Full transcript: Tom, The Greatest Dancer and cystic fibrosis


This is a full transcript of Tom, The Greatest Dancer and cystic fibrosis as first broadcast on 17 January 2020 and presented by Beth Rose

TOM - Have you ever heard the phrase thrill of the fight?


TOM - When you're on stage in front of a crowd, it's just that buzz. You can never get it anywhere else. I just love it.

ALESHA - What did you think, Cheryl?

CHERYL - I thought it was absolutely beautiful.

OTI - Tom, you are a phenomenal dancer. You delivered a dance and there was understanding, understanding to technique.

BETH - What amazing praise to hear about your dance. You just heard a couple of clips there from BBC TV talent show The Greatest Dancer, where amateur dancers compete to win £50,000 and a chance to perform on Strictly Come Dancing. 16 year old Tom Oakley is one of those to have made it through to the next round, known as the call backs. But as well as school and a social life to balance he also has cystic fibrosis to manage. So, how does he do it?

You're listening to BBC Ouch with me Beth Rose, and Tom has joined us to reveal all. Hi Tom.

TOM - Hello.

BETH - How are you doing?

TOM - I'm all right, you know.

BETH - Sounds like you've had a pretty good couple of weeks now since the first episode of The Greatest Dancer.

TOM - Yes, it's been life changing I'd say.

BETH - Before we go any further tell us what The Greatest Dancer is and what exactly happened to you.

TOM - The Greatest Dancer is a talent show, like you said, where amateur dancers compete for a prize. But I think the good thing about The Greatest Dancer is you could literally be anyone, but if you show a bit of spark and passion I think it can just get you anywhere really.

BETH - So, everything just kind of relies on the audience at this point, doesn't it, because you start your dance in a studio with the mirrors in front of you?

TOM - Yes.

BETH - Then as the dance progresses if 75% of the audience press the like button the mirrors open and then you are in the middle of a huge stage.

TOM - Yeah.

BETH - Which is exactly what happened to you. I don't know how many people were in that theatre but I'm imagining a couple of hundred.

TOM - Oh definitely. After I'd done my performance I was just watching it; it was just mad to see how many people were just watching at one time. Even now I get goose bumps.

BETH - That is one of the good things about that programme actually, it's really emotive.

TOM - Yeah.

BETH - I don't know what it is but it gets me every time, and I'm normally quite a hard person. And it did with yours. So, you are a dancer and you did contemporary dance?

TOM - Yes.

BETH - Is that your specialism?

TOM - The thing is now I'm going to more like a hip-hop more urban style of dance. Because I used to be a lot more technically trained, if that makes sense, so more like ballet, modern, contemporary. But ever since I joined my new dance school I've been doing more hip-hop, so going back to contemporary it was just nice to do it again.

BETH - So, you obviously spend a lot of your time doing dance. What was it made you get into dance in the first place?

TOM - Well, there are two answers to this. There's the funny answer and then there's the professional dancer. So, the funny answer it was Beyoncé; I used to dance around to her music all the time. And I had this weird toy, it was like this gold car, and if you pressed the button it played Beyoncé music. And here's me up in my room when I'm seven years old completely mashing that button until I can hear the song over and over again.

BETH - So, that's the funny answer.

TOM - That's the funny answer. The professional answer is that it helped drastically with my health. My dad took me to street dance lessons, because I thought yeah, everyone does street dance at school, so I did that. And actually I didn't enjoy it at first; I enjoyed a lot of the more technical stuff. I don't know, it was just something about the technical stuff that got me hooked on dance.

BETH - And you mentioned the health stuff, we said earlier you have cystic fibrosis, so just tell me a bit about what that is and how it might affect you on a regular day.

TOM - Cystic fibrosis is a chronic illness; you're born with it. Basically you build up mucus around the body. It heavily affects your respiratory system and your digestive system, so you have to take meds for every time you eat so you absorb the nutrients so you don't get ill. You need to do exercise to clear your lungs, otherwise you're in hospital and that's not fun. It just affects my life, actually I don't let it really affect my life, or I try not to. That's why I do all the exercise because it helps, it clears my lungs, and then I'm able to do things I wouldn't even think of doing.

BETH - When you say it affects your respiratory system, and to me you think gosh, doing a dance is a lot of hard work, what does it feel like when you dance? Is it hard work or does it clear your chest?

TOM - I'd say at first I couldn't handle it at all. I loved it to bits, but I'd be in lessons and I'd be like, oh my god my lungs are burning. Imagine heartburn but all in your lungs and in your chest; it just feels horrible. It's just that constant burning feeling. And then you get a dry throat. It's just not nice at all. But after so many years your lungs get used to it, and my lungs are the healthiest they've been in…well the healthiest they've been ever. What's my lung function? Let me check. I've got it written down on a note here. At the moment it is 118%.

BETH - What should it be or how does it compare?

TOM - I think it should be around 80, and that's good for someone with cystic fibrosis. That's been going up through the years. So, the only reason I'm at that now is because of the dance. But even so I didn't know it was going to affect my life so much. I'm able to go out with friends without getting sick. I've actually got an immune system now so I'm able to fight off diseases and not have to stay in hospital or stay at home. But I'm on a constant low antibiotic so I'm not having to worry as much as, say, someone with a worse condition than I.

BETH - That sounds so incredibly positive. I remember years on Blue Peter or something like that there were all these videos or films of young people with cystic fibrosis and the many hours they would have to endure a sort of, not a massage, sort of clear their back, there were various massages.

TOM - Oh yes.

BETH - So, the fact that people are doing all this dance, I know there are many sportsmen as well with cystic fibrosis, it's really changed over the last few years. And it seems like it's obviously giving you a huge burst of life.

TOM - Oh definitely. I think in the past 20 years there has been so much mad development in the cystic fibrosis community.

BETH - With your dance tell me how many training sessions do you do a week?

TOM - I'm in from half eight in the morning till four o'clock in the afternoon every day. Most days I'm in at eight o'clock till half nine doing an extra class, so that's like 20 odd hours of dance.

BETH - So, you're dancing all that time every week?

TOM - Uh-huh. It drains you but you get endurance towards it, if that makes sense. So, it hurts but you know it's really good for you so you keep doing it. And yeah, it has really affected me. There are a lot of things I do love about dance. As much as it's really good for my health I could have done a different sport and had a love for that, but there's something about dance, I just love it.

BETH - When you did The Greatest Dancer and the doors opened for you you knew as soon as they opened you would be through to the next round, can you describe what that moment was? When your mum was crying, she was so excited for you. Did you have a brother there? You had some friends or family there jumping up and down, and all these famous people were rooting for you as well. What was that like?

TOM - That was it, that like mumble of words. You just got there and I was speechless to watch so many people appreciate my dance and how far I've come. It was just such an amazing feeling. And to have my older brother there, I had my mum, my grandma was there and my dance teacher was there as well. It was such a heart-warming moment to see wow, I've really actually done something now, haven't I.

BETH - And what happens next? Obviously we can't say anything about the programme, but you're through to the call backs, so that's in a couple of weeks. And what we should say is the programme has their own dance captains.

TOM - Yes.

BETH - There are four choices: there's Oti Mabuse, who people will know from Strictly Come Dancer; there's Cheryl from Girls Aloud; Todrick Hall who is an American singer, dancer, choreographer and YouTube sensation.

TOM - Yeah.

BETH - And then there's Matthew Morrison, who apparently he's famous for being a triple threat, so that means he's good at singing, acting and dancing. But most people probably know him as Mr Schuester from Glee. They're like A-listers.

TOM - I know, it's just incredible to have such talented people in one room.

BETH - What was it like when they were talking about your dancing and your experience?

TOM - A lot of things were going through my head. Like Todrick's words resonated with me quite a lot. They were very powerful.

TODRICK - You're not here because you have cystic fibrosis; you're here because you are a champion. You're a survivor. And because you're a super talented dancer. [Applause]

TOM - Wow, I appreciate that because I've had a few experiences where people go, oh he's just got cystic fibrosis so let him through. But no, I don't want to be known as like, oh he's just cystic fibrosis, that's it. I want to be like I'm the person who inspires so many people. I'm so overwhelmed.

BETH - And what happens next in the dance studio? I'm not talking about the TV programme, but have you got plans to do more dance? Is this something that's going to be part of your life?

TOM - Yes, this will stay with me forever. I've upped my hours in dance so I'm doing a lot more hours. And I just came off the Christmas break so I need to clear my lungs a bit, get back into it.

BETH - Will that make it harder, the first week back?

TOM - The first week back is the worst week. You've been off, you've had your Christmas dinner, you've had your chocolates, you've had your seven advent calendars - I don't know if that's just me.

BETH - I think that's just you.

TOM - [Laughs] Then for this first week back it's really like a shock to the system. But I can't wait. It's going to be so good.

BETH - And does it feel different? If you haven't been dancing for a day do you feel like you haven't cleared your chest properly?

TOM - Yes. It's like oh, I need to go and clear my chest, but you can definitely feel it.

BETH - So, you're raring to go and get back to prime fitness?

TOM - Yes definitely.

BETH - The other thing we should say is when we were setting up this interview Harry, who's looking after the desk, asked you to go through what you'd had for your lunch. And it was quite a big lunch, wasn't it?

TOM - Yes.

BETH - So, tell me a bit about, cystic fibrosis affects your digestive system and the amount of energy you take on board, so you need to have a lot more calories than most 16 year olds, is that right?

TOM - Yes, I'm having around 4,000 at the moment.

BETH - Wow, that's like a third more.

TOM - Yeah. Just because with cystic fibrosis your body's not able to absorb as well, so we have to take something called enzymes, or you may know them as Creon, they're just like these little capsules you have to take either before or after a meal. And depending on how much fat is in the meal you'll have a corresponding amount of Creon.

BETH - And do you have to have even more if you've got one of your dance days?

TOM - Yeah, I'd have a bigger meal, so yeah. If I was to do a lot more exercise I'd take something called slow sodium, which just keeps me going.

BETH - That's quite a lot to manage, isn't it? So, you've got all these things to think about to make sure that your body is at its optimum level, and then you've got school and stuff like that on top. So, what is your big plan, Tom? You said you were going to live forever on The Greatest Dancer. Say you do live forever what are you hoping to do?

TOM - Hopefully pursue a career in dance, get some experience in that. And I really want to start my own company.

BETH - Ah.

TOM - Because I've got a few ideas. Basically I bring a group of dancers together and we'll perform pieces that have a story behind them. That would probably be my dream in dance to create something.

BETH - Well, you'll have to let us know when you do.

TOM - Yes.

BETH - Now, I know it's all finished for you, Tom, because the filming has finished, but we don't know what's happened yet. In your ideal world if you get selected in the call backs who would be your top dance captain that you'd want to work with?

TOM - I'd probably say Matthew because he was a triple threat, so I'd be able to learn a lot from him. So, Matthew would hone and refine me in a way to be my best self.

BETH - Well, we're just going to have to wait and see. We'll keep our fingers crossed that Matthew chooses you for his squad and see how you do.

TOM - Well, thank you so much.

ALESHA - Give it up for Tom everyone! [Applause]

BETH - What an amazing year it's been for Tom so far. You can watch The Greatest Dancer on Saturday nights on BBC1 or on BBC iPlayer and find out how Tom does. If you've liked this podcast or want to tell us anything else for that matter get in touch. We're BBC Ouch on Facebook; @bbcouch on Twitter; and our email is ouch@bbc.co.uk. And you can find more of our stuff on BBC Sounds. Speak soon.

JINGLE - BBC Sounds: music, radio, podcasts.

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