Ray Interviews

Wearing a smile that showed he was loving every minute, Ray Quinn glided into the Dancing On Ice final last night with such confidence you’d think he was born with skates on his feet.

The fresh-faced 20-year-old has not even been fazed by the sparkly costumes he’s had to wear for the hit ITV celebrity contest.

For yesterday’s tense semi-final, in which Coleen Nolan got voted off, he showed off his toned torso in a clingy, red see-through shirt.

An audience that included Heather Mills was wowed by Ray’s hot Latino-themed routine with his skating partner Maria Filippov.

Watching him spin and jump – a perfect picture of health, youth and vitality – it is hard to believe that Ray nearly did not make it to his first birthday.

But the determination that saw him beat deadly meningitis as a baby later helped him fend off school bullies, who physically attacked him and scoffed at his ambition to dance by calling him “Gay Ray”.

And thanks to his incredible drive, Ray is having the last laugh now.

In an exclusive interview with the Mirror, his grandmother says that Ray has always been a fighter.

Marjorie Tasker, 82, reveals: “Ray’s been a healthy child except when he was about two or three months old.

“He caught meningitis. It was very worrying. He was taken to hospital and it was touch and go for a while. The doctors thought he could die.

“Everyone was very worried and scared. But he pulled through, thank goodness. It wasn’t a nice time seeing him so ill in hospital.

“But he has always been a determined boy and much tougher than he looks.”

Ray’s health wasn’t the only worry when he was growing up in Childwall, Liverpool.

Marjorie, a widower who is Ray’s maternal grandma, says Ray’s love of dancing and singing led to him being picked on by school bullies at Gateacre Comprehensive.

She says: “The other kids called him ‘Gay Ray’ because he was into singing and dancing. They’d grab hold of his satchel, pull him to the ground and then attack him.

“He was quite scared at times but I think it toughened him up. He was just a bit different from the other boys and they couldn’t handle it.”

Fellow pupil Rachel Williams, now a 21-year-old mum-of-one, says: “I remember him liking the girls more than the boys. He liked dancing and that kind of thing and not football like all the other boys.

“They called him names and pushed him around. But he’s done the best of anyone at school, so good for him.”

Ray’s best friend Gavin Tsang, 20, adds: “Those bullies made Ray a stronger, more determined person. He is so talented at everything and he’s going to be a great success.

“He’s had the last laugh on the senseless idiots who bullied him.”

Ray himself has admitted: “I wasn’t interested in football like the other lads. I’d have the odd kickabout but I was too worried about getting hit by the ball.

“Even then I was thinking about a career in showbusiness and I didn’t want my face getting messed up. And I didn’t like getting muddy, so I got a bit of a hard time.”

In a strange twist of fate, Ray’s big break came at the age of 12 when he was cast as bullied schoolboy Antony Murray in Brookside. In the soap, Antony snapped and killed his tormentor.

After leaving school, Ray studied Performing Arts at Merseyside Dance and Drama College. But he only completed two years of the three-year course before leaving to take part in the show that would change his life – The X Factor.

Ray was a huge hit on the ITV reality show with his fantastic, Sinatra-style versions of swing songs.

Viewers warmed to his obvious talent, cheeky good looks and the fact that he wore his heart on his sleeve.

Millions watched as he broke down in tears after singing Liverpool FC’s anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone.

The song had been a big favourite of his late grandad.

When Ray looked up after his performance to see his parents – carpet fitter dad Ray and hospital cleaner mum Val – in tears in the audience, he welled up, too.

He was eventually beaten in the final by Leona Lewis, who signed a £5million record deal and has gone on to become a worldwide star.

Ray was tipped for similar success and in 2007 he became the youngest artist to have a No1 album, Doing It My Way, without first releasing a single.

But eight months on, the record company dropped him.

His gran says he wasn’t bitter about losing out to Leona. Speaking from her home in Liverpool, Marjorie says: “Ray just said she was better than him.

“He was upset at not winning, but Ray has always been more of a dancer than a singer and now he’s doing really well on Dancing on Ice. I watch it every week and am willing him to win.”