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Why did original Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips leave the show?

The professional dancer was a judge from 2004 until 2008

Dame Arlene Phillips on ITV's Lorraine
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The new series of Strictly Come Dancing is well underway on BBC One, and we are loving seeing the brand new celebrity contestants take the floor with some show-stopping routines. We've also enjoyed seeing our favourite judges - Shirley Ballas, Anton Du Beke, Motsi Mabuseand Craig Revel Horwood reprise their roles on the panel to give their verdicts each week.

But die-hard Strictly fans will know that for the first few series, Dame Arlene Phillips was included in the original lineup of judges, alongside Craig, the late Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli.

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The choreographer was on the show from 2004 until 2008 before making way for former champion and Mis-Teeq star Alesha Dixon to join in 2009.

But why did Arlene leave? Here's what we know...

Why did Arlene Phillips leave Strictly?

Arlene, 80, joined when the BBC ballroom competition first aired in 2004 bringing impressive credentials to the table. Throughout her career as a dancer and choreographer, she worked with some of the biggest names in the industry including Whitney Houston, Elton John and Freddie Mercury, to name a few.

strictly come dancing arlene phillips
Arlene Phillips was a Strictly judge for four years

In 2008, it was announced that after four years, BBC bosses had decided not to bring back Arlene for the 2009 series. It was reported at the time that they had decided to pick Alesha in order to bring a younger feel to the show, which sparked some criticism from Arlene's fans who accused the show of ageism. Arlene told reporters at the time the decision was handled "poorly".

Then in 2022, Arlene opened up about her exit during an interview with The Sunday Times, revealing that the day before she found out the news, a radio station had called her up to discuss her departure and she had "no clue" what they were talking about. 

She also revealed that her manager Michael Summerton had passed away shortly before the news was announced, so she had "no one to deal with it". 

Arlene Phillips with Bruno Tonioli in 2007© Joanne Davidson/Shutterstock
Arlene Phillips with Bruno Tonioli in 2007

"I no longer had a place on Strictly, but no agent, no one, to deal with it. It was a really awful moment. I loved Strictly," she said. "I have no answers as to why and I wasn't really strong enough to find the answers. You know, I didn’t have it inside me. It was so unexpected. There was no warning, no discussion. Nothing. There were never any conversations."

Further detailing her heartbreak over being dropped from the show, she told The Mirror: "I gave myself 48 hours to kick, scream, cry and sob, and eat scones with cream and jam, then I made myself wake up and get on with it.

"I reflect and think, wow, I really didn’t ask the questions I needed to ask. I was very fragile because I had a bereavement the day before [her manager died]."

arlene phillips© Photo: Rex
Arlene said being dropped from Strictly was 'unexpected'

The dancer continued: "I wanted to know in detail and I wanted to know the real reason at the point when they decided for me to go, yet they kept me hanging on for so long with the possibility that there would be five judges."

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Arlene did, however, return to the show back in 2018 to choreograph a routine for the professional dancers for the Sunday night results show. But it wasn't easy for Arlene to come back. "I did this because this is where my heart lies," she told The Sun at the time.

shirley ballas arlene phillips© Photo: Getty Images
Arlene with head judge Shirley Ballas

"I didn't do this about resolving anything with Strictly. Was it hard for me to say yes? I've got to tell you, it was really hard."

After leaving Strictly, Arlene went on to appear as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance?, as well as a guest judge on Dancing on Ice. She also competed in series 21 of ITV's I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!, and was the first celebrity to be eliminated. 

Every Strictly Come Dancing winner so far

Rose and Giovanni with the Glitterball in 2021
Rose and Giovanni lifted the Glitterball in 2021
  • 2004: Natisha Kaplinsky (partner Brendan Cole)
  • 2004: Jill Halfpenny (partner Darren Bennett) 
  • 2005: Darren Gough (partner Lilia Kopylova) 
  • 2006: Mark Ramprakash (partner Karen Hardy) 
  • 2007: Alesha Dixon (partner Matthew Cutler) 
  • 2008: Tom Chambers (partner Camilla Dallerup) 
  • 2009: Chris Hollins (partner Ola Jordan) 
  • 2010: Kara Tointon (partner Artem Chigvintsev) 
  • 2011: Harry Judd (partner Aliona Vilani)
  • 2012: Louis Smith (partner Flavia Cacace)
  • 2013: Abbey Clancy (partner Aljaž Škorjanec) 
  • 2014: Caroline Flack (partner Pasha Kovalev) 
  • 2015: Jay McGuiness (partner Aliona Vilani) 
  • 2016: Ore Oduba (partner Joanne Clifton) 
  • 2017: Joe McFadden (partner Katya Jones)
  • 2018: Stacey Dooley (partner Kevin Clifton)
  • 2019: Kelvin Fletcher (partner Oti Mabuse)
  • 2020: Bill Bailey (partner Oti Mabuse) 
  • 2021: Rose Ayling-Ellis (partner Giovanni Pernice) 
  • 2022: Hamza Yassin (partner Jowita Przystał)