The former Strictly Come Dancing stars spoke exclusively to HELLO! in their weekly column about their fond memories of Len judging them on the BBC ballroom dancing show and earlier in their careers as teenagers.
Len, who was also on the judging panel of America's Dancing with the Stars, was a much loved personality in the dancing world and will be sorely missed.
Below, James and Ola share their emotional tribute…
James: Ola and I are devastated to hear of Len's passing. I've got so many fond memories of him - I've known him for probably about 30 years. I think I was about 15 when I first met him at a dance competition.
Ola: He was always one of the good judges for us when we used to compete back in the day. He wasn't a biased or political judge.
James: He wasn't one of those judges who thought, 'Oh you don't come to me for lessons, I'm not going to mark you'. It's a very political business.
Ola: I think he liked our dancing because he always marked us well.
For me, the reason that people loved Len so much and he had so much respect from people like us and the dance world, is because he always came across like he was one of us. He was never the better person because he was a judge – whenever you talked to him, he was one of us.
James: And he always spoke about his wife Sue, didn't he? Whenever we were on tour he'd go, 'Oh my Sue would be happy and she'd like me doing that.' He loved her more than anything in the world and was always talking about her, which just shows the type of person he was.
I was always very outspoken on Strictly – I'd always give the judges sh*t if they said anything I didn't like and Len used to come up to me afterwards and go, 'I love it! I love it when people come back at me. I don't want to just sit there. I like it, you keep doing that boy.'
Ola: Off-screen, he was always a nice man. He had such a great job, and he was travelling around America for Dancing with the Stars. I met him a lot at golf events, so we always had a chat. He was a really nice, pleasant man. He never met Ella, sadly. Because of Covid, a lot of the events stopped.
James: I remember there was one time, we were on tour in Ireland and it was me, Chris Hollins and it was Austin Healy. The three of us were going to go and play golf with Len. There was a famous course about an hour and a half away and we were like, 'Come on, let's go and play there'.
Len was like, 'Nah, I don't want to drive all that way, we've got a golf course on our doorstep – why do we want to go all that bloody way?' We convinced him, woke up early, drove there, and when we got there, there was so much frost, the course was closed.
You f***ing idiots! I told you! There was one on the doorstep!' and then we went all the way back. He went, 'I bloody told you we were going to be playing here didn't I?'
He was such a character. He could go in any room and have people in stitches, very quick-witted, salt of the earth. I wouldn't have wanted to get in a scrap with him! He was a proper geezer.
Ola: His grandfather was actually Polish. I did Bargain Hunt with Len years ago and he found a Polish medal or coin. He was always telling me that he had a bit of Polish in him.
Backstage at Strictly, he wasn't really a party animal, he'd have one drink before going. He was probably a bit more sensible than everyone else, going to bed earlier, but he was always nice to be around. I remember when I was partnered with Chris Hollins on Strictly and Len called us his little hobbits! He was always very supportive. I don't think I ever danced with Len. I think I missed out on that one. I danced with Bruce Forsyth, but I never danced with Len.
James: They'll definitely do some kind of a tribute to Len on Strictly. I do think the show misses him – he was such a big character; you'll never replace Len. In my opinion, he is the best Strictly judge that the show's every had and will have. He had this natural ability to make people laugh and critique people in a non-malicious way, it was always tongue in cheek.
Ola: It's the way he'd say it, like: 'Well, it wasn't good, let's face it.'
James: Yeah or 'The way your bum was moving it was like it was chewing a toffee!' He had great one-liners.
We've got loads of friends on Facebook in the dance community, all around the world, and the dance community is in mourning as well. So many famous world champion dancers, people who've had lessons with him, and anyone that Len has touched in his life, it's had a massive impact. He was liked by everyone.
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