Arlene Phillips says she 'didn't have the strength' to fight BBC during 'Strictly' ageism row

Tom Beasley
·Contributor
·3-min read

Watch: Arlene Phillips "can't wait" for freedom after COVID-19 vaccination

Arlene Phillips has admitted she "didn't have the strength" to go to war with the BBC amid the row over her departure from the Strictly Come Dancing judging panel in 2009.

Phillips, who was 66 at the time, was replaced by 30-year-old pop star Alesha Dixon on the panel, after Dixon won the show as a contestant in 2007.

The decision ignited a huge row over ageism and sexism within the BBC, as Phillips' male colleagues were able to keep their jobs.

Read more: Phillips backs same-sex pairings on Strictly Come Dancing

More than a decade later and with the benefit of hindsight, Phillips wishes she'd played the situation differently and held her former employer to account.

Appearing on Natalie Anderson's podcast The Capsule: In Conversation, Phillips said: "As a woman I should've thought about it. I should've demanded why the woman had gone, and three men remain.

Arlene Phillips attending the first night of 'The Prince of Egypt' at London's Dominion Theatre in February 2020. (Photo by Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images)
Arlene Phillips attending the first night of 'The Prince of Egypt' at London's Dominion Theatre in February 2020. (Photo by Ian West/PA Images via Getty Images)

"I should have asked them to analyse it. I should have had the strength to at least ask for reasons and if not getting the reasons, a damn well apology.

"But I didn't have the strength, I didn't have the will. I was pathetic."

Read more: Phillips says it's "no wonder" Strictly contestants have affairs

Phillips said she was left in a "very, very bad place" by the BBC's decision, which came just a day after the death of her manager and close friend.

She added: "I was being hit by grief, having no agent or manager to deal with the fall out from Strictly, having not been told about it. I didn't realise for myself just quite how damaged I was."

The BBC strenuously denied that ageism played any role in Phillips being axed. 

Craig Revel Horwood, Arlene Phillips and Len Goodman during the final dress rehearsal for the first ever tour of Strictly Come Dancing Live. (Photo by Michael Boyd/PA Images via Getty Images)
Craig Revel Horwood, Arlene Phillips and Len Goodman during the final dress rehearsal for the first ever tour of Strictly Come Dancing Live. (Photo by Michael Boyd/PA Images via Getty Images)

Dixon served on the Strictly Come Dancing judging panel for three years before defecting to ITV competition show Britain's Got Talent.

She was replaced on Strictly by ballerina Dame Darcey Bussell, who remained part of the show until 2018.

Read more: Strictly confirms professional dancers for 2021 series

Phillips made a return to the famous ballroom in 2018, choreographing a dance involving the show's roster of professionals and disabled dance group Candoco.

“I did this because this is where my heart lies. I didn’t do this about resolving anything with Strictly,” she said at the time.

Phillips added: “Was it hard for me to say yes? I’ve got to tell you, it was really hard.”

Watch: Keith Lemon rejected stint on Strictly Come Dancing