Just before Christmas, Shirley Ballas graced our screens every Saturday and Sunday as the head judge on Strictly Come Dancing. Having replaced Len Goodman in 2017, Shirley, 58, has the power to give the casting vote in the dance-offs. Shirley has certainly impressed BBC bosses with her vast experience as a dance coach and her work on hit US show Dancing with the Stars. Plus, fans have praised her for her honest but fair feedback to contestants. So what exactly do we know about the 'Queen of Latin'?
When did Shirley join Strictly Come Dancing?
The professional dancer replaced Len Goodman in 2017. She reprised her role for a second series this year alongside fellow returning judges Bruno Tonioli, Darcey Bussell and Craig Revel-Horwood.
Shirley is nicknamed the 'Queen of Latin'
What is Shirley Ballas' relationship with other judges?
Despite reports of a feud between Shirley and other judges, namely Darcey Bussell, the ballerina has admitted that the pair get along. Chatting to the Daily Telegraph, Darcey said: "Of course I get on with Shirley. She's hysterical, she's got a great sense of humour, and I totally respect her amazing amount of knowledge. She's great to be with."
Shirley has also opened up to HELLO! about her relationship with Brendan Cole, who was widely tipped to join the judging panel after Len left. Brendan has since been axed from the show. "I don't have any recollection on a personal level of bridges ever being broken or rebuilt between me and Brendan," she said. "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's hysterical, she's got a great sense of humour," Darcey said of her fellow judge
What kind of judge is Shirley?
As head judge, Shirley has the power to give the casting vote in the dance-offs. Speaking to HELLO! earlier this year, 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." Before she joined the show in 2017, Shirley said: "It's all about the four F's; fun, firm, feisty and fair. I may look and come across as quite strict, but I want the celebrities to know that when they are stood in front of me my heart will be pumping a thousand miles an hour for them in that moment and I'll want to give them comments to inspire them. But saying that I can also be strict. If I ask them to do something and they don't deliver it the following week I'm not going to tell them that it's ok, I'm not that kind of judge. I will be expecting things from them and I hope that they will be expecting things from me, to be as honest and as forthright as I can to help them become the best dancer they can be."
Shirley is head judge on Strictly Come Dancing
What is Shirley's dance experience?
Originally from Merseyside, Shirley began dancing at the age of seven when she took her first lesson in a local hall. She began competitively dancing aged eight, and when she was 15, Shirley moved to North Yorkshire to compete with British ballroom champion, Nigel Tiffany. The pair got engaged when Shirley was 16, but never ended up marrying.
Shirley specialises in Latin dance, earning her the nickname the 'Queen of Latin'. "I love ballroom dance, my favourite style being the Argentine Tango. I also love the Viennese Waltz and the way it can be done the American style where it breaks apart. But of course my heart lies with Latin, I love the Latin," she said.
Shirley retired from competitive dancing in 1996. She is a three-time British Open to the World Latin American champion, ten-time United States Latin American champion, and multiple-times British National champion. Shirley, who says she was "born to dance", is now an acclaimed and respected international coach as well as an adjudicator for ballroom and Latin American competitions, judging all around the world.
The pro dancer with regular judges Bruno, Darcey and Craig
What is Shirley's TV experience?
Shirley has previously appeared on Dancing with the Stars in the US, giving masterclass lessons and commentating on the show. But her big TV debut in the UK was Strictly, which she is a huge fan of. "When I was told the news, I did actually fall to my knees, I couldn't believe it!" said Shirley. "The first person I called was my son, Mark, and as soon as he answered he said, 'You got it didn't you?' I didn't even have to say it out loud! Mark was the one who had encouraged me, he always said 'You can do this' and 'It's going to be an amazing journey'." Shirley added: "I find the show so inspiring. There could be young or old people out there who are watching and they will also be inspired to take up dancing and I find that so special."
Speaking to HELLO! about those first months as a judge, she said: "Strictly was my first job in TV ever. Mark (her son) called me every day for those four months, and he and Derek Hough 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 with her only son Mark
Is Shirley married?
The dancer married Sammy Stopford, her dance partner at the time, in 1980 but later divorced him in 1984. A year later in 1985, she married ballroom dancer Corky Ballas. Together they won the International Latin American Dance Championship in 1995, which Shirley describes as one of her "proudest dance moments". Shirley and Corky have a son Mark, 31, who is a professional on Dancing with the Stars. "Aside from dancing, the biggest and proudest moment of my whole entire life was when my son Mark was born," she said. The couple divorced in 2007.
The dancer has previously opened up about her hopes of finding love. "I haven't had a boyfriend for a long time," she told HELLO!. "I do believe it will happen. I don't know when or where, but I would love to be in love again." Speaking about the dating scene in Hollywood, she added: "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 January 2019, Shirley revealed that she had met "someone special". According to The Sun, Shirley started dating actor Daniel Taylor, 44, after they starred in pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk together over the Christmas period. While they haven't officially confirmed the relationship, the pair often support each other with retweets on Twitter, with Shirley describing Daniel as a "very funny handsome man". The couple have also been photographed on nights out Liverpool together.
Where does Shirley live?
The dancer divides her time between LA and London. When she's not appearing on Strictly, Shirley is based in California. Her son Mark lives ten minutes away from her in Hollywood.
What is her relationship with Len Goodman?
Shirley has known Len since she was a young girl aged nine, when he would judge some of her shows. "However, our paths properly crossed when I was about 15 or 16 when I actually trained with him as a dancer," Shirley revealed. "We have remained friends and at any dinner party we were at together, he was the life and soul of the party. Len always had great things to say about my dancing and I'm a big fan of his sense of humour and his insight into ballroom dancing."