we became subconsciously aware of what a physical relationship or a romance might do to our partnership.
In the early days, we made a point of neither confirming nor denying a relationship.
The vagueness was, however, genuine to a certain extent.
If a journalist asked us if we’d ever get married and we answered, ‘We don’t know’, it was partly because we genuinely didn’t. We had no intentions to, but that wasn’t to say it would never happen. We were just being honest.
There was definitely an attraction between us in the beginning, though. Not a straightforward physical attraction – it was as much about the fact that without each other we’d have been lost. There was a definite sense of belonging. It was something very pure, really. And it certainly didn’t involve sex. It was all extremely innocent.
By the time we were ready to form relationships – which wasn’t until we were in our late 20s – we no longer felt like that about each other. We knew each other far too well by that point!
Chris adds: ‘For the first 23 years we were together almost constantly, come rain or shine. So perhaps the most exceptional thing about our relationship is the fact that it has never faltered. We’ve never fallen out in a big way. We’ve had a few cross words – almost exclusively on the ice – but nothing that isn’t forgotten after a few minutes.
‘Dabbled’: Chris and Jayne admitted to Piers Morgan that they had a kiss on the back of a coach once, which then ended up on the front page
‘We’ve been conditioned to each other to the point of being almost identical in the way we think. If one of us makes a mistake during a routine, the other can feel it happening and will compensate immediately. It’s as if we’re inextricably linked.
‘As well as a very deep love, I have an immeasurable respect for Jayne. Nothing fazes her. She takes everything in her stride.
‘When she does get angry, which is probably once every ten years or so, it comes from inside and you know about it.
‘Then she just freezes you out. She can be an ice maiden.’
Jayne recalls how she used to call Chris ‘the Blond Prince’ – and says he is a perfectionist, on and off the ice. ‘He’s a very clever guy; a genius, in my opinion.
‘Our relationship is not without its conflicts. Timekeeping is one of Chris’s favourite subjects and something he takes very seriously. “You’re always late, Jayne,” he’ll say, tapping his watch.
‘We’re very protective of each other. On the very few occasions people have been unkind about him in front of me they’ve been given short shrift.
‘I’m not saying he’s perfect, and neither am I, but he’s as close to me as anybody and my respect for him is immense.
‘I do worry about him sometimes. I always have. There’s a real vulnerability to Chris. He’s no good on his own. I love him dearly. I couldn’t imagine life without him.’
© Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, 2014
Our Life On Ice, by Torvill and Dean, is published by Simon & Schuster, priced £20. To get your copy at the special price of £16, order at mailbookshop.co.uk before October 19; p&p is free for a limited time only.