The Strictly Come Dancing judge on her jour­ney from grow­ing up poor to eat­ing steak and lob­ster in Bev­erly Hills

BBC Good Food - - Inside - in­ter­view ROSANNA GREENSTREET

Strictly’s Shirley Ballas on her most mem­o­rable food mo­ments

Shirley, 57, of BBC One prime­time dance con­test fame, is one of the most dec­o­rated ball­room and Latin dancers in the world. Nick­named the Queen of Latin, she won the Bri­tish Open to the World Latin Amer­i­can Cham­pi­onships with her first hus­band Sammy Stop­ford and took the ti­tle twice with her sec­ond hus­band, Corky Ballas. Shirley re­tired from com­pet­i­tive dancing in 1996 and be­came an in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned coach and ad­ju­di­ca­tor. She re­placed Len Good­man as head judge on Strictly last year.

We lived on the Lea­sowe hous­ing es­tate (on the Wir­ral) and I was el­i­gi­ble for free school din­ners. The other kids laughed at me but all I could think was, ‘I’m get­ting a hot meal and you’re hav­ing a sand­wich.’ I would eat ev­ery­thing. Peo­ple didn’t like semolina, they didn’t like spot­ted dick – I loved ev­ery­thing. I will for­ever be grate­ful for the hot din­ners at Lea­sowe Pri­mary.

Even though we were broke, we al­ways had a Sun­day roast. We’d have mashed pota­toes, roast pota­toes, York­shire pud­ding, two veg, meat, lots of gravy made with Bovril and there would be a pud­ding af­ter­wards. I was two when my fa­ther left, so I wouldn’t know what it was like to be a daddy’s girl. I saw him spo­rad­i­cally but I don’t re­mem­ber him even giv­ing me a pound to­wards a pair of shoes. I was raised by a sin­gle mother who did any­thing and ev­ery­thing to pro­vide for my older brother David and me – babysit­ting, de­liv­er­ing leaflets or work­ing in a bar. She taught me to do an hon­est day’s work and to stand on my own two feet.

When I was 16, I headed for London and the bright lights of dancing. My mother worked at Cad­bury’s at the time and she’d make me up a goodie box of tins of soya mince, beans and Smash po­tato and send it down. I would wash hair, do gar­dens and scrub any­thing to earn a liv­ing and, after I’d been in London for eight months, I got the op­por­tu­nity to dance with Sammy Stop­ford.

I mar­ried Sammy when I was 18 and we lived with a man called Bob who had a dog called Kiki. Bob would boil liver for Kiki and, one day, he asked me to do it. I’d for­got­ten to cook Sammy’s din­ner, so when he got home, I gave him the boiled liver with a tin of corn and Smash po­tato. Sammy wolfed it down and said it was de­li­cious!

After I mar­ried Corky Ballas in 1985, I only cooked for him once or twice be­cause that man could cook. Corky was from a priv­i­leged back­ground – his dad in­vented the Weed Eater and was a restau­ra­teur and Corky was a food and bev­er­age di­rec­tor in one of his dad’s restau­rants. He was also a dancer: I trained him up and we won the Bri­tish Open to the World Latin Amer­i­can Cham­pi­onships – twice!

When the chil­dren were small (as well as our son Mark Ballas, we also raised Derek and Ju­lianne Hough), we’d al­ways stop at a Mcdon­ald’s on our way home from dancing com­pe­ti­tions. We had a big SUV and we’d sit in the back and eat nuggets and French fries and, whether we’d had a great day and ev­ery­one was happy or a mis­er­able day and ev­ery­one was cry­ing, we’d soon all be laugh­ing and singing.

Mark’s favourite food is pizza and ev­ery birth­day he in­sists on hav­ing beef Welling­ton, which his wife BC Jean cooks for him, and banof­fee pie made by his dad. He’s hooked on Haribo sweets – so I just buy him fizzy coke bot­tles! Mark lives in the States where he’s play­ing Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys.

I’ve seen it 50 times and, be­fore the show, we al­ways go to Star­bucks and have the wrap with egg white and spinach and a cof­fee – it’s a good-luck rit­ual. And af­ter­wards we al­ways share a meal and have a glass of brandy and I’ll tell him how won­der­ful he was!

My favourite restau­rant is Mas­tro’s steak­house in Bev­erly Hills which my son in­tro­duced me to. The food is amaz­ing – from the lob­ster mashed pota­toes to the steak. Mas­tro’s is my treat once or twice a year.

One of the last meals I cooked was for my ex-boyfriend Ye­gor Novikov. He’s an Amer­i­can Smooth dancer and we were to­gether five-and-a-half years. I cooked him spaghetti Bolog­nese and he ate it and

Even though we were broke, we al­ways had a Sun­day roast

even had some more. Later, he said it had been like eat­ing wall­pa­per paste. We are still good friends and he will laugh and say, ‘Please, just don’t cook spaghetti Bolog­nese.’

Avocado, a boiled egg and brown toast is my all-time favourite break­fast. I once blew up an egg in a mi­crowave; I opened the door and the egg ex­ploded all over the ceil­ing – it was in my hair, it was ev­ery­where. Hence, my chil­dren al­ways say, ‘She can’t even boil an egg!’

My last sup­per would be my mum’s roast din­ner and for pud­ding, ap­ple tart or a Heinz trea­cle sponge with cus­tard, cream and ice cream. I’d have it all – in for a penny in for a pound!

Shirley with her fel­low Strictly judges

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