Nicola Adams and her girlfriend Ella Baig. (Getty)
Nicola Adams will make history as the first Strictly Come Dancing contestant to compete with a same-sex partner.
Strictly confirmed Wednesday morning that the Olympic boxer will take part in its 2020 series with a female professional.
Adams, who is bisexual, revealed to BBC Breakfast that dancing with another woman was a stipulation of her appearing on the show, which in 17 series has featured only cis male-female duos.
“I asked the show about it,” she explained. “They wanted to know if I wanted to be on the show and I said: ‘Yeah, I’ll do it, but I want to dance with another female dance partner.’”
Strictly will reportedly start in late October, with the Saturday evening staple running a truncated series this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ahead of her debut, here are six things you need to know about Nicola Adams, her girlfriend, her incredible career and her adorable dog.
1. She beat the odds to become an Olympic boxer.
By no account should Nicola Adams have turned out an Olympic champion.
Growing up in Leeds, she suffered from asthma. When she was just five, a doctor told her mother not to let her run around to avoid flaring her condition.
“Try and tell a five-year-old kid they can’t run up and down. It’s pretty much impossible,” the Strictly star told The Guardian in 2017.
She discovered boxing by chance aged 12. Her mum, Dee, had taken her along to an aerobics class after a babysitter cancelled. As it happened there was a children’s boxing class taking place at the same time, and from that moment on her passion was ignited.
Her first fight followed a year later, aged 13 in 1995. At the time women’s boxing wasn’t an official sport – it wasn’t until the following year that the Amateur Boxing Association of England lifted a ban on women and girls being allowed to compete.
Even still, she didn’t fight again for another four years, such was the scarcity of opponents. She took up running in the interim, winning medals for sprinting. She won her second fight, aged 17, and began competing around Europe.
Her first fight representing England came in 2001, and two years later, in 2003, she was crowned English amateur champion.
2. She was the first women’s boxer to become an Olympic champion.
The progress on women’s inclusion in boxing has been so slow, that it wasn’t until 2012 that it became an Olympic sport.
The timing was serendipitous for Nicola – in 2008 she broke her back and couldn’t box for months. Four years later, at the London 2012 games, she defeated world number one Ren Cancan in the flyweight final to take home the first Olympic women’s boxing gold medal.
Four years on, she defended her title in Rio. After turning pro in 2017 she hinted she’d return to the Olympics in 2020, but Rio would be her last games, as in November 2019 she retired from the sport over fears she could lose her eyesight, having torn a pupil during a fight.
In March she admitted talk of Tokyo wasn’t entirely serious, and that she had planned to retire after another “two or three fights”.
“The eye injury just moved things forward quicker than planned,” she told The Telegraph. “Fortunately, I already had a plan already in place.”
3. Strictly isn’t her first TV gig.
Adams has said that acting figures into her post-boxing plans, the craft having been a passion of hers for some years.
Before she became an Olympian she worked as an extra on soaps including Coronation Street and EastEnders.
“I’ve been in the Rovers, in the Post Office walking up and down the street,” she told Metro.
In 2013 she made a cameo appearance in Waterloo Road, playing herself, but in December she told the BBC she has much grander plans for the future.
“Ideally, I would love to be playing the main lead in a movie, so you will have to watch this space.”
Should the delayed 2020 games go ahead next year, expect to see Adams commentating. She was due to take part in the BBC’s coverage this summer, until the pandemic forced the entire event to be delayed.
4. Nicola Adams realised she was bisexual aged 15.
Though Nicola Adams is often referred to as gay, she is actually bisexual.
In 2016 she opened up to GQ about her coming out journey, which started – like many – in school.
“It was quite a scary thought for me at the time,” she said.
“I knew one other person in my school who was the same and we talked. We hadn’t come out…”
Adams admitted she was nervous about telling her family.
“Mum was in the kitchen washing up and I was like, ‘I’ve got something to tell you’,” she recalled.
“I was so nervous, I was really sweating, and she says, ‘What’s wrong?’ And I was just like, ‘I’m bisexual’. And she was like, ‘OK, put the kettle on’.”
5. She was engaged to marry another Olympic boxer.
Before getting with her current girlfriend, Nicola Adams was engaged to Marlen Esparaza, an American boxer.
Esparaza competed in Adams’ weight class in the 2012 Olympics, but the pair never came face-to-face (Marlen won bronze after being knocked out by Ren Cancan in the semi-finals).
Love blossomed at a training camp in 2016 and the pair soon became engaged. However in April 2018 it emerged they had split.
6. Nicola Adams and her girlfriend Ella Baig met in summer 2018.
Nicola Adams moved on from heartbreak with a new girlfriend, beauty blogger and fellow Leeds native Ella Baig, who she’s been with for two years.
The blogger and the boxer share a dog – an American pitbull named Brooklyn – who appeared with them on Celebrity Gogglebox.
Though they live a relatively quiet life, the couple have spoken out about the abuse they receive as a same-sex interracial couple, admitting to Loose Women they’re often told “you can’t have sex”, or asked who is “the man” in their relationship.
“We’re both really quite strong willed and comments don’t really affect us too much,” Adams explained to the show’s hosts. “We always ignore it [but] for a lot of people it’s hard to do that sometimes.”
Despite the hate, their relationship appears to be thriving, if their adorable Instagram videos are anything to go by.