Strictly judges childhoods – unrecognisable, social misfit and seven-year hell
With the grand finale of BBC's Strictly Come Dancing just around the corner, it's time to uncover the hidden gems of the show's beloved judges as we delve into their sensational childhood stories and unveil some jaw-dropping throwback snaps.
Whether it's Craig Revel Horwood's heart-rending revelation of his early struggles in the land down under, Bruno Tonioli's astonishing transformation from an unknown dancer to a global icon, or the unexpected twist in the career of the late Len Goodman – we've got it all covered.
READ MORE: Want more showbiz? Daily Star has just the thing for you!
READ MORE: Want more TV? Daily Star has just the thing for you!
As fans prepare for one lucky couple to lift the coveted Glitterball Trophy and be crowned this year’s champions, Daily Star take a look at some of the show's celebrated judges before they found fame, with each having become an integral part of the Strictly magic.
Craig Revel Horwood
Craig Revel Horwood opened up about his tough childhood growing up in Ballarat, Australia as he detailed feeling like a "social misfit" and an "outcast". In a look back at his life during a segment on It Takes Two, the Strictly judge told how he didn't feel like he fit in and wasn't into sports like his peers, adding that "It was not acceptable to be even slightly effeminate".
Craig, who looks unrecognisable in throwback snaps, shared that after discovering dance, he finally found people that "understood" him, adding that he used dance as an escape route from his hometown. Recalling his younger years, he said: "When I was at school I had very limited friends, I just did not fit in at all. I didn’t like sport at school – in fact I hated it. Any kid in Australia that doesn’t like sport is a social misfit and outcast. That’s why I went to the dance classes, people were telling me I was good at it and it was the first thing I’d ever been good at."
The Dancing with the Stars account posted throwback photos of Bruno Tonioli before he became a judge on the US version of the show. The snap shows him posing during the 80s wearing a blue and red jumpsuit as he lays on the floor of a dance studio sporting some leg warmers. the Italian-born television star got his start in dancing before shifting to a focus on choreography.
While you may know him best as a successful TV star, Bruno has collaborated with big names in the music industry including Elton John and Tina Turner, and also worked on blockbuster hits such as Ella Enchanted and What a Girl Wants. Sadly, his parents never got to see him thriving at the height of his career. His mother passed away at 63 from a heart attack, while his father died at 70 from Alzheimer's disease. In an interview with the Mirror, Bruno described that period as a "seven-year nightmare."
Dame Arlene Phillips
During her childhood in Manchester in the 1940s, Dame Arlene was deeply influenced by her dance-passionate mother, Rita, who passed away when Arlene was 15, leaving a lasting impact on her. Her father, Abraham, ran a barber's shop, and the family, including her younger sister Karen and older brother Ian, faced challenges after Rita's death. From a young age, Arlene was immersed in the arts, her parents taking her to ballet and musical films.
This exposure led her to join the Muriel Tweedy Ballet School at nine, where she spent entire days absorbed in dance. In 1966, at 23, Arlene's career took a turn when she discovered American Jazz dance. While teaching ballet at Muriel Tweedy School, she took various jobs, including babysitting for director Ridley Scott, which led to her first choreography role in a commercial. This opportunity opened doors for her in America, including choreographing major ad campaigns like Dr Pepper.
Len Goodman was one of the most recognisable faces of the ballroom dancing scene. He helped pioneer both Dancing with the Stars and its British counterpart Strictly Come Dancing, which brings the intricate art of ballroom dance into mainstream living rooms every week. But before taking the scoring paddles in hand, the dance icon, who died at 78 earlier this year, had a dedicated career as a dancer.
Check out this nostalgic throwback photo from the Seventies of Len in his competition days with his partner Cherry Kingston, who would become his wife in 1972. The couple divorced in 1987. The late star was only 25 at the time, and is sporting a thick crop of hair that makes him almost unrecognizable from the Len that we knew form the show. He got into dance at 19, after a short time as an apprentice welder. But his origin story comes from an unlikely place: A doctor's office. "When I was 20, I broke my foot playing five-a-side," he told the Mirror. "The doctor recommended ballroom dancing as a way of recuperating. Ballroom dancing was great for me; it was the first thing I found that I was good at."
Anton Du Beke
Anton Du Beke delivered a moving account of his challenging childhood during an interview with Kate Garraway. At 57, he opened up about his mother's unwavering support despite her ill health, which had prevented her from attending his performances. He grew up in a household plagued by abuse and recounted a harrowing incident where his father stabbed him on Boxing Day, resulting in a three-day hospital stay.
Despite these traumatic experiences, Anton's bond with his mother remained a cornerstone of his life, especially during his early career on the BBC show. He lived with his mother when he first joined Strictly and was visibly emotional when mentioning her inability to watch him from the audience due to her illness.
Motsi opened up about her childhood experiences of racial segregation while growing up in apartheid-era South Africa during an appearance on Loose Women. She shared that the policy of segregation and discrimination on the grounds of race forced her to dance in separate competitions from white children. The 39-year-old judge discussed the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and related it to her personal struggles, admitting that her life was far from easy due to the racism she faced.
The discussion became particularly emotional for Motsi when reflecting on a childhood photograph of herself, which brought back painful memories. She expressed that even now, speaking about the subject revives the hurt and challenges she had concealed deep within herself, indicating the lasting impact that such systemic discrimination has had on her life.
Darcey Bussell, a retired English ballerina and one of the best British ballerinas of all time, spent six years as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing before her departure from the BBC show. Darcey had a prolific ballet career with the Royal Ballet, starring in 80 different roles and becoming a principal dancer at just 20 years old. She retired as a principal ballerina in 2006 and from ballet entirely in 2007.
In addition to her ballet career, she made TV appearances, acted in films and TV shows, and received a damehood in 2017. Darcey joined Strictly Come Dancing in 2009 and left in 2019 to focus on her other dance commitments, citing no disagreements as the reason for her departure despite rumours of a rift.
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