Culture

Shirley Ballas: 'I've spent my life in an industry dominated by men'

The 'Strictly Come Dancing' head judge reveals she was told she was never going to make it in dancing

She may be Strictly Come Dancing’s head judge, but Shirley Ballas has told The Big Issue that her 16-year-old self was told that she wouldn’t make it in dancing.

Talking to us this week in a Letter To My Younger Self, Ballas said: “If I could go back and talk to my 16-year-old self I’d tell her to be bolder. I’d say, it will feel like swimming upstream but keep going. Lots of people told me I wouldn’t make it, I would never be anything but a wallflower, I was just a common-sounding kid on a council estate.

“Then when I was a successful dancer they told me my body was too big for Corky [Ballas, her dance partner and husband for 20 years]. I’ve spent my life in an industry dominated by men, and since I was a very young girl those men have bullied me. They picked every ounce of flesh from my bone. Now I get people calling me an old hag on Twitter. So I give myself a pat on the back to have become the top female in my industry.”

She also said that she would advise her younger self to just enjoy things a little more, noting that ‘it’s always been about work ethic’.

“Doing Strictly now, and having so much fun, makes me think I should have taken a step back and enjoyed the process a bit more,” she said. “Winning the world championship made me high profile in my field, but doing Strictly is a different kind of eye-opener. I’d tell my younger self she might have to take 10 deep breaths before she does that.”

As for the happiest moment of her life? Ballas knows for sure it was the birth of her son when she was 25.

He was a surprise at the time, and that whole nine months of carrying him was like I was suddenly on a different journey. It was time out of work, making new plans,” she said.

“At first we thought he was a girl and then he came out a boy. The sun was shining that day, and I remember they were playing The Carpenters on the radio when he was born, so whenever I hear The Carpenters I go flying back to that moment. It was the pinnacle of my life and he is everything to me. I would do anything for that boy.”

Read the full article in this week's Big Issue.
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