Ashley Banjo: who is Diversity leader, what was controversial dance, and what did he say in BAFTA speech?

Banjo thanked the almost 30,000 people who complained about Diversity’s BLM dance, as he and his brother collected a BAFTA for the “must see moment” on television of 2020

Diversity choreographer and leader Ashley Banjo returns to our screens in new film, Ashley Banjo: Britain in Black and White.

The former Dancing on Ice and judge was at the centre of a media storm in 2020 when his dance group performed a pro-equality routine on Britain’s Got Talent, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

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The group went on to win a public-voted Bafta TV award for ‘Must-See Moment’ for the routine.

In this film, airing on ITV on 19 October, Banjo explores his identity with the help of historian David Lusoga, actor David Harewood, and comedian Jim Davidson.

But who is Banjo, what was the dance his group performed on BGT, why was it controversial, and what did he say in his Bafta acceptance speech?

Ashley Banjo thanked those who had complained about the dance for highlighting why performances which address controversial subjects are necessary (Picture: Getty Images)

Who is Ashley Banjo?

Banjo, 33, is a British choreographer who shot to fame as part of dance crew Diversity, they beat classical singer Susan Boyle and were crowned BGT winners in 2009.

He is the son of former heavyweight boxer Funso Banjo and grew up in Essex with his younger brother Jordan 28.

The pair were educated at independent St John's School, Billericay, where he was head boy and still holds the high jump sports day record.

In 2007, he created the group with Jordan and originally called it ‘Swift Moves’ before changing it to Diversity and winning the 2007 Street Dance Weekend competition.

Ashley choreographs all of Diversity’s routines, including the Black Lives Matter routine which received very controversial feedback when it aired on ITV in 2020.

Banjo has also appeared as a judge on several dance competitions such as Dancing on Ice and Sky’s Got To Dance.

Aside from being the leader of Britain's most successful dance crew, he is a father of two.

In 2015, he married his longtime girlfriend and fellow dancer Francesca Abbott, the pair welcomed their daughter, Rose, in 2019 and son Micah in 2020.

Jordan and Ashley Banjo are the founding members of Diversity, who performed the 'must see' BLM dance during the Britain's Got Talent semi-finals (Picture: Getty Images)

What television work has he done?

Since his success on BGT, Banjo has enjoyed a successful career - from hosting shows to judging other TV dance competitions.

Most notably, from 2010 until 2014 he was a judge on Sky One's dancing talent show Got to Dance for all five series and co-presents the annual Real Full Monty on ITV.

Since 2018, he has been a member of the judging panel for ITV’s Dancing on Ice, as well as making guest appearances on a number of game shows, sitcoms and award events.

In 2020, he stood in for head judge Simon Cowell on BGT after Cowell underwent surgery on his back after falling from an electric bike. It was during his stint on the judging panel that he choreographed and took part in the BLM dance.

Why was the BLM dance so controversial?

The dance was performed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, who was killed in the US in May last year by police officer Derek Chauvin.

Members of Diversity mimicked the incident during which Floyd was asphyxiated as Chauvin knelt on his neck and chest, including Banjo laying on the floor as a performer dressed as a police officer knelt on his back.

During this scene, the words “I can’t breathe” formed part of the backing track, as well as other dancers appearing to mimic BLM protestors. Some of the dance troupe carried riot shields, others took the knee.

Following the performance, nearly 30,000 viewers complained to independent television regulator Ofcom.

Some argued the routine was not fitting from family viewing, others stated that the entertainment show had used its platform to make a political statement.

How did Banjo react to the complaints?

In the weeks following the performance, Banjo said he stood the routine and said those who took issue with its subject matter “highlight exactly what needs to change”.

He added that Diversity "wanted to express how the events of this year have made us feel".

Banjo has since revealed he received death threats after the performance, and addressed the “problem” of people’s opinions over BLM during his BAFTA acceptance speech.

What did he say in his Bafta acceptance speech?

On 6 June, the Banjo brothers attended the Baftas, where Diversity was announced as the winner of the ‘Must See Moment’ award.

Ashley thanked those who supported the group during the controversy, describing it as a “dark time”.

“It was a dark time but that support made a difference and in a way I have to say thank you to the people who complained, the people who put all that abuse out there online,” he said.

The Must see moment award is the only voted for by the public, which he said showed “what change looks like,” as the dance addressing racism won the award.

“You showed the truth. You showed exactly why this performance and this moment was necessary. But for all those people, take a look... This is what change looks like, and I am so proud to be standing here.

“For me, this is about not representing the minority. It felt like we weren’t at the time, but standing here now, this represents the majority, so thank you all so much. Let’s keep having those difficult conversations, let’s keep standing up for what’s right regardless of the colour of our skin and we will achieve that equality.”