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The world according to Shirley Ballas

08 August 2022

Strictly Come Dancing’s head judge on beating bullies, and teaching her boyfriend to tango.

Shirley Ballas
Shirley Ballas photographed by Oliver Dixon/Shutterstock

When the first series of Strictly went out in 2004, I remember being asked if the British public would be interested in a show about ballroom dancing. Are you kidding? Here we are, nearly 20 years later, and Strictly is stronger than ever. Even the Royal Family are fans! This year’s series will have a slightly strange feel now that Bruno [Tonioli] has said goodbye, but Anton [Du Beke]’s pert little bottom feels well-suited to that judge’s seat. And having Anton backstage means that I get lots of cuddles.

I always get asked about my favourite contestants, but I prefer to think of iconic moments… with Ann Widdecombe, Ed Balls and Bill Bailey. And last year of course, with Giovanni [Pernice] and Rose [Ayling-Ellis]’s beautiful silent dance.

Who would I love to get on the show? Tom Jones. I’m sure he’s got all the right moves in the pelvic area! The ultimate, though, would be to get one of the Royals. Who knows? Charles and Camilla were on EastEnders recently, so maybe there’s hope for us yet.

Beating the bullies

It was my son, Mark [also a professional dancer], who persuaded me to go for the Strictly judge’s job in 2017. He knew I was unhappy with all the horrible bullying that seemed to be taking over the dance industry and he said, ‘Mum, you need to get out’. The world of dance feels splintered. Yes, there will always be glitz and glamour, but the sad truth is that bullying happens. Even though I spoke out, the people who bullied me are still there. Egotistic older men who aren’t interested in anything other than themselves and lining their pockets.

Health matters

This job keeps me pretty healthy, but I still have to work hard to stay in shape. I’m very regime orientated: I do yoga every morning, and I do intermittent fasting. It’s important for us women to support each other when it comes to looking after ourselves and stop the judgmental comments. Yes, I’ve had a little bit of Botox. When the time comes, I wouldn’t mind a chin lift. So what? What I always say to any woman who asks me is, ‘If it makes you feel happy about yourself, do it!’ Just make sure you do your research first.

Double standards

I’m 61 and my boyfriend, Danny [Taylor, an actor], will be 50 this year. That’s not much of an age gap, but he’s constantly referred to as my ‘toyboy’. It drives me mad! If a man has a younger partner, it’s fine, but people make such a fuss when it’s the other way around.

All that matters to me is that Danny is the most amazing man that has ever crossed my path and I feel both blessed and fortunate to be with him. I taught him to dance during lockdown and he’s become my star pupil. If you’re looking for a passionate start to the day, put a tango on the stereo and have a sashay around the breakfast table. It gets my heart rate up!

‘One of my crime novels will include all those juicy stories that I couldn’t put in my autobiography’

A novel idea

If I’m not dancing, I’m usually writing. I found the process of writing my autobiography, Behind the Sequins, rather thrilling. What’s even more exciting is that it’s being made into a musical on Broadway. Seeing my life story on stage will be a very strange experience.

At the moment, I’m working on two new crime novels. One is about a maverick dance teacher, and it’ll include all those juicy stories and rumours that I couldn’t put in my autobiography: sex, lies, intrigue, death. And, of course, lots of dancing.

Shirley Ballas is an advocate for the water-based probiotic Symprove, which delivers four unique strains of bacteria that reach the gut alive

As told to Danny Scott

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