Our Life on Ice (Torvill & Dean)

Our Life on Ice: The Autobiography by Jayne Torvill (2014-10-09) - Jayne Torvill;Christopher Dean

With the publication of this follow-up volume (on the heels of John Hennessy's "as-told-to" biography from just after the '84 Olympics, and of "Facing the Music" which was about events leading up to the '94 Olympics), I think we can safely add Torvill and Dean to the ranks of serial autobiographers. What is more, they have kept the format more or less consistent with earlier books: segments headed "Jayne", segments headed "Chris", and more general narrative headed "Jayne and Chris".


Although it has a general chronological sweep, much of the book is arranged into subject-based chapters which, I assume, is to disguise the fact that the book is necessarily a bit thinner than its predecessors where it revisits the amateur and early professional career covered in the other books, while still giving the opportunity to revisit and perhaps recast the previously narrated events from the an older (and wiser?) perspective. One subject that stood out to me because I was actually a little surprised at how undiplomatically it was handled was Chris' brief and unhappy marriage to Isabelle Duchesnay, and specifically the wedding, which was apparently made into a spectacular production against Chris' wishes by Isabelle's overbearing family. He is much more restrained (to the point of reticence) on what went wrong in his second marriage, to Jill Trenary, presumably because (a) there are kids and (b) they're still on good terms.


The major new material in this book relates to the British television show "Dancing on Ice", a "Strictly Come Dancing" clone, similar to "Dancing With The Stars" in the US - a reality competition where somewhat courageous celebrities learned basic skating and then performed highly-produced numbers weekly for judges, with regular eliminations. The "hook" of the show, of course, was that Torvill and Dean also performed regularly and, from my youtube explorations, sometimes with gimmicks not entirely necessary, given how very well they seem to have kept up their basic skills. Though there are obvious and expected declines in speed and flexibility, it's really remarkable how good they still were during this decade-long run, and it was a remarkably smart substitute for the rigours of touring in large-ice arenas where they would always have been measured against the audience's memories of their competitive prime (not to mention worn out by travelling). I was pleased also to see some discussion of Christopher Dean's choreography, for other skaters and for his brief venture into (autobiographical) modern dance. It wasn't terribly satisfying discussion - he seems to be one of those people who are much better at doing it than talking about it - but at least it's there.


Amongst the other fairly lengthy tributes to mentors and collaborators, we get a much better sense than before of the importance to the team of Jayne's husband Phil Christensen, who was a sound engineer on one of their professional tours (he came via the rock music world), and who eventually ended up in a central management role for their career. Among the least interesting aspects of the book - although it's been something that's been shoved in their face over the years, so I suppose they felt they had to address it yet again - is the rather uninteresting question of whether Torvill and Dean had a romantic relationship themselves. If you believe them, it amounted to one exploratory kiss in the back of a tour bus, and a mutual decision that anything more would mess up their working relationship and career. I see no reason not to believe them.


There's nothing shocking about this book because Torvill and Dean remain obstinately unshocking. Just two people who have been remarkably good at what they do for a remarkably long time, and who have taken the trouble to give us a bit of serial-autobiographical context to their main legacy which is, of course, all that wonderful - and fortunately for us, recorded - ice dancing.