Browning, Jackson surprise with 'Stars on Ice' duetDuo hatched idea for routine after filming commercial for Canadian bank
When Joannie Rochette ran Don Jackson backstage at the Canadian Stars on Ice tour stop in Toronto, she asked the 1962 world champion how he was and if he still skates. He replied that he would be skating in the show.
"She had no idea. It was supposed to be a surprise," said Jackson, who only told his immediate family and a few friends about his appearance.
Jackson, 76, had filmed a commercial for HomEquity Bank a few weeks prior with four-time world champion Kurt Browning, 49. Browning decided they should mark the occasion by creating a routine.
Browning then asked Stars on Ice producer Byron Allen if he and Jackson could perform the duet at a couple of the tour stops, and Allen agreed.
"It was kind of visceral actually," Browning said of the audience responses. "When we finished, you could tell people appreciated the surprise so much."
The mood at the shows was electric. Jackson even participated in the autograph sessions and was a huge hit.
"For me, it was just the right thing to do, to have somebody that is cheerleading the sport on so many levels," Browning said of Jackson. "He shows up at small competitions all the time. He signs autographs and poses for a thousand pictures. He leads the sport in an inspirational way -- even to the reigning world champions, to know that skating can stay a part of their lives.
"(It's) inspiring for people like me who are turning 50 (Browning's birthday is in June) to say, 'I want to be 76 and put my skates on,'" Browning continued.
When HomEquity Bank approached Browning to appear in a commercial, he and the company came up with a concept that included Jackson.
"In a creative meeting, I had this idea that I would be on the ice with somebody," said Browning, who plans to donate a significant portion of his fee to charity. "The idea was, we'd be doing little hops and turns as we skate along. Then I say, 'I'm going to do a commercial for HomEquity Bank,' and I'd tell him about it. Then the person would skate away and say, 'I hope your commercial goes well,' and I'll say, 'I think it just did.'"
Browning said Jackson was a natural, exuding charm while still skating very well, which led to the idea of creating an actual program.
Jackson was honored and surprised to get the call. He went to Browning's home base at the Granite Club in Toronto and showed him some of his footwork, jumps and spins.
"We skated together, and I started recording him doing his steps and cool moves, and then I used that as the basis to choreograph," said Browning, who created a program to Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore."
After the routine was completed, Browning told Jackson he had a surprise: They'd be skating together in Stars on Ice shows in Toronto and Hamilton.
"It was a shock to be able to do the commercial with him, let alone also skate in Stars on Ice," said Jackson, who still coaches part time near his home in Oshawa, Ontario.
Browning said the Stars on Ice Canada cast had grins on their faces after spending time with Jackson. Everyone was touched by the experience of skating alongside a piece of Canadian history.
"In the dressing room it was wonderful because, instead of just knowing the people by their skating, I got to know the guys' personalities, and they got to know me," Jackson said. "They all treated me like a king. They were calling me Mr. Jackson. I said, 'Call me Don.' They were all wonderful.
"I couldn't have skated with a better person than Kurt," he added.
Browning said, "To be around that energy, aura and positivity is incredible."