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Shirley Ballas breaks BBC ban to back Giovanni Pernice AGAIN & reveals how he could return to Strictly

THE adage: “The show must go on” has never been more true than for Strictly Come Dancing.

The BBC show is celebrating its 20th year, but rather than toasting its triumph of amassing a huge audience every year, viewers are fixated on the drama around professional dancer Giovanni Pernice.

Shirley Ballas is known as the Queen of Latin and is famous for her no-nonsense approach to teaching
Shirley admits that everyone in the dance world is competitive and wants to win
Judge Shirley said: ‘I think sometimes, words can be cruel and people deliver them in not a great way. I learned the difference’

The BBC launched an investigation into the 33-year-old Italian after he was accused of “bullying behaviour” while working with celebrity contestants including Amanda Abbington and Laura Whitmore.

Since the accusations – which Giovanni strongly denies – he’s quit the show.

While most of his fellow dancers have remained silent, head judge Shirley Ballas has come out to defend him.

Today, she says: “I’ve known Giovanni for 10 years, and he’s a good friend of mine. But I’m not involved on any side of that [the investigation].

“I think before I speak, and I stay in my lane, which is ballroom dancing.

“I think everybody goes into Strictly with the best will in the world to entertain the country.”

Shirley, who is known as the Queen of Latin and is famous for her no-nonsense approach to teaching, admits that everyone in the dance world is competitive and wants to win.

She explains: “I can’t comment on what the thoughts are [of the professionals when teaching the celebrities]. They are doing their thing, but I’m not privy to that – I don’t see that. But in my particular world of ballroom dancing, everybody is very competitive.

“You don’t want to kill their enthusiasm or the thought that they can be the Glitterball champion. So, I think sometimes, words can be cruel and people deliver them in not a great way. I learned the difference.

“I can be super-strict when somebody is trying to win the gold medal, then I can still be quite strict but in a positive way on Strictly so they will learn something.

“That’s always ongoing for me. I’m always searching for the best way I can bring great constructive criticism.”

The 63 year old is standing by Gio, who she recently described as a “perfect gentleman”, even inviting him to her annual summer bash.

“He’s going to pop along to the party,” she admits. “I have no idea if he will come back to the show [if the investigation finds in his favour].

“I don’t get involved in the process. That’s outside my lane. Hopefully, things will get resolved and sorted. And then, you know… we’ll see.”

Shirley is hoping this year’s series will be the best yet, as she returns alongside fellow judges, Craig Revel Horwood, Anton Du Beke and Motsi Mabuse.

She is particularly pleased professional dancer Amy Dowden is back, after taking last year off for treatment following her diagnosis of stage three breast cancer.

The 33 year old was told by doctors in February that there was “no evidence of the disease”.

“I’m thrilled Amy is back. It’s Amy Dowden MBE now and I am so very proud of her getting that honour. If anybody deserves that, she does,” Shirley says.

The pair have a special bond, after the judge was encouraged to attend a mammogram by her Welsh colleague, which led to a cancer scare in April. 

Words can be cruel and people deliver them in not a good way

Shirley had considered rescheduling the routine check-up until she was less busy, but Amy told her she should get checked sooner.

She says: “I had three mammograms then a biopsy and, fortunately, everything’s OK. I’m going back every six months for a check-up.

“Cancer runs in my family – my  great-grandfather and three of my aunts had it, and my 86-year-old mum Audrey is living with colon cancer. So I’m quite vigilant about it.”

Shirley is so cautious she even had her breast implants removed in 2019 after discovering it made early detection more difficult.

She explains: “The nurse said to me: ‘We can’t really see behind the back of your implants.’ And I thought: ‘Well, how do you detect anything?’ 

“I know when I was younger, I was embarrassed to get smear tests and breast checks and things like that.

Shirley says: ‘I have Botox twice a year, I don’t have it every five minutes’
Shirley adds: ‘I’m not gonna lie, I am ready for a little nip and tuck’

“But now, I just look at my body like a machine – doctors and nurses see bodies all day long. It’s very important [to get checked]. Sadly, I’ve got a couple of friends that have left it too late.”

This year, there have been huge discussions around plastic surgery and Love Island with nearly all the girls having had work done.

Does Shirley think there is too much societal pressure on young girls to go under the knife?

“It’s getting earlier and earlier,” she agrees.

“I have Botox twice a year, I don’t have it every five minutes. Although I’m not gonna lie, I am ready for a little nip and tuck,” she says, pulling her skin back on her face.

Shirley has never shied away from admitting she’s had work, and spoke on Loose Women about her non-surgical facelift last year.

“Yes, I would [have a nip/tuck],” she admits. “If I feel good, I will do what I feel good doing. But we’re all beautiful in our own way, so do what you’re comfortable doing and not what your friend thinks.”

Shirley is so formidable, it’s hard to imagine her worrying what anyone else thinks, but the star has been left in tears over vicious comments from trolls. She’s finally found a solution, though.

I have Botox twice a year, but I’m ready for a little nip and tuck

“My PA, Harry, has taken over my social media – he sifts through the comments, blocks and deletes, then when I look at it, there are only nice or funny messages.”

It must be one of the downsides to starring on TV’s biggest show. As it enters its 20th series, what does Shirley think is the secret to Strictly’s success? 

“They tweak it, but don’t change the format. Why change a winning formula? This year, it’s going to be even more spectacular.

“We have new people working behind the scenes and they’ve got some fantastic ideas. They want to make the anniversary series special. I’ve heard whispers of which celebrities are taking part, but the announcement is coming soon.”

Working with colleagues she now considers friends must make it a lot of fun.

“Anton and I are best of friends,” she says smiling. “We’ve known each other for 35 years. I’ve known Motsi over 30 years, then Craig for eight years. And we love all the dancers; everybody puts their best  foot forward. We do know everybody is doing the very best they can.”

Although the autumn is incredibly busy for Shirley, she’ll be making time to see her partner, actor Danny Taylor, 50.

“We don’t live together. He lives up North, while I live down South with my mother. I go up there and he comes down here and we have holidays together.

Shirley with partner actor Danny Taylor
Shirley said: ‘We don’t live together. He lives up North, while I live down South with my mother. I go up there and he comes down here and we have holidays together’

“We just had a two-week cruise, where we thought we’d have some nice, quiet time, but there were 6,000 Strictly fans there! We still had a lovely time, though, and he’s happy sharing me with the fans. He’s busy and I’m busy, but we support each other’s work – that’s the main thing.”

Despite previously telling Fabulous she was keen for Danny to pop the question, Shirley has had a change of heart about tying the knot for a third time.

“I was the one that was being a bit more pushy,” she says. “Last year, we talked about it and he said: ‘Well, we can do it. But let’s not push it.’ And that was when I thought: ‘Let’s leave it as it is.’ So I don’t want to get married, but now Danny does!

“We get along very well. We have a nice relationship. It’s been six years together, so why not keep it as it is, which is lovely?”

Shirley’s easy-going nature may be one of the reasons she has remained friends with her exes.

She’s been married twice, both times to pro ballroom dancers – to Sammy Stopford from 1980 until 1984, then Corky Ballas from 1985 to 2007.

She previously said she felt “so alone and isolated” in her first marriage, then in her second, was “fat-shamed” by her husband Corky while pregnant with their son Mark.

The pair had fallen out after he sold a story when she landed the Strictly job, in which he accused her of being unfaithful and said she had a “fearsome temper”. 

Nobody understands why I keep in touch with my exes!

Shirley refused to speak to him, but they recently reunited for the sake of her dancer/musician son and new grandson, Banksi, who live in the US. 

“I’m friends with both of my exes. I talk to my first husband Sammy regularly, which is nice. Also, my first fiancé, Nigel Tiffany, is my financial advisor. Nobody understands why I keep in touch with my exes – but now everything’s good. 

When you’ve got children and grandchildren, I think you’ve got to let some things go so everybody can be together. I see my son’s face light up when his dad and I are there. We all had dinner together in a beautiful restaurant while I was in the States a few weeks ago. 

“We’ve also been working together on some projects. Corky was quite a hard taskmaster back in the day, but it’s been great. We are both in our 60s now and have matured. We were young when we got married. We don’t relive the negatives, we just want to keep moving forward.”

Becoming a grandmother for the first time – albeit the most glam of grannies – has clearly changed Shirley’s life. She can’t resist showing off numerous pictures of her even-month-old grandson.

“He is just fantastic,” she beams. “I talk to him most days on FaceTime and he recognises me now. I’ve seen him in person three times so far. I’m going back this month, and I’ll definitely fly over between Strictly shows for his birthday.

Shirley with Amy Dowden and Nikita Kuzmin
Shirley with Giovanni Pernice and Carlos Gu on Strictly

“I wondered what kind of father my son would make – he hasn’t missed a moment with him.

“He works from home now and he’s changing nappies, he’s so hands-on. He plays his guitar and sings and the baby just  bounces. He’s got fantastic rhythm already! His family are all performers.”

As well as grandma duties, Shirley has been keeping busy with her blossoming career as a novelist. Murder On The Dancefloor is out now, and the follow-up, Dance To The Death, is due in the autumn.

“I wrote my autobiography and I couldn’t include some of the stories for various reasons.

“My mum said: ‘Why not write them in fiction form, then the audience will have to guess if it is real or not?’

“So I did, but I didn’t have enough pages for all the stories, so I’ve written another one! I think it’s gonna go on and on, because my life is consistently evolving and so is the drama within the industry. 

Queen Camilla is an avid Strictly fan – she wrote me a lovely letter

“It’s a very steamy read. It’s got sex, lies, intrigue, as well as some bed-hopping, manipulation – and a little bit of ballroom dancing! It’s completely like my life,” she laughs.

“It’s separate from Strictly, though. This is the world of dance where there is bitching and backstabbing.”

The book has already been optioned to be turned into a TV show. “I haven’t got the final details,” Shirley says.

“But it’s in production. It could be a six- or eight-part series. I’m going to need some great actors and actresses who are good at dancing to bring the story to life. It would be a nice idea for me to have a cameo role, and I’d love my son to be involved.”

As well as a TV show, the book has already had the royal seal of approval from  self-confessed Strictly fan Queen Camilla.

“I sent it to Camilla. I haven’t really put this out there, but she wrote me a lovely handwritten letter. She said that she was really looking forward to the read.

“She’s an avid Strictly fan. They watch it all the time. Princess Kate came last year with her three children, which was a spectacular day. I’d love Camilla to come this year to see the show. It’s amazing that the whole royal family is so invested in Strictly.

“I’ve not met the King or Camilla yet. That would be on my bucket list! I’d love to have tea with her. I’ve heard she’s got a great sense of humour.”

Perhaps if she plays her cards right, she could follow in her pal Amy’s footsteps and land herself on the honours list?

“Oh, that would be a dream,” she says. “Lady Shirley Ballas. Wouldn’t that be lovely?”  

  • Murder On The Dancefloor by Shirley Ballas (£9.99, HQ) is out now.

In the make-up chair with Shirley

Do you have any skincare heroes?

I love Liz Earle products. 

What are your make-up bag essentials?

Chanel mascara, as it doesn’t irritate my eyes, and Eylure fake lashes.

I also love Mac Lip Pencil in Spice.

Best budget buy?

I like Nivea Micellar Water.

But my mother is always telling me off for scrubbing my face. I wash my face in cold water every day, too.

Who is your celebrity beauty icon?

I love Kim Kardashian’s eyebrows.

Describe your beauty evolution.

Well, these days my make-up artist has to pluck my chin every week on Strictly!

I wax it, but she has to do that too, and check that there are no visible nose hairs!

My mum always said: “Never go out without your make-up on,” so I’ve learned how to do my make-up myself quite well now.

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