Arlene Phillips says she ‘resents’ how BBC fired her from Strictly Come Dancing

Arlene Phillips has revisited her unexpected departure from Strictly Come Dancing, and admitted to feeling resentment over the BBC’s handling of the situation.

Decorated choreographer Phillips, 80, was a part of the original line-up of judges on the hit celebrity ballroom dance show, alongside Len Goodman, Craig Revel Horwood, and Bruno Tonoli.

All four judges took part in the programme from its launch in 2004 until 2008, when Phillips’s contract was the only one not to be renewed. She was replaced by season five winner Alesha Dixon, who is 35 years Phillips’s junior, and was significantly less experienced in dance.

In a new interview with The Guardian, Phillips has looked back on her exit from Strictly,

“More than knocking my confidence, I think it swirled around me, and I thought, ‘I need to find myself.’ I needed all the mental preparation that I could muster to go, ‘Hang on a minute – you had a big career before this and you’ve got work lined up,’” she said.

“I think I stepped up and out of it as fast as I could. When the rollercoaster goes down, find the up.”

Phillips maintains that the BBC did not inform her about their decision, claiming that she first heard about her departure when a radio show called and asked for her thoughts.

“I was a grownup when I did that show, so I resent that the BBC didn’t come to me as soon as they had the thought,” she added.

Arlene Phillips in 2023 (PA)
Arlene Phillips in 2023 (PA)

At the time, the choreographer’s exit from Strictly was a national topic of interest, and led to accusations of ageism.

Labour minister Harriet Harman commented on her departure in a House of Commons debate in 2009, telling MPs: “I think it’s absolutely shocking that Arlene Phillips is not going to be a judge on Strictly Come Dancing. And as equality minister, I am suspicious that there is age discrimination there.”

The BBC denied that this was the case, with the then-controller Jay Hunt pointing towards Anne Robinson, who was 60 at the time, hosting the consumer affairs show Watchdog.

Elsewhere in the interview, published on Monday (18 March), Phillips spoke about still finding inspiration for new dances in various places, including on TikTok.

She explained: “I am looking to make sure that everything I do will be as inventive, unusual or as different as can be, so I never have to repeat myself.”

Phillips and her associate, James Cousins, are nominated for an Olivier Award for their choreography of Guys and Dolls. You can find the full list of nominees here.