Strictly Come Dancing star Amy Dowden was swept off her feet when she met Help for Heroes veterans on her first day as an Ambassador for the charity, during a visit to Rhydyfelin AFC, in Pontypridd.
Fans of the show were ‘cha-cha-charmed’ by her performance in the last series alongside her partner, former Royal Marine – and now TV presenter – JJ Chalmers, who was supported by the Charity after receiving life-changing injuries from an IED blast in 2011, while serving in Afghanistan.
The duo exited the competition at the quarter-final stage, but have remained in touch and, having learned about the impact Help for Heroes had on JJ’s life, and understanding the many parallels his daily battles from injury have with her own fight with Crohn’s disease, 30-year-old Amy was keen to get involved with the Charity herself.
Amy, who is originally from Caerphilly, explained: “I’m extremely proud, grateful, honoured and thankful to become an Ambassador for Help for Heroes. With JJ, from the word go, he made it clear what the Charity has done for him, and continues to do. Through the entire Strictly journey with him, I could see the support that everyone connected to the Charity gave him.
“I could also see the similarities between what Crohn’s sufferers go through and veterans. JJ and I talked for hours about how we dealt with pain, anti-sickness medication, hospital tests and procedures and learned so much from each other.
“For me, it’s a hidden disability. Every day I wake up with fatigue, pain, exhaustion, and I never know what the day ahead is going to be like. This is the same for so many who have had to leave the military due to injury or illness. You don’t magically get better – it’s an ongoing struggle.”
Amy made the announcement about her Ambassadorship while joining a group of Help for Heroes-supported veterans at a recovery event held at the football club, in Pontypridd, where she took on the challenge of modelmaking with them.
Making military models is a popular recovery event among Help for Heroes veterans. It provides a friendly, safe environment to chat with other people who used to serve in the Armed Forces while participating in a mindful activity.
This is already the fourth event Amy in which has been involved with the charity. During lockdown she also hosted a virtual coffee morning with veterans and their families alongside JJ, plus two live online dance classes, teaching the ChaChaCha to hundreds of people supported by the Charity.
She added: “Just seeing the incredible work the Charity does, getting to know the veterans they support and the people who work there, has been a beautiful journey for me and I’m excited to have the opportunity to do more. Today has been a great opportunity to get to know more of the veterans on a personal level and I am really excited to become part of the Help for Heroes family.”
Amy also has her own connection to the Armed Forces which makes her role at Help for Heroes a personal one.
“Being an ambassador means a lot to me as I have family members who have served. My Great Uncle Lewis was in the Army and received a Queen’s Medal for the D-Day Landings, and my Grandfather served in the RAF, so they are both veterans themselves. I’m really excited to help publicise Help for Heroes and the amazing work they do.”
She is also keen to keep the charity’s veterans and their loved ones dancing.
She said: “Dance puts a smile on your face, releases endorphins and has that feelgood factor. It can help you connect with other people and you can dance with anyone, your partner, your nan, your child. It’s adaptive in so many ways and you can do it just for fun, but you can take it seriously and get competitive.
“There are also the physical benefits in terms of building flexibility, core strength, muscles and posture, but I like to think more about its impact on mental health and the joy it brings. Doing the lessons with the Help for Heroes family was such fun and I would love to get more of them involved in dance and see how great it can make them feel.”
Melanie Waters, CEO at Help for Heroes, added: “Amy is such a positive person and shows such affinity and understanding of what our veterans are going through right now. We are very excited she has agreed to become one of our ambassadors. We can’t wait to get her involved and we know she will sprinkle her glitter and stardust across the Charity, helping veterans and their families every step of the way.”
Amy is also a proud ambassador for Crohn’s and Colitis UK which does incredible work supporting sufferers and their families, while also carrying out research. Like Help for Heroes, it is also one big family community