Dancing queen Arlene Phillips made dame in birthday honours

·3-min read

A staple of the worlds of dance, theatre and television, former Strictly Come Dancing judge and choreographer Arlene Phillips has been made a dame.

Recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to dance and charity, Phillips, 78, first found fame when she created the provocative dance group Hot Gossip in 1974.

The group was formed from her dance students and they became a regular feature on The Kenny Everett Show, and later received their own television special The Very Hot Gossip Show.

Kenny Everett and Hot Gossip
Hot Gossip stars Lyndsey Ward, left, Sarah Brightman, right, and Perri Lister with Kenny Everett (PA)

Her career includes choreographing for some of the West End and Broadway’s biggest shows, including Grease, Starlight Express, We Will Rock You, The Wizard Of Oz, Sound Of Music, Saturday Night Fever and Flashdance.

She has also worked on successful Hollywood productions, such as the 1982 version of Annie, Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life and Legend and on music videos for stars such as Duran Duran, Sir Elton John, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Queen, Robbie Williams and Olivia Newton John.

Phillips said she was “thrilled and honoured” to have been made a dame, saying in a tweet it was “the highest recognition I could ever have dreamed of”.

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Born in 1943 in Prestwich, Greater Manchester, Phillips began ballet and tap dance classes at the age of three as her mother reportedly had always expressed a desire to dance.

Her mother died at 43 from leukaemia when Phillips was 15.

In her early 20s she began developing her own style of jazz dance and taught in prominent dance studios such as Pineapple and the Italia Conti Stage School.

It was her role on the judging panel of the original line-up of Strictly Come Dancing that made her a household name.

Dance – Pineapple Dance Studio – London – 1983
Phillips at the Pineapple Studios in London in 1983 (PA)

After the show launched in 2004 she became a fan-favourite for her straight-talking nature and was a fixture of the show for six series, appearing alongside Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood.

There was controversy when she was replaced by Alesha Dixon, who had won the fifth series of the show, in 2009, which resulted in the then minister for women and equality, Harriet Harman, denouncing the BBC in Parliament for discrimination against older women on television.

After her exit from Strictly Come Dancing, she appeared as a judge on Canada’s search for Dorothy in Over The Rainbow and the UK’s version of So You Think You Can Dance.

She was appointed a CBE in the 2013 New Year Honours for services to dance and charity.

Strictly Come Dancing Handout Images
On the judging panel with Craig Revel Horwood, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli (BBC)

After reading to her children when they were young, Phillips wrote a series of children’s dance adventure books – Alana Dancing Star – which follows a young girl battling obstacles to pursue her dream as a dancer.

Phillips’ latest directorial project is the UK and Ireland tour of the jukebox musical The Cher Show, which explores Cher’s early life and career.

She met her partner, Angus Ion, who is a set designer, on the set of Freddie Mercury’s I Was Born To Love You in 1985.

She has two children, Alana, from her first marriage with Danny Noble, and Abigail, from her relationship with Ion.