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- British ballroom dancer
Head Strictly judge Shirley Ballas has revealed her battle with self-esteem and revealed she has “done all sorts” to feel more confident about herself.
The Strictly Come Dancing star spoke to Prima Magazine about how she is learning to be less guarded and show more of her personality while on the show so she can connect with the audience.
“I have struggled with my self-esteem all my life," she admitted.
“I’ve done all sorts to try to make myself feel more confident: I had my teeth straightened and fat drained out of my arms and legs; I thought doing my boobs would make my husband at the time like me more, but I was doing it for the wrong reasons.
“You have to love yourself first. That’s my message to every woman.”
The professional dancer and choreographer, 61, has spent the last few weeks undergoing tests after fans spotted a lump under her arm during a show, and was diagnosed with very high testosterone levels, but she recently confirmed the test results so far looked “absolutely fine”.
She talked about learning to open up on TV, too. “That’s something my son Mark said to me: I need to drop the walls because people can spot it when you’re being guarded.
“They see right through it, so I might as well be the real me.”
Ballas has spoken to You Magazine in the past and admitted that when she started on the show, she was 'too stern'. A production team member told her, “You’ll never keep this job if you can’t drop that defence. People won’t warm to you. You really have to try to be a bit more vulnerable."
Watch: Shirley Ballas tells fans she's seeing a doctor
She admitted that creating 'walls' was a coping mechanism and a 'way of drowning out negative voices', but said it had led to her feeling 'very alone' in the past.
“I don’t think that’s a very healthy thing to do – it definitely had an effect on both my marriage and my friendships”, she said.
Rather than turning to surgery to boost her self esteem now, the star explained, “I work out on my Peloton bike and do yoga. I also try to drink two litres of water a day. My downfall is my sweet tooth!”
As she detailed in her autobiography, Behind The Sequins, published last year, Shirley explained that her life has been full of ups and downs. "It wasn’t a simple journey for sure,”
She grew up on a 'rough estate' on the Wirral and left home at 14, later triumphing in the world of ballroom dancing, and "coping with betrayal, bullying, two broken marriages, her brother's death by suicide and her mother's cancer diagnosis."
Shirley was married to her professional dance partner Sammy Stopford at 19 - they won the British Open Professional Latin Championship together but broke up. Her next husband was Texan millionaire and dancer Corky Ballas.
"I thought: 'This is a man who really loves me.'" Shirley recalled.
"Little did I know. He had multiple girlfriends, even when I moved to America. I gave up my life for that man."
Ballas was also controlling and emotionally abusive. "He’d say: 'You’re too fat. What’s that mole on your chin? Your nose is crooked, you need a nose job. Your breasts are too small.'
"I had breast implants done to try to save my marriage. It was the sorriest day of my life," Shirley said.
She has now largely overcome her crippled self esteem. "One woman editor did say I had bingo wings, but me and my mum thought that was funny.
"Generally, the past three years have been much easier than the rest of my life," she said, though fellow judge Craig Revel Horwood was forced to apologise when he referred to her "flashing fake boobs at a producer" at a live event they were hosting.
"I thought it was disgraceful. I asked for a meeting. I told him a bit about my history then I ended with: 'I don’t need people like you to make me feel bad about myself, I’m more than capable of doing that myself.'"
Revel Horwood apologised profusely and sent flowers, Shirley adds.
"I’ve always faced a lot of bullying and sarcasm in my life, so I built a wall to protect myself," she said. She has said it goes back to her days of being bullied at school for her dancing ambitions.
"When (the other girls) were swearing, talking about boys and bullying other girls, I would have people lined up in the playground, teaching them the cha cha cha.
"From a very young age I was the judge and they were the competitors. I knew that if I didn’t do that, I would just be bullied more. That’s how I came to be like I am."
She is now happily in love with Danny Taylor, who she met while playing the Fairy Godmother to his baddie in Jack and the Beanstalk in Liverpool in 2018.
"He says: 'I love everything about you – every single thing.'" Shirley said - and rumours suggest they might be getting married.
"‘He’s very kind and very caring – he’s always there for me." She added. "I hope he’ll propose one day, but he’s never married and I think he’s a bit nervous about it, so we’ll see.
"Come on, Danny!"
Addition reporting PA
Prima Magazine (Dec) is out now.
Watch: Shirley Ballas wants 'lots of Horlicks and sex'