In their eyes, Fear and Gibson exemplify the requisite work ethic. But the pool of talent in British figure skating is hardly inexhaustible, despite the lasting popularity of Dancing on Ice. In Beijing, and possibly beyond, the young ice dance sensations face shouldering the burden of national expectation by themselves. “I don’t want to be controversial or to bring British skating down,” Dean says, “but when you look at the Russian ladies or the Chinese pairs, you realise that it’s a national sport in those countries, and it’s definitely not the same here. That’s why the beacon for the future is these two.”
It is a daunting billing, but one that Fear and Gibson appear willing to accept, insisting that Bolero provides them with “daily inspiration”. They are assiduously crafting their Beijing free dance around the music of The Lion King, in the hope it will have the same popular resonance. “We both grew up absolutely loving that story and all the themes it represents,” Fear says. “It’s universal. It’s a way to connect with people through memories.”
So much, ultimately, depends on the emotion with which they are able to invest their skating. What distinguished Torvill and Dean was their capacity to convince the audience of their connection, to the point where many wondered if there was a genuine romance. “Are you going to get married?” one reporter asked. “Not yet,” Dean replied, deliberately protecting the mystique. The result was that during Bolero, characterised by sustained eye contact between the pair, people were seduced into believing that the love affair was more than just theatrical. It was, as Princess Anne put it, a “brilliant idea, brilliantly executed”.
“That piece of music engendered the emotion,” Dean argues. “It was something that started very small and grew. It was just the right choice for us at the time.” Did they believe it would be garlanded with sixes across the board? “Even after 20 years, we would watch it back with a critical eye,” he says, modestly. “But after 38, we’re a little less critical now.”
In an illustration of sport coming full circle, Torvill and Dean will be commentating for the BBC on Valentine’s Day, trusting that Fear and Gibson can produce an encore worthy of the majesty of Bolero. Their informal mentoring is a gift that their students appear anxious to reciprocate. “Thank you for all your guidance,” Fear tells them. “I hope you know how much it means for us to have you in our lives.” In any other relationship, this might sound like obligatory deference to those who have gone before. But such is the presence of Torvill and Dean, as towering in 2022 as on their night of nights in ’84, you can sense that she means every word.