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Exclusive! Shirley Ballas opens up about relationship with former pro Brendan Cole

The Strictly Come Dancing star took over Len Goodman's position

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Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas has welcomed HELLO! magazine into her Los Angeles home for an exclusive interview and photoshoot. And the Liverpool-born star revealed that she wants to return for another series of the hit BBC One show. "I hope to be back, I’d like to, but as yet nothing’s official," she said. "My critiques will always remain firm. I will say it as I see it, though you can’t help but get emotionally attached to the couples." And she has also spoken about her relationship with Strictly pro Brendan Cole, who was let go from the show earlier this year. This followed a prickly exchange with Shirley during one of the live shows. "I don’t have any recollection on a personal level of bridges ever being broken or rebuilt between me and Brendan," she said.

Shirley Ballas had nothing but positive things to say about Brendan Cole

"He is an amazing dancer, an amazing person, whose career I have followed for many, many years and I'm extremely proud of what he's achieved both at work and at home. One of the things people learn with me is I don't need to pull someone else down to build myself up and I will live and die by that rule. There has been no face-to-face confrontation and all I can say is I wish him, his wife and their two beautiful children well because, whatever he does next, I know he will bring 100% to his role," she continued.

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Brendan's former partner, Camilla Sacre-Dallerup, a close friend of Shirley's who was once a professional dancer on Strictly and who now works as a life coach and hypnotherapist, has helped Shirley cope with the anxiety she has suffered since childhood. "She has taught me how to meditate, let go and relax when things are bad," shared Shirley, who has also suffered body confidence issues throughout her life. "I can remember, right back as a young child, comments made because at one point I was a little on the heavy side. Then, when I was dancing as a teenager, people would say: 'How do you feel Shirley, that your husband's bottom is so much smaller than yours?'"

Shirley Ballas will return to Strictly Come Dancing

Swerving the topic of a rumoured £70,000 pay rise to bring her in line with the £250,000 per series former head judge Len Goodman was earning, Shirley revealed: "The world is a changing place - women have a voice and we have a lot to offer." One thing's for sure - if, or when, Shirley is reinstated, she will make her return armed with the same principles that made her such a force to be reckoned with first time around.

Living just ten minutes from Shirley in LA, Mark, 31, Shirley's only child, from her second marriage to ballroom dancer Corky Ballas, is a professional on Dancing with the Stars, the US version of Strictly. He made his Broadway debut in 2016 playing Frankie Valli in the stage show Jersey Boys and, with BC, whose song If I Were a Boy became a hit in 2008 when Beyoncé released it as a single, has had success as the writing and performing duo Alexander Jean (a portmanteau of their middle names). "They are really going places," said Shirley, glowing with maternal pride. "When Mark was marrying BC, he sat me down and said: 'You know Mum, you've always been my queen, but I'm getting
married, so BC Jean will be my queen.' He could see that I was tearing up so he stroked my cheek and said: 'But you will always be my princess.' He's a total superstar, and my daughter-in-law is divine."

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It was largely Mark and "surrogate son" Derek Hough, the Dancing with the Stars pro once romantically linked to Cheryl, who got Shirley through some tough times after being plunged into the spotlight on BBC1's weekend prime-time hit. "Strictly was my first job in TV ever. Mark called me every day for those four months, and he and Derek were brilliant at helping me deal with some of the more challenging aspects of being in the press. I've had my trust knocked more than a few times. For every stride you take forward, there's always someone who wants to push you a stride back, and that part was difficult to deal with. But if you have a core of great people who you can truly lean on, that makes it easier."

Shirley married her first husband, fellow dance professional Sammy Stopford, when she was 18. At 36 she won the British Open To The World Latin American championships for the second time, having first won when she was 23. "So there was quite a gap, and during that time I was getting told: 'Maybe you need to lose weight.' To this day, if I eat a piece of cake, I feel guilty for a week. But as I'm getting older I'm trying very hard to learn that you have to accept who you are and embrace the things you love about yourself, and I feel very sad, actually, that it has taken me so long.

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"Right now, I'm slightly plump for me. We've been decorating and I've had friends here, so I've been out of routine. But I'm okay with that because I know I shall get back into it. I do yoga, I walk the dog and on the whole I eat healthily, but I no longer feel under pressure to be in the gym for three hours." While her face is untouched by the surgeon's scalpel – "I'm a little bit of a chicken when it comes to that" – Shirley has had Botox. "And for many years I've gone to a place called RejuvaYou in Pasadena for laser lifting. They've done Kris Jenner and some of the Kardashian ladies. Three times a year I visit for face and neck laser lifts. They take blood from your arm, separate the red cells from the white and pump it back into your skin. I come home a little sore, but the following day I put a bit of makeup on and I'm straight back to work. We're in an age now where it's no longer about keeping up with the Joneses, it’s what makes you feel good as a woman."

Exclusive: Shirley Ballas talks dancing dramas and dating

Currently single – "I haven't had a boyfriend for a long time" – Shirley hasn't given up on meeting Mr Right. "I do believe it will happen. I don't know when or where, but I would love to be in love again." In the past she has used dating websites. How does she find the dating scene in Hollywood? "The men here seem perfectly charming, but everybody is super busy. If it's good-looking men you're after, the place to go is Italy. Every Italian I've ever come across is handsome." Ultimately, though, she's on the lookout for someone "nice and kind and caring". She said: "I know my mum would like to see me with someone who looks out for me and treats me with kindness and respect."

In the interview, Shirley also revealed that she is a huge fan of the royal family and plans to hold a wedding party when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle tie the knot on 19 May. "I adore the royal family. I am taking the day off to celebrate the wedding with friends, and there will be lots of excitable tweeting. I was a fan of Meghan’s before she met our gorgeous Prince Harry. I loved her in Suits, I admired her work ethic and her charity work, and I think she is such a breath of fresh air. Both Meghan and Kate [the Duchess of Cambridge] are huge assets to our royal family, and they and the Princes are such a credit to our country."

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