Rose Ayling-Ellis, the actor and Strictly Come Dancing champion, is to become the first celebrity to use British Sign Language to read a CBeebies bedtime story.
The 27-year-old, who has been deaf since birth, starred as Frankie Lewis in BBC soap EastEnders and went on to win Strictly last year.
On Sunday, she will make her debut in the CBeebies story corner, telling the tale in BSL of a young bear and his father on their journey into the discovery and management of deafness.
To celebrate Deaf Awareness Week, she will sign Can Bears Ski?, written by Raymond Antrobus and illustrated by Polly Dunbar. The story draws on the author’s own experience to show how isolating it can be for a deaf child in a hearing world.
“I am super excited to read my first CBeebies bedtime story in BSL and it’s even more wonderful to share a story written by a deaf writer,” she said. “I hope deaf children enjoy the story and it inspires hearing children to want to learn BSL more.”
While competing in the 19th series of Strictly, Ayling-Ellis performed a routine with dance partner Giovanni Pernice during which they paused the music and danced in silence as a tribute to the deaf community.
The moment has been nominated for the must-see moment Bafta, a category voted for by the public. Since then, BSL is also set to be given legal recognition.
“The reaction was incredible, because it made them think what they can do to be better towards deaf people,” Ayling-Ellis told the BBC on Thursday. “Now it’s becoming an official language, which means we have more rights to it … For example, when you have a doctor’s appointment, you should have a right to have an interpreter there. Before, you couldn’t, because it’s not an official language. So it will be a huge step forward.”
Can Bears Ski? will be the first ever BSL-signed story on CBeebies. Ayling-Ellis will speak only to introduce the story and at the end of the programme to say goodnight to the audience. The story will also have subtitles and will be the first of two stories she has recorded for CBeebies.
The soap star has actively campaigned for BSL to be recognised as an official language and be given legal status in the UK.
CBeebies Bedtime Stories airs daily at 6.50pm, with episodes signed by a BSL interpreter shown every Saturday and Sunday.
In 2018, comedian Rob Delaney read a CBeebies bedtime story in Makaton – a programme that uses hand signs alongside spoken language to communicate – with which he learned to converse with his toddler son who died shortly before the story aired.