Dancing on Ice's Nile Wilson says show gives him 'purpose' after feeling 'sad and lost'



Dancing on Ice is back on our screens Sunday night – but for one contestant it’s far more than just a TV show. It’s a life saver.

Just two years ago Olympic medallist and artistic gymnast Nile Wilson was forced to retire with a career-ending neck injury – a life-changing event made worse by his history of suicidal thoughts, anxiety and depression, and “extreme” attempts to escape with heavy drinking and gambling.

He admits he was “sad and lost” for most of last year.

But today he reveals it was his decision to sign up for the ITV show which has finally helped him find “purpose” again.

And now after three months of training, the Yorkshire-born Olympic bronze medallist, 26, is hoping to make his family and new girlfriend, proud in tomorrow’s first live show.

Nile says Dancing on Ice has given him the thrill of competing once more
Nile says Dancing on Ice has given him the thrill of competing once more ( ITV)
The gymnast at the Rio 2016 Olympics
The gymnast at the Rio 2016 Olympics ( Getty Images)

“Retirement is the single hardest thing for an athlete to cope with, it’s hard to accept the next chapter in your life,” explains Nile. “I hoped Dancing on Ice would help me, and it definitely has. Just getting into that routine and having a little bit more of a purpose has helped me mentally.”

Nile is partnered with the show’s new pro skater Olivia Smart, 25, a British-Spanish Olympian. They have been training since October and it’s given him back the thrill of competing.

Originally from Pudsey, near Leeds, Nile believes it’s important to be open about mental health. He’s conscious that going on a show with millions of viewers could also cause fresh problems, when it’s over.

Nile's videos of his gymnastic feats have gone viral
Nile's videos of his gymnastic feats have gone viral

“I’m very aware that I’m going to get this rush – something I sought for a long time and missed – then it’s going to be over again,” he says.

His gymnastics stunts – including him somersaulting and landing perfectly into a pair of shorts being held by his friends – have made him a social media star, with 1.5 million followers on YouTube and Instagram.

He’d first begun training aged five, when his parents, concerned that he was clumsy after he had cut his head four times, took him to Leeds Gymnastics Club to teach him “how to fall” with more “awareness”.

Aged 17, in 2014 he was crowned British Junior Champion and over the next five years, won bronze in the men’s horizontal bar at Rio 2016, became a world champion and earned nine Commonwealth Games medals, including five gold.

But he also had his demons. After an eating disorder at 14, he discovered drinking and gambling aged 18 – using them to escape the “pressure cooker” of training, and fill the void when the rush of a competition ended.

He would often play roulette alone in a casino for five hours a night and partied for 12 weeks after Rio to cope with the “Olympic comedown”.

Nile with his bronze model for the men's horizontal bar at Rio 2016
Nile with his bronze model for the men's horizontal bar at Rio 2016 ( PA)

In a TED Talk last month, he called gambling “a silent killer for athletes” because there’s no physical after-effect, as “besides horrific guilt and shame”, you can train as normal.

He is banned from every casino in the UK as part of his recovery.

But it was the injury to his neck and shoulder in training in 2019 – aged 22 – that changed his path. He ripped through a disc and broke his neck and was left needing surgery. On a 2021 podcast for The Priory Group, he admitted drinking for “two weeks straight” before the op, to cope with the pain. (He later admitted that when he drinks, he struggles to stop “for days, even weeks”). Then he began having suicidal thoughts.

Nile and girlfriend Hermione, who he hopes will be cheering him on
Nile and girlfriend Hermione, who he hopes will be cheering him on

Despite treatment, his injury eventually caused him to retire in January 2021, three days shy of his 25th birthday.

As well as Sunday night’s show being a big step after Nile’s own health battles, it is also the beginning of a very poignant week for his family.

On Tuesday – Nile’s 27th birthday – his dad Neil, 51, who works full time on Nile’s social media videos, is set to have surgery to remove a brain tumour. Speaking on This Morning yesterday Nile said: “He’s a fighter, he’s just kept going. You wouldn’t know.

“He’ll be here on Sunday shouting the loudest and it’s more inspiration for me to be able to do that for him.”

Nile and his pro partner Olivia
Nile and his pro partner Olivia ( ITV)

Another source of support for Nile is girlfriend Hermione, a nursery nurse. He tells the Mirror: “She spends her day looking after babies, and she now has to look after this big baby.

“Hopefully she will be there every week and screaming her head off.”

Nile and Olivia are currently the bookies’ favourite to win.

“My number one aim is to try to perform something that nobody has ever done before on the show,” says Nile. “I’m an athlete so winning Dancing on Ice is my main mission.”

Dancing on Ice starts Sunday, 6.30pm, ITV.

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