The BBC has announced British-born ballroom and Latin dancer Shirley Ballas, 56, will be waltzing her way on to our screens as the new Strictly judge. But who exactly is she? We did some digging to find out…
1 Shirley’s love of dance started by chance, aged just seven, when she came out of Brownies in her home in Wallasey, Merseyside, and saw a ballroom dancing class going on in the next room. The next Saturday she enrolled.
2 Her professional career began aged eight, and by 21 she was the youngest ever British Open To The World Latin American Champion!
3 The dancer has a habit of falling in love with her dance partners. When she was just 15, Shirley trained with British Junior Ballroom Champion Nigel Tiffany and by the time she was 16, they were engaged.
4 Two years later, Shirley was then partnered with top Latin dancer Sammy Stopford. She split from Nigel and, aged 18, she married Sammy, 24.
5 Aged 21, Shirley was asked to give dance lessons to Mark Ballas, aka Corky, the son of a rich Texan. They fell in love and Shirley divorced Sammy and wed Corky in 1984!
6 Shirley taught husband Corky how to dance to a professional level and the two went on to become undefeated Latin US champions for eight years.
7 She has already fallen victim to the Strictly curse – Corky left her in 2002 to be with the show’s former pro dancer Kristina Rihanoff. The two dated for five years.
8 Shirley and Corky remain firm friends. She often posts pictures online of the two of them at dinner and events.
9 Corky and Shirley are parents of Dancing With The Stars professional Mark Ballas, 30. They also became guardians to professional dancer siblings Julianne and Derek Hough.
The new Strictly Come Dancing judge – and that’s not all…
10 Shirley remains very close to the Houghs, and thinks of them as her kids. And the two are also very grateful for the upbringing she gave them, even if she was a little strict. ‘If you crossed Shirley, you paid a price,’ Derek said in an interview about his childhood.
11 She was a smoker for 40 years but when Shirley quit she joined forces with her son Mark in 2015 to launch a campaign to encourage others to stop smoking, saying, ‘I would do anything for Mark – even quitting smoking. When he asked me to do this with him, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.’
12 Shirley is good friends with Nigel Lythgoe, the former Popstars judge! The two appeared in a TV show together called Dizzy Feet when she was just 19.
13 Shirley is very close to her mum, Audrey, who raised her single-handedly. Talking about their relationship, she said, ‘I have the best mother in the whole world. Without her I couldn’t have done it.’
14 After years working behind the scenes on Dancing With The Stars, Shirley landed the job after BBC bosses were ‘blown away’ with her screen test and audition.
Words: Jennifer Kyte