Exclusive: Shirley Ballas opens up about this year's potential Strictly winner

This year's contestants are hoping to impress the head judge on Strictly

Strictly Come Dancing's Shirley Ballas has revealed how content she is with her role on the hit BBC show that she would consider moving back to the UK. The 58-year-old is currently renovating a home she owns in south London to give herself a permanent base in the country where she was born. "I am in the middle of a seven-month renovation of my Dulwich house," she told HELLO! in November 2018. "I will have that as my base here now and am looking forward to that. I would love to settle over here; I think I will always keep my home in America as it's close to my son, Mark Ballas."

Opening up about her role on the judging panel, Shirley explained: "I would describe this series as being just like a lava lamp – all smooth and lovely. Last year everything was new. I felt like I was being pushed from pillar to post. I wasn't sure how to hold up the paddle and how the whole situation felt. And then there was all the media attention." She added: "But this year it has been seamless. I have just absolutely had the best time. Last year, I enjoyed it, but this series has been a truly wonderful experience for which I am humbled and grateful."


Shirley Ballas spoke about who she thinks could win this year's dance competition

Despite her contentment, there is still one issue Shirley feels constantly needs to be addressed – social media bullying. Always one to take it on the chin, she sometimes responds to negative commentators on Twitter in a bid to understand where they are coming from. "I still deal with bullying," she confessed, adding: "I give people three chances to be nice and I then write back to them. The other week someone wanted to hit me in the face with a chair. It sometimes happens after you send someone home or people don't agree with a contestant's score. Generally, I think the bullies are not in a good place so I try to understand that instead of taking it personally."

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However, when it comes to the internet Shirley is no longer looking for romance online. Single for the past few years, she described her love life as "a disaster zone". The TV star shared: "No dates, not even an offer. I won’t go on sites, I used to go on but I came off that." Not that this means she’s given up on the idea of finding someone. "If anyone sees any nice men for me, that would be great," she explained. This series of Strictly has been mired in controversial moments. As well as an illicit kiss between comedian Seann Walsh and his dancing partner Katya Jones, there have been Capital FM DJ Vick Hope's comments about the voting being fixed.

Shirley, however, confessed she tries not to get involved. "I have known Katya all her dancing life and she really is a remarkable lady," she said. "Sometimes people make mistakes – it’s just life, isn’t it?” As for the belief that Strictly is a curse on relationships, Shirley says it should be seen as a blessing. "If they are single there is no problem, is there?" she added. "And I don’t think it’s a curse because some people really do find love. Unfortunately, some people have left wives or husbands, but maybe it wasn’t a strong enough relationship to start with."

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Strictly's head judge spoke about her passion for dance

Known as the Queen of Latin, the internationally renowned dance champion has had to learn a few new moves this series – sitting next to exuberant co-judge Bruno Tonioli means ducking and diving to avoid his extravagant gesticulations. "I’ve known Bruno for 11 years, I absolutely adore him," she laughed. "I know what’s coming – I’ve got great peripheral vision – and I wouldn’t want him to be any other way. I always say to him: ‘Never worry about me. You deliver your message the best way you know how to and I’ll dodge the bullet.’"

READ: Find out why Strictly's Neil Jones is 'disgusted' by wife Katya

The final is fast approaching, but Shirley revealed she can’t predict who might win the coveted Glitterball. "This cast has been so diverse and each week it’s changing," she confessed. "I truly would not like to call it." She continued: "But I say to the viewers that they are responsible for the voting and they can make a difference. I don’t think it will be the person people think it will be. Viewers like seeing dancers where they start off with no experience, although they also like people who can deliver great dances. It’s very hard to call."

Of this year's contestants, Stacey Dooley, Charles Venn and Joe Suggs have "really come on in leaps and bounds over the past few weeks, to the point where they are looking like they are contenders," she shared. YouTube star Joe, in particular, has been a surprise. "When I first saw Joe, he looked a bit nervous and I thought: ‘He looks like he is in it for a bit of a laugh,’" Shirley explained. "And now he is just in it to win it. He isn’t taking anything for granted, he’s truly in that dance. Last week, he looked like he belonged in my industry. I was shocked. Stunned. Blown away."

She also admired Charles’s attitude. "There are a lot of people that don’t like to be criticised or take it extremely personally. Charles never does that," Shirley said. "He takes every word that we say and comes back every week trying his very best to improve, with a gentleman’s spirit. Faye Tozer and Ashley Roberts are great dancers but both of them have a little experience in some form of dancing before, although they’ve never done ballroom and Latin. The other people have had to learn about music – about movement to music, about dance – so it’s a hard call. Things happen, people vote, so let’s see."


Shirley Ballas and her mum Audrey Rich

As soon as Strictly is over, Shirley will be starring as Mother Nature in Jack and the Beanstalk in her native Liverpool, where her mother Audrey still lives. "My mum is battling some cancer issues and she has just turned down chemo," she revealed. "She is 81. We take every day as it comes. I was here in the summer for her operation. My gratitude goes out to the NHS – they treated her so wonderfully and beautifully as they did with everyone in the ward." The star added: "She is such a trooper. Never really talks about it, never complains about it, just gets on with things. I got a choice of several pantos but I chose Liverpool because I am close to home and I can spend that entire time with my mother. And she can bring all her friends and have a laugh at me."

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