AS Strictly Come Dancing’s head judge and one of the most glamorous women on TV, Shirley Ballas is in demand.
“I’ve been offered The Chase, Celebrity Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and Mastermind,” she laughs, admitting she has zero desire to test her brain power before the nation.
“I look on that with a little trepidation and think: ‘Oh no. Not quite me.’ I’m more about doing challenges that people think you can’t do at my age.”
Channel 4’s military training reality show SAS: Who Dares Wins is at the top of the 63 year old’s wish list.
“I would love to do that! I watch it every week,” she says. “It’s nothing that I haven’t gone through in my industry, with men screaming in my face. They are pussycats in comparison!”
There is no doubt Shirley is made of tough stuff. Raised on a housing estate in Wallasey, Merseyside, to a single mum who worked multiple jobs, she grafted to become the Queen of Latin.
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With zero broadcasting experience, she was a risk for the BBC, who appointed her head judge of the hit show in 2017.
But the gamble paid off when viewers fell in love with Shirley’s warm, straight-talking critique.
“As an adjudicator, judging the major dance championships around the world, I judge without fear or favour, and I have no favouritism at all. The public, at the end of the day, has the vote.
"All I say to the public is, vote! Because if you don’t, there will be two in the bottom two, and if the judges don’t agree, it will be me who’s sending them home, and then most people complain.”
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But it went beyond complaining.
Earlier this year, Shirley described what she experienced as “out-of-control abuse”, which descended into cruel jibes about her appearance.
She labelled it an “all-time low” in her Strictly journey, which forced her to take a three-week break from social media.
Today, she’s clearly in a better place, and says one of the ways she is now protecting herself from the damage of internet trolls is by keeping perspective.
“For the millions of great comments that I get, I might get a handful of people that want to say something and the newspaper might put that one line in. I don’t take it personally. I forgive them all.
“It’s a TV show. It’s a wonderful show that comes on during these beautiful autumn months. It gives us great pleasure and I don’t focus on any of that at all.”
Referring to week two of the latest series, when she was lambasted for awarding comedian Eddie Kadi and his professional partner Karen Hauer a 10 for their Couple’s Choice performance, she adds: “If I go in my [Instagram] inbox, that’s going up by 5,000 followers a week, I might get one person saying: ‘Are you sure about that 10?’ People want to focus on the negative. It’s sad.”
Happily, Shirley says this year is, so far, running smoothly. “We haven’t had any awful comments like we had last year.
"The show has been phenomenal for everybody and I don’t think I’ve been targeted… not yet, anyway.”
On top of her already busy schedule, Shirley is currently promoting her first novel, Murder On The Dance Floor, about a young dancing star who dies in mysterious circumstances.
It’s a delicate balance between work and rest, but Shirley is determined to carve out time for herself and reduce the anxiety she’s struggled with over the years.
“I have to have my yoga,” she says to the question of how she boasts the physique of a woman 20 years younger.
“I try to do 10,000 steps a day, particularly when I’m travelling. I eat right. I could munch on crap, but before I eat, I think: ‘Is it healthy for me?’
“Every week on Strictly, the catering makes me a chicken. I nibble on it and Craig [Revel Horwood] will go: ‘Come on, I’ve got cheese in my dressing room.’
"He has it with a cracker and I have it without. It’s about monitoring.”
This summer, Shirley tested herself by completing a trio of white-knuckle challenges in honour of her brother David – who at 44 and in the grip of depression, took his own life in 2003 – and in support of suicide-prevention charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).
She conquered the world’s fastest zipline and soared 5,000ft over a Welsh quarry, took to the skies for a wing-walk, then threw herself out of a plane from 15,000ft.
“Who was that? She must have been absolutely mad. Oh, that’s right. It was me!” chuckles Shirley.
“All of them were scary, but if I baked a cake, would you be talking about it? Now I’ve got to think of challenges I can do next year. Go to the moon?”
Only a fool would underestimate Shirley, who has been open about any beauty procedures she’s had done – she spoke about having a non-surgical facelift on Loose Women this year, and is “partial to a little Botox” – as well as health matters.
She’s spoken about her decision in 2019 to remove her breast implants due to a family history of breast cancer, and two years ago shared health updates after Strictly fans spotted a lump on her arm.
Fortunately, after tests for cancer, she got the all-clear.
Now, after years of struggling to “switch off” it’s refreshing to hear how Shirley is achieving more balance.
“As I get older, I’m listening to my body, so if it decides it needs more time to rest, there’s nothing wrong with that,” she says.
“My sleep habits are improving, I get plenty of water and I choose to surround myself with people like my mum, my personal assistant Harry, my driver George and my son [Dancing With The Stars’ Mark Ballas, 37], who are all uplifting people.”
Another person enriching Shirley’s life is her boyfriend of five years, Danny Taylor, 50, who she met while rehearsing for panto at the Liverpool Empire.
“I would have married him then, but now, with my life the way it is, I think we’re both happy with our situation,” says Shirley of their decision earlier this year to call off engagement plans, which she says was to allow them time to focus on their families.
Danny has a teenage son, while Shirley shares a home with her 84-year-old mum Audrey, who is in remission from colon cancer.
And in June, her LA-based son Mark and his wife BC Jean, both musicians, announced they’re expecting their first child.
“Marriage isn’t a necessity,” continues Shirley, whose four-year nuptials to former dancer Sammy Stopford ended in 1984, a year before she tied the knot to husband of 22 years, ballroom dancer Corky Ballas.
“I was a bit more pushy, and when it didn’t happen, I thought: ‘He’s busy, I’m busy.’ We get together, we enjoy that time when we can with no pressure. It works for us.”
The couple, who FaceTime daily, will next meet in a few weeks in Blackpool, when Strictly broadcasts live from the historic home of ballroom.
Naturally, Shirley swears that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
“It does! We always have something to talk about and there’s always a laugh to be had.”
Like actress Helena Bonham Carter, who’s slammed the term “toyboy” to describe her boyfriend, claiming “it implies he’s got nothing to offer than his body”, Shirley insists she and Danny are on an equal playing field – in every way.
“I’m 63, babe, I have a great body. I put some people to shame! We both bring something great to the table.
"Life isn’t always about sex. You have to have somebody that’s got intelligence.”
Shirley’s “still waiting” to hear what Danny’s doing over Christmas, which she plans to spend at home with her mum.
As for 2024, she intends to devote every spare moment to bonding with her family’s latest tiny addition.
“I’ll be working my schedule around how I go to America and how close I can be to the grandbaby,” she says.
“I will be doing all the things she [BC Jean] can’t, like housework, cleaning the windows, scrubbing the floor. That’s the type of mother-in-law I am,” she smiles.
“I’ll take on those jobs other people don’t want, and then when I’m given a chance to have a snuggle-bunny cuddle, I’ll take that.”
As for Strictly, she is equally adoring.
“The show is a phenomenon,” she says. “The glitz and glamour, the stories and characters… it’s the whole package.”
So, which contestants has she got her eye on for the final?
“I have to answer this with all my heart,” she says.
“It’s every single one of them, because every week they bring something different. I can’t single anyone out.
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- Murder On The Dance Floor by Shirley Ballas and Sheila McClure (£18.99, HQ) is out now.
In the make-up chair with Shirley
Any make-up essentials?
Liz Earle’s Superskin Moisturiser with Natural Neroli.
Any budget buys?
Nivea Rich Nourishing Body Moisturiser – I love it.
What do you splurge on?
Chanel mascara. It’s the only one that doesn’t make my eyes water!
Do you have any beauty tips?
After a hot shower, turn the water to freezing cold. It’s supposed to
be great for circulation.
Who’s your beauty icon?
Princess Diana. She always looked spectacular.
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