Leeds dancer who had legs amputated at 18-months-old and performed for Princess Diana honoured with OBE

Dave Toole pictured at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2013. Picture By YP photographer Simon Hulme.
Dave Toole pictured at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2013. Picture By YP photographer Simon Hulme.

A Leeds dancer who defied the odds after being born with a rare condition that meant both of his legs had to be amputated has been honoured by the Queen.

Dave Toole, 55, performed for the likes of Princess Diana and Sir Ian McKellen during his career as a dancer that saw him tour the world.

Dave Toole pictured at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2013. Picture By YP photographer Simon Hulme.

Dave Toole pictured at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2013. Picture By YP photographer Simon Hulme.

Mr Toole was among the inspirational individuals recognised by Her Majesty with an OBE in the latest New Year's Honours List.

And, despite spending the last four months at St James's Hospital suffering from pneumonia and a chest infection, meaning the Leeds dancer was unable to collect his award, he told the YEP of his pride over the recognition.

He was initially placed in a coma but despite the severity of his illness he has pulled through and is now adjusting to his new way of life using breathing apparatus.

Mr Toole, who was born with a condition called Sacral Agenesis and had both legs amputated at 18-months-old, found out about his OBE while on the hospital ward.

He said: "It’s been an odd day. Woke up a clapped out dancer but going to bed a clapped out dancer with an OBE. Funny old world."

Mr Toole began his dancing career back in 1992 after going to a dance workshop in Leeds that integrated disabled and non-disabled dancers.

He went for a week of residency and from that moment he knew that dance was what he wanted to do.

He quit his job at the Post Office, where he had worked for nine years, moved to London to join the Candoco Dance Company and began to tour the world.

Throughout his career he had many triumphs including performing for and meeting Princess Diana, performing in a gala alongside Sir Ian McKellen, appearing as Puck in an opera and landing his "dream job" with DV8 with whom he performed in 'The Cost of Living' - a film recognised as one of the most significant dance works of the past decade.

The international dancer told the YEP: "I found out about the OBE about a month ago but was told not to tell anyone until it was announced on Friday.

"It's very exciting though I've not really gotten used to it yet. I put it on my social media and it felt a bit weird but I am very proud.

"I think it's even better for my mum as she knows all the hard work that's gone on to get to this point.

"I've not been able to talk to her in person yet as she's not been very well either and hasn't been able to come visit.

"It's a bit weird not seeing her or talking to her about it but it will be so much better when we can finally celebrate together - sans the alcohol as I don't think they'll allow that in here."

For the last 10 years he has worked at the Stop Gap Dance Company - which is where he was when he was asked to perform in the 2012 Paralympics.

Dave had a starring role in the opening ceremony where he performed a solo dance on his arms before taking off and performing an aerial dance some 22 metres in the air.

Dave said: "I flew across the stadium - a big thing for someone who's scared of heights. I was terrified but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had to do it.

"In the end I ended up absolutely loving it. I asked them do it it again and again in rehearsal - I ended up doing it 3 times."

Dave's OBE has been awarded for services to dance and for disabled people.

It recognises of David’s contribution to making Britain a world leader in disability arts.

Lucy Bennett, Artistic Director at Stopgap Dance Company Dave is "exactly the kind of person" who deserves an OBE.

Lucy said: "We at Stopgap Dance Company feel honoured to have worked with such a talent as Dave Toole.

"Although Dave is a world renowned artist when in the studio with us he is grounded, humble and always there for his friends.

"Dave is exactly the kind of person who deserves to be awarded an OBE. Although Dave is a role model for all dancers both disabled and non disabled we cannot underestimate the huge difference he has made to disabled dancers who have followed in his hand prints instead of the steps of non disabled dancers.

"The world is beginning to become more inclusive thanks to Dave. "

Unfortunately Dave, who grew up in Armley but now lives in Holton, won't be able to collect his OBE in person as he does not know when he will be released from St James.

He said: "As it stands I definitely won't be able to go collect it as I'm not sure when I'll be released from hospital.

"The process to go home is happening now but it's going to take a couple weeks. Even if I am out by then I still don't think I'll have the confidence to make the long journey with my breathing equipment.

"I'm going to miss the big day and the whole experience of it but that doesn't take anything away from the honour. It still means so much that I have helped other people."

He added: "The OBE is not going to change me or my life in any way but I received it for inspiring others so I'm very grateful.

"I have been fortunate that what I have achieved has also inspired young disabled people and made them want to change their world.

"I have had people come up to me say to me and say I have changed their life. You don't think about these things when you are doing the work but if it has a positive affect on others then that's great."

Dave is now looking forward to returning home and getting used to his new breathing apparatus - though he admits it will be "hard."

He said: "When I was first taken ill, a lot of people a lot of people came to see me as they were expecting the worst.

"There's good days and bad days. Physically I feel okay, if a bit weak. I've just got to get used to using a machine.

"It will be hard as I'm very independent and live on my own and I'll have to give that up for a little while.

"I have good friends helping me through it all so I'd say I have been very lucky considering.

"I'm still here so I'll take that."