Shirley Ballas: what you need to know about the new head judge

From title after title to a famous son, here’s what you need to know about Strictly’s head judge and this week's Who Do You Think You Are celebrity.

Len Goodman’s announcement that he would be stepping down from Strictly after 14 series in the head judge’s seat led to a flurry of speculation as to who would replace him.

Many familiar faces – among them returning dancers Anton du Beke and Brendan Cole – were mooted as possible replacements. But in May 2017 the BBC announced that “Queen of Latin” Shirley Ballas would be filling Len’s slot on the judging panel.

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Shirley is preparing for her second year on the judging panel and ahead of the new series is the latest celebrity to take part in Who Do You Think You Are?

The Strictly star  investigates a family story that her maternal great-grandmother abandoned her husband and children for a more exciting life in America. What Shirley discovers casts her great-grandmother in a completely new light.

On her father's side, Shirley pursues a rumour that she has black ancestors - a trail which leads her to colonial Cape Town and the era of slave trafficking to South Africa via the Indian Ocean.

Ancestry aside, here are five things you need to know about Shirley Ballas:

1.She’s a Brit.

Shirley was born in Wallasey, Merseyside, and started dancing at the age of seven. A natural, she specialised in Latin dance.

She competed first with Nigel Tiffany, then with Sammy Stopforth, before meeting American Corky Ballas.

Shirley and Corky married and moved to the USA. Shirley had to train Corky from scratch but they went on to compete together before moving back to the UK to compete in the 90s. Shirley gave up competitive dancing in 1996 and focussed on becoming a coach and judge. 

2.She’s won loads of titles.

Shirley danced with Sammy Stopforth from the ages of 18 to 23. During this time, they won all the major titles worldwide.

Shirley was equally as successful with her next partner, and husband, Corky Ballas. Together they are the most successful Latin champions in American history – with an eight-year run undefeated. Corky and Shirley’s success continued when they moved to the UK to compete.

Shirley was a three-time Latin American Champion at the British Open To The World in Blackpool, where she reached the finals 17 times, is the only person ever to have won the contest with two different partners, and remains the youngest ever female to reach its finals.

She is also a 10-time United States Latin American Champion and multiple-times British National Champion.

5 things you didn't know about Shirley Ballas

3.She’s previously coached a Strictly favourite.

Former Strictly pro Camilla Dallerup, who lifted the Glitterball trophy in series six with her celebrity partner Tom Chambers, was once coached by Shirley.

“I love Shirley,” Camilla told us.

“Shirley was my coach for many years and a big part of my own career.

“She is a great choice - a lady who indeed has walked the walk both as a coach and as a professional competitive dancer.”

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4.She also coached on Come Dancing.

Shirley coached some of the competitors in the Strictly’s non-celebrity predecessor Come Dancing.

“It was still a great ambassador for ballroom. People might look back now and think it’s old-fashioned, but then it was exactly right,” Shirley commented to Dance Today about Come Dancing’s impact.

5.Her son is famous in America.

Shirley’s son Mark Ballas has appeared on America’s version of Strictly. He has appeared on 18 seasons of the show as one of the pro dancers and has been very popular. During his time on Dancing With The Stars, Mark has won the show twice, come second three times and third three times.

Shirley was also a guardian for two other popular Dancing With The Stars professionals while they studied with her in the UK when they were teenagers - siblings Derek and Julianne Hough.

As well as appearing on Dancing With The Stars, Mark, Derek and Julianne have all moved into singing and acting as well.

Photo credits: PA, MediaPunch/REX/Shutterstock.

The Shirley Ballas episode of Who Do You Think You Are airs on Monday, July 30th at 9pm on BBC One.

Catch up on the series so far on BT TV via the BBC iPlayer app.

BT TV customers - Watch now on the BT Player

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