Shirley Ballas reveals Covid hell that left her in bed for two weeks and not knowing her own name
STRICTLY made the dancing queen a star, but when Shirley Ballas was struck down by Covid she was left bed-ridden and barely knew her own name.
Three months after she and actor boyfriend Danny Taylor were floored, the show’s normally energetic head judge is still suffering from the after-effects of the illness.
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With weeks to go before the BBC1 contest fires up again, Shirley, 60, may be back on her feet but she now faces an anxious wait to see if she has long Covid.
She said: “I’m in the middle of having some tests for that, because there are now some other issues that have occurred.
“We both got Covid and were both poorly and we’ve both had after- effects, from tiredness to certain lumps and bumps, and we’re dealing with that.
“Although I didn’t have to go to hospital, I was in bed for two weeks and I didn’t know my own name. It was scary for a while.
“I couldn’t get my act together, and that is not like me. I’m usually up at seven in the morning, going here and there. So it was quite an experience and it has left that tiring effect.
“I’d had my first jab and then I got Covid, then I got over the Covid and I’ve just had my second jab.
“I would say that first jab definitely helped, for sure, so I’d encourage people to get their vaccine. I want to get everything sorted before the series kicks off, but I’m optimistic that everything will be fine.”
‘There are tweaks and turns – you’ll love it’
The sheer excitement of this year’s Strictly is spurring her on.
The 19th series of the show is effectively its comeback after a year which saw the 2020 run shortened, the number of competing couples reduced and their annual heat in Blackpool cancelled.
The series also didn’t feature judging favourite Bruno Tonioli, who decided he had to stay in the US to work on Dancing With The Stars.
And while it started filming with a small audience, they too were later removed due to safety fears.
But Shirley insists the team are doing their best to make it business as normal. She said: “There are tweaks and turns in this show, you are going to love it.
“Just when you think this show can’t get any better, it will. I’ve heard about some of the cast and they are fantastic. They’re going to be great.
“It’s going to be outstanding. We’ve got 13 weeks and we’re hoping to go to Blackpool.
“Everybody is on board, the choreography has already started for the group numbers — it’s all in motion.
“Let’s just hope we have a live audience — that would be absolutely thrilling. But I think even if we only had a partial audience for those few winter months, the public will really embrace it.”
Talking of embraces, could that cast lead to one or two cases of the curse of Strictly, where dance floor dalliances lead to broken relationships?
Shirley won’t be drawn but simply said: “There’s going to be stories — I can’t reveal too much. Watch this space.”
On this week’s news that pro dancer Janette Manrara is stepping down to replace Zoe Ball as host of spin-off Strictly: It Takes Two, she said: “I absolutely love Janette.
“Of course we will all miss her on the dance floor, but she is going to be incredible on It Takes Two. I’m super-proud and happy for her.”
Shirley says she is making her own preparations for the big opening night, because, like almost every other Brit during lockdown, she has put on a bit of weight.
She said: “I’m carrying a little bit extra but these workouts are like four hours every day, plus there’s my Peloton bike. I’m starting to get back into shape for Strictly.
“This show is all about focus and I think it has kick-started me into my better health regime.
“The first thing that goes with me is the weight on my face, so I look like Skeletor, but as I have to get into those slinky evening dresses, I need to be at my regular weight.”
Twice-married ballroom and Latin champion Shirley won’t admit if she is also preparing to slip into a wedding dress any time soon, should Danny pop the question.
She said: “He and I do discuss it. We get on very well.
“We’ve been together for three years and we have a really good relationship in those lockdowns, though we haven’t had too much time to focus on ourselves.”
As well as the stress of having her 81-year-old mother Audrey stuck at home in the north of England during the pandemic, Shirley also had the pain of her father, Andy, dying in April aged 83. They were estranged after he left the family home when Shirley was two years old.
But she says she grew much closer to him after her brother, David, who had helped to raise her, took his own life in 2003 aged 44.
Shirley announced her father’s death on Twitter: “With sadness and a heavy heart”, adding: “So many things left unsaid, RIP Dad — you will be missed but not forgotten.”
It could not have come at a worse time, as she was still recovering from her own illness and living under the ongoing Covid restrictions.
But Danny’s support has got her through, and she says he could not be more different from her two former husbands.
She married Sammy Stopford in 1980, but they divorced four years later. Then she wed Corky Ballas in 1985 and their marriage lasted 22 years and saw the birth of her son, professional ballroom dancer Mark Ballas, 35.
Shirley says sharing the same careers did not help the relationships — but she does not have that problem with Danny, who has appeared in ITV’s The Bill.
She added: “Before with my husbands it was perhaps more about the career, and about circumstance and about where we were in our lives climbing to the top in our industry.
“Danny is already in his own industry — he’s his own person, and I’m in my industry so he doesn’t need to be the next world champion.
“It’s never about him being in my industry, wanting to be the next judge or next big star dancer.
“I feel like with Danny it’s a lot about me.
“He’s always kind, courteous and respectful.
“He never screams, he doesn’t use profanities. And I was used to that with husbands before.
“I think I’ve probably found my little life connection.”
The fact that at 48, Danny is 12 years younger than Shirley is irrelevant according to her, and though she is understandably reluctant to talk about their sex life, she insists he is the one who needs to maintain his stamina.
She said: “Put it this way — he’s got bundles of energy but he has to keep up with me.
“I think sometimes Danny finds ME quite exhausting, to be perfectly honest.
‘Age doesn’t matter in life – just look at me’
“He was on his Peloton bike this morning and I was over there, moving his dials, going, ‘Come on!’
“I was moving it up and he’s like, ‘Just let me do my own thing, darling.’
“I would say this to all the beautiful ladies out there over 55 — there’s somebody out there for everybody.
“They might be ten years older than you, they might be a little younger than you — just don’t put yourself on a shelf.
“Don’t say it’s all over when you get to this age because you still have a lot of living to do and a lot of loving to give.
“Age really doesn’t matter in life. Just look at me — while I’m still kicking I’ll be in that Strictly judge’s chair.”
And although Shirley has said in the past that she would consider having some “cosmetic enhancement”, she has not felt the need to take the plunge.
She said: “I haven’t had anything done yet, but each woman to her own.
“If having a tuck here and there makes you feel better, it’s down to each woman.
“Thankfully I have good genes from my mum and dad.
“But I’m still not opposed to anyone having a few bits and bobs done.”
- Shirley’s autobiography Behind The Sequins is out now.
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