1. There is a new show on BBC One called Tumble.
It’s another one of those TV competitions where celebrities risk injury for our enjoyment, like that Tom Daley diving-show, Splash. You’ve probably watched them, thinking, “It can’t be that hard. What a waste of space these celeb shows are.” (You then proudly open bottle of wine, drink it from the bottle, and cackle.) Well, are these shows really that hard to master?
Tumble starts this weekend, with a brace of guests including H from Steps, Sarah Harding from Girls Aloud, and boxing king Carl Froch. Here’s how it works: In the first episode five celebrities perform an acrobatic floor display in pairs with gymnasts, while five other celebs perform in an aerial hoop dangling from the ceiling. The following week, the celebrities swap round.
I asked to go behind the scenes of Tumble. And for some reason BBC One said yes.
2. A warning: I was wearing trousers that did not fit.
The previous night, while packing for this assignment, I realised that I didn’t own any running shorts, so I contemplated wearing my swimming shorts for this instead. Thankfully, I was reluctantly lent some trousers by my photographer, Matt.
3. First, we were told to do some warm-up exercises.
This is apparently how gymnasts warm up.
4. Including this stretch in which you look like a crab.
5. And this. Apparently, this is a warm-up move.
We’re back in the ’70s. We’re back in the ’70s. We’re back in the ’70s.
6. My flexibility generally? Not that good.
7. Meanwhile, Amelle Berrabah and her partner, former acrobatics world champion Doug Fordyce, were able to do this.
8. My attempts to do a cartwheel were not good.
As I attempted this, David-Roy, Amelle and Doug’s trainer, tried to boost my spirits with such motivational comments as: “Well done, that was a really good attempt.”
9. But then, under instruction to aim to do a cartwheel over a corner, I *just* about pulled it off.
Next, a forward roll. The last forward roll I attempted wiped out half the people in my primary school class, so I was apprehensive, but willing to try it with precise instruction. And after a few minutes of “don’t do that, do it like this”…
10. Holy hell, I could pull it off…at an angle.
And all it takes is keeping your buttocks tight, tilting your head, thinking about where you’re going, and confidently throwing yourself forward.
11. Next, a handstand. Less said about this the better.
Not only did I suddenly realise I was totally wearing odd socks, but I think Amelle didn’t really want to see my boxers at all, to be honest.
12. Nope. This wasn’t awkward at all.
David-Roy was like, “That was a really good attempt.” SURE.
13. Finally, I had a go at jumping on a vault.
The vault is higher than it looks in the photo above, and the only way to get on it is by jumping on a trampoline stationed a couple of metres nearby.
14. Gymnasts touch the vault with their hands (or if they are doing it wrong, their face) before flying over to land on their feet.
My challenge was simpler: jump up on it and jump off. After several attempts, and yes, I mean several attempts, with a person on either side making sure I didn’t land badly…victory.
What I learned was that although the basic concepts of gymnastics are not difficult, perfecting gymnastics without serious injury is. Bobby Lockwood (from CBBC’s Wolfblood), whom I met shortly after the vault, said: “I knew that gymnastics was going to be hard, but I’ve gained a newfound respect because I thought I could cartwheel, but it’s taken me six weeks to cartwheel in a straight line. And I still can’t do it consistently.”
15. Left to right: Amelle, Doug, and Bobby.
The biggest obstacle? Your brain. “About 90% of it is all mental, so it’s just playing with your brain,” Doug told me. “You’ll learn something, you’ll get it, and then you come in the next session and you can’t do it any more. You have to re-teach yourself, break down those barriers in your brain, and make sure that your body is in charge.”
The other great obstacle is pain. “People only see the nice stuff: the skills, the cartwheels, the handstands, the somersaults if you get to that point,” added David-Roy. “It’s the body preparation and the things beforehand – the hard graft that Amelle and Doug have been doing – and the pain of your body after doing condition and after doing stretching, and knowing that you have to come in all over again.”
16. Then I met H from Steps doing the splits.
H was a bit confused about why I was looking at him doing the splits. We were introduced, and he was told I was having a tour ahead of the first show. I then made the situation a whole lot worse by saying, “We’re just going to watch you…but not in a weird way.”
There have been multiple injuries. “There are injuries I can work around, so there’s nothing permanent,” said H. Later, Amelle told me that she’d popped out her ankle twice, “so I’ve been getting physio and acupuncture and stuff to try to sort it out.” The worst injury? Mr Motivator had dislocated his knee the previous day and pulled out of the show. He was now undergoing surgery.
17. And the outfits they’re going to wear are LOUD.
The sense I got from everyone I talked to is that gymnastics is hard. As Amelle said: “It’s the first time I’ve actually understood that on Strictly Come Dancing and stuff, when [the contestants] go, ‘Oh, please don’t send me home, I’m not ready,’ they’ve been working their arses off for two months before the show. No way, I do not want to go home in the first week. Like, no. I have been working too hard for this.”
Tl;dr: Gymnastics is difficult. Don’t turn up in your swimming shorts.