Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas, 62, opens up about dropping two dress sizes, the anxiety she often feels, and why 2023 is looking set to be super busy!
Shirley Ballas: ‘In the past year I’ve dropped two dress sizes. I went to a Juice Master retreat in the summer where I was walking, Spinning, doing yoga and having spa treatments, which kick-started a belief that I could get back into shape.
‘During lockdown with my boyfriend Danny [actor Danny Taylor, 46], I gained 20-odd pounds. I enjoyed that time. We ate butties, cake, sweeties, had three meals a day and cocoa at night. Now I do intermittent fasting and no longer eat sugar, cakes and cookies. At my age, I don’t think my body needs that much fuel. I have enormous willpower. If you set me a task with my work or my figure, I stick to that mission.
‘My physique could be better. In my mind, it could always be more toned and I always keep working at it. I never look at my body and think, “That’s great”. When I’m with Danny, he makes me feel like everything is acceptable. If I gain a few pounds, it’s fine. If I lose weight, it’s fine. If I’ve got a dimple, he won’t see it. If I’ve got stretch marks, he doesn’t see them. I feel my prettiest around him.
‘I went to a Juice Master retreat in the summer where I was walking, Spinning, doing yoga and having spa treatments, which kick-started a belief that I could get back into shape.’
‘Self-care is in process for me! There’s something about down time and days off that I struggle with. It’s like I have a big red button on my shoulder. It doesn’t matter how tired I am, if I give it a prod, it gives me a burst of energy and I just get on with it because it’s the job.
‘Pre-Christmas, I’m running up to the International Ballroom Dancing Championships l, so my days start at 5am and I’m not in bed until 11pm. I don’t even have time to hang up any clothes! That’s why it’s great that my mother [Audrey Rich, 85] lives with me because she takes care of the washing, ironing, cooking and cleaning, so I just go to work. I’m like the husband and she’s the wife! My mother is a whirlwind of energy. She has cancer but is getting on with life. She’s got a bigger red button than me. You’ll never hear one complaint.’
Shirley Ballas on menopause and anxiety
‘I spoke out about the menopause to help others. I started going through the menopause at 47, and I became depressed and anxious. My skin and nails dried out, I began gaining weight and I lost my confidence. I started on bioidentical hormones [an alternative to HRT]. At the end of 2020, Strictly viewers spotted a lump in my arm and tests revealed I had elevated testosterone levels and depleted oestrogen.
‘After being treated under the NHS in the UK and using an oestrogen gel, I had an appointment in America with the doctor who took care of me when I lived there. Dr Christopher Asandra put me back on bioidentical hormones to raise my energy levels and libido, and stop me feeling sorry for myself. My emotions are stabilising. I’m aiming to get back to America three times a year for Dr Asandra to take care of my hormones. I felt my best when in the US and under his care.
‘I have dark moments. If someone asks, “What’s happy?” It’s like, “I have no idea. You tell me”. I feel like I’m wearing a mask. When I go to do Strictly, people expect me to be “on”, but behind closed doors, I’m tussling with myself, asking myself, “Why do I feel like this? Why am I emotional? Why do I look at myself and not see beauty?”. I think I’m always going to be like that. It’s been engrained from being a small child.
‘I spoke out about the menopause to help others. I started going through the menopause at 47, and I became depressed and anxious. My skin and nails dried out, I began gaining weight and I lost my confidence.’
‘I know I’m anxious when I feel my heart palpitating – I can’t sleep, I worry about everything. Lately, if I hear music that my mother likes, I think about the fact she’s getting older and I envisage things that haven’t yet happened, rather than staying present in the now. In that way, my anxiety is self-inflicted. Breathing and talking positively to myself helps it to subside.
‘Mental health is more of a conversation now, but a lot more needs to be done. People can’t rest on their laurels. Some people get so far into a dark hole, they can’t get out so there seems no other solution but to take their life, like my brother did in 2003. I read a story recently of a teenage girl who took her life because of being targeted over social media. I don’t think Twitter and Instagram do enough to help to protect the younger generations’ mental health.’
Shirley Ballas on dance, exercise and beauty
‘Dance is my escape, a safe place. I’ve been at the very top and at the very bottom; I’ve won, then lost and had to climb from the bottom back up again, but it’s an industry I’ve loved since the age of seven. I’m inspired by all types of dancing. At the moment, my inspiration comes a lot from my son, Mark Ballas, who’s on Dancing With The Stars. We chat so much about dance, music, clothing and the arts. It’s great to have a child that’s on the same page as me.
‘Exercise is important to me. When I’m not in the studio at 5am, I do yoga first thing or last thing at night. I also love to ride my Peloton bike and do light weights at home – any time I can get in the gym is an extra treat. I used to punish myself if I couldn’t find time for exercise, but no more. I have an awful lot of students!
‘Mental health is more of a conversation now, but a lot more needs to be done. People can’t rest on their laurels. Some people get so far into a dark hole, they can’t get out.’
‘When I look at my boobs, I wonder why I had a boob job [Shirley went under the knife in 2002 to increase her breast size from a 32B to a 34DD]. I had my implants removed in 2019 for health reasons because cancer ran in my family. When I had the operation, my doctor gave me a good lift, so they’re not a bad-looking pair of boobies!
‘When it comes to beauty treatments, I’m game for anything! I do face and neck laser lifts to keep the skin clean and a bit tighter. I have a little bit of Botox twice a year and I’ve been using a new machine which makes me feel like I’ve done thousands of sit-ups. It’s tough but I enjoy it. It works wonders for the hip and tummy areas. I’ve made some mistakes in the past, such as having Lipo-Lite, which uses LED Light Therapy to attempt to reduce body fat. That was a mistake because, as I’ve got older, the skin hangs where they took the fat out.
‘My little purse of make-up will last me a year. You’ll never see me scouring for the latest eyeshadow, it’s not my thing! I love Obagi products and I’ve been a fan of Liz Earle skincare since I moved to the UK six years ago. I like her treatments, moisturisers, scrubs and tonics.
‘I always look forward to the start of the year. In 2023, I’ve got a book out, Murder On the Dancefloor (£9.99, HQ), and I’m also setting up a dance tour in the USA for a couple of months. In April, it’s the British Championships, then, I’ll take some holiday time with my mother – maybe a cruise. Derek’s getting married in August (Shirley is guardian to dancer Derek Hough) and, before you know it, we’re back picking Strictly contestants! My calendar is full!’
Words: Gemma Calvert | Photos: blake ezra studios