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Arlene Phillips — things you didn't know about the former 'Strictly Come Dancing' judge and 'I'm A Celebrity' star

Arlene Phillips on the red carpet
Everything you need to know about Arlene Phillips. (Image credit: Getty)

Dame Arlene Phillips is probably best known for being one of the original judges on Strictly Come Dancing, but what many won't realise is she's been an internationally renowned choreographer, theatre director, talent scout, and dancer for over 40 years. 

Arlene's impressive career in showbusiness has seen her choreograph music videos for A-list artists, create trailblazing dance acts, and direct spectacular theatre shows on both sides of the Atlantic. 

The proud mum and grandmother is showing no signs of slowing down either, and will soon be swapping the bright lights of theatreland for the dark and dingy Gwrych Castle in Wales, to take part in the latest series of I'm A Celebrity. At 78, Arlene will become the oldest contestant in the show's history, but somehow we don't reckon she'll be too phased by all the rats and cockroaches.

Here are a few facts you might not know about Arlene...

1. Arlene Phillips was bitten by the dancing bug early

Arlene's job may be a lot of glitz and glamour, but her upbringing couldn't have been more different. Born in Prestwich, Manchester, in 1943, to working-class parents, Arlene is the middle child of three (she has an older brother, Ian, and a younger sister, Karen), and growing up money was in short supply. 

Both Arlene's mum and dad were huge fans of ballet, and it was during a family outing she first fell in love with dance. 

Speaking on Giovanna Fletcher's podcast Happy Mum, Happy Baby, about that pivotal moment, Arlene recalled: "My parents had taken all three of us to the Free Trade Hall in Manchester to see a Russian dance concert that had all different kinds of dancing - from Georgian dancing to classical dancers from the Bolshoi. We were sitting right at the back, I think I was 4 years old, and I fell in love with ballet. From then on all I wanted to do was dance." 

There were no funds for ballet school, so Arlene had to wait until she was eight when her uncle paid for her to attend classes at a local church hall. But with her mum unable to afford the classic pale pink ballet shoes, she had to make do with a cheaper bright emerald green pair. Despite her embarrassment at being the odd one out, steely Arlene vowed to rise above it: "I knew it was going to be my last chance, I had to dance, so I stuck it out in my green ballet shoes."

2. Hot Gossip made her a household name

Arlene made the move to London in her early twenties, where she began teaching dance and helped start up the legendary Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden. And it was after being struck with an idea to combine American modern jazz with the style of dancing that was seen in nightclubs at the time, Arlene created the dance troupe, Hot Gossip, handpicking students from her own classes. 

With their sexy moves and flesh-baring costumes, Arlene's group were originally deemed too raunchy for television, but finally got their big break when they were invited to appear on The Kenny Everett Show in 1978. 

In an interview with The Guardian Arlene remembered the riot it caused: "There was an outcry when we appeared on TV. Mary Whitehouse (a conservative activist) complained, there were even questions in parliament – and my career as a choreographer was made." 

3. Arlene has a star-studded CV

Being one of the country's most in demand choreographers for over four decades, Arlene's worked with some of the biggest talents in music, theatre, film and television. She's choreographed epic pop videos for the likes of Whitney Houston (I Wanna Dance With Somebody and How Will I Know), Robbie Williams, Sir Elton John (I'm Still Standing), and was responsible for the moves in Duran Duran's The Wild Boys, which scooped the award for Best British Video at the 1985 Brits. 

Arlene's creative genius has led her to direct a number of musicals, both in the West End and on Broadway, including Starlight Express, Flashdance, Saturday Night Fever, We Will Rock You, Grease, and the 2011 revival of The Wizard of Oz in the London Palladium. 

She's even conceived routines for countless television adverts and co-choreographed the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

4. She's ruled out a return to 'Strictly Come Dancing'

Strictly judges Arlene Phillips, Bruno Tonioli, Len Goodman and Craig Revel Horwood

Arlene has ruled out a return to the Strictly judging panel.  (Image credit: BBC)

In 2004, Arlene was appointed as a judge on the BBC's new Saturday night primetime show Strictly Come Dancing, sitting on the panel with Craig Revel-Horwood, Bruno Tonioli and Len Goodman. Over the next five series, she drew on her extensive knowledge to critique celebrities competing to win that coveted glitterball trophy. However, Arlene's Strictly journey came to an end in 2008 when she was replaced by former champion Alesha Dixon. 

Arlene went on to be a talent judge on So You Think You Can Dance?, but has ruled out a return to Strictly. Speaking on Good Morning Britain she said: “I love Strictly and I just don’t think about being asked back because it’s never gonna happen. But I’m passionate about the show, and I loved my time on it.”

5. She's a passionate supporter of charity

The Alzheimer's Society is a charity very close to Arlene's heart, having experienced firsthand the devastating effects of the cruel disease. Arlene helped care for her late father, Abraham, who lived with Alzheimer's for over ten years until his death in 2000. 

Determined to raise awareness of dementia, Arlene is now an ambassador for Alzheimer's Society and frequently fronts their campaigns and fundraising activities, using her social media platforms to help spread the word. And in 2017, Arlene brought together a host of the world's finest dance talents for a gala at the Adelphi Theatre in London, to raise funds for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. Arlene imagined and directed the event, which included performances from the stars of Strictly Come Dancing, Matthew Bourne's New Adventures, and various eminent ballet companies. 

6. She's a children's author

After discovering her passion for dance as a child, it seemed fitting for Arlene to write a series of dance-themed books aimed at little ones. The Alana Dancing Star stories are based on the adventures of a dance-obsessed young girl (who's named after Arlene's eldest daughter) whose dream to learn different genres - from Bollywood to Samba - sees her being transported around the globe. 

The idea for the series came to Arlene when she was browsing in a children's book store and could only find titles about ballet. She recalled the light bulb moment to The Guardian: "I suddenly thought 'No! There need to be books about jazz, Bollywood, hip-hop, Latin, ballroom!' And that was it; off I went. I wanted it to be about an ordinary little girl who has magic adventures with a real, feel-good ending." 

7. Arlene was made a Dame by the Queen

Arlene Phillips is awarded a Commander of the British Empire

Arlene being awarded her Commander of the British Empire in 2013.  (Image credit: Getty)

Arlene is a multi-decorated woman, and has received not one, not two, but three honours from Queen Elizabeth II. In 2001 she was awarded an OBE, followed by a CBE in 2013, both for her services to dance. But her highest accolade came this year when she received a Damehood in recognition for her work in the fields of dance and charity as part of the Queen's birthday honours list. Taking to her Instagram account to express her delight at being made a Dame, Arlene said: "It’s dance, dance, dance in my life right now because Her Majesty The Queen has given me an honour I could have never have dreamed of. I am so unbelievably proud to now be Dame Arlene Phillips."

8. She's a proud grandma

Arlene dotes on her two little granddaughters, Lila Primrose, two, and Emme Bow, 11 months, the daughters of her eldest child Alana, and regularly posts adorable snaps and videos of the pair on her Instagram account. Describing Lila and Emme as 'greatest joy in her life', Arlene has admitted she found it incredibly difficult being apart from the girls during the Covid pandemic. 

In an interview with Women's Weekly magazine earlier in the year she said: "It's been really hard not seeing them in person. I see them every day on a screen, but it's not the same. 'To hug and to hold' are my favourite words." We wonder if Lila and Emme will follow in their famous grandma's dancing footsteps?

Arlene Phillip's fact file

Frequently asked questions about the choreographer and theatre director...

How old is Arlene Phillips?

Arlene Phillips is 78, she was born on 22nd May 1943.

Is Arlene Phillips married?

Arlene's first marriage to fashion designer Dan Noble ended in divorce. She has been with her long-term partner Angus Ion since 1985, having met on the set of the music video for Freddie Mercury's song, I Was Born to Love You.

Does Arlene Phillips have any children?

Arlene is mum to two daughters - Alana from a previous romance, and Abi from her relationship with long-term partner Ion.  

Does Arlene Philips have any grandchildren?

Arlene has two granddaughters - Lila Primrose and Emme Bow.

Where was Arlene Phillips born?

Arlene Phillips was born in Prestwich, Lancashire.

How tall is Arlene Phillips?

Arlene Phillips is 5 foot 2 inches tall.

Twitter:@arlenephillips

Instagram: @arlenephillips

We work hard to ensure that all information is correct. Facts that change over time, such as age, will be correct, to the best of our knowledge, at the time of the last article update.