Shirley Ballas has enjoyed a sparkling career on the dance floor and is in even greater demand now as the revered head judge of Strictly Come Dancing.
But all the glamour and glitter of showbusiness takes a back seat once she leaves the studio and focuses on the person who needs her more than ever right now – her mum.
Audrey, 81, has cancer and Shirley has quietly turned nurse to help her through.
Speaking about her mum’s illness for the first time, Shirley, 58, says: “She was diagnosed earlier this year. But she’s a trouper and we are dealing with it.”
The pair speak at least four times a day and spend as much time as possible together. And opening up for the first time, Shirley heaps praise on her mum’s courage and strength in recent months.
Shirley and her beloved mum Audrey, who was diagnosed with cancer this year
She goes on: “I came over to her in the summer to take care of her and I had to learn to be a nurse.
“I would put her food down on a tray on her bed and I would be standing there like, ‘Is this okay?’
“And she would say, ‘You did good. Maybe a bit more salt next time’.”
With a smile, Shirley adds: “I did good. I cooked for her, did all the washing, cleaning and her injections.
“I’d make things like mashed potato and salmon but no other vegetables. She couldn’t have anything green.
“And I wasn’t sure I was going to be any good because I’m a terrible cook.
“I tried to boil an egg once and it blew up and hit the ceiling!”
- Strictly Come Dancing’s Shirley Ballas says winner ‘will be a complete surprise’
Away from the glamour of the dancefloor, Shirley has been caring for her sick mum
(Image: Roland Leon/Sunday Mirror)
Audrey has decided not to have chemotherapy, a decision Shirley, who has a son Mark, 32, supports.
They are incredibly close. And over the years they have celebrated the highs and weathered the lows together.
Shirley’s brother David was 44 when he took his own life 15 years ago after suffering with depression.
She goes on: “It was in the Christmas period that David died so as we run up to it now I normally find my mood changing. “No one saw it coming.
“My mum went to visit him for six weeks when he was low and he came down to see Mark sing in the church choir. That was the day he chose to kill himself.
“When I start to feel like I’m going into a solemn place I try to just relive the good times.
“Fortunately I have my mum to talk to and my son is a huge confidante. Mum’s a star to raise two kids on her own and come through what she has. Yet she never complains or moans. I’m really blessed.”
- Strictly’s Shirley Ballas hits back at Craig Revel Horwood over his ‘inappropriate fake boobs rant’
Shirley’s family suffered a terrible tragedy when her brother David took his own life after battling depression
(Image: Roland Leon/Sunday Mirror)
Showbiz and TV editor’s picks
Brit director Nicolas Roeg dies
IAC’s most disgusting challenge yet
Holly Willoughby’s drastic hair action
Cheryl hits back at West End claims
Speaking out to help others, Shirley adds: “For all the people who are struggling and suffering, my heart goes out to them, particularly at Christmas.
“I don’t want anyone to have to go through what our family has.
“You don’t need to suffer alone. Please reach out. There are people out there who care.”
Shirley credits David’s early encouragement as instrumental in her success as three-time world ballroom champ.
She turned to coaching and filled Len Goodman’s shoes when he left Strictly.
- Strictly judge Shirley Ballas says she’s looking for an older man
Shirley has been a hit with viewers on Strictly after joining Craig Revel Horwood, Bruno Tonioli and Dame Darcey Bussell on the judging panel
It’s all a long way from her upbringing on the Leasowe council estate in Wallasey, Merseyside. “People say to me, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky’, but I worked 50 years for everything I have and it’s not all been plain sailing and easy,” Shirley says.
Referring to David, she adds: “We move on but we never forget. The pain never goes away, the self-inflicted blame at myself for not doing more at the time.”
Shirley suffered yet more heartache in 2007 when her second marriage, to fellow dance pro Corky, ended after 23 years. Then, just days before Strictly last year, Corky went public with the secrets of their relationship. But Shirley bears no grudge, saying: “I think he regretted writing it. We moved on and I adore him as he’s the father of my son.”
Shirley admits it can be tough battling “male bullies” in a man’s industry and hails the support of a circle of close friends.
They include her best pal of 30 years Terri – whose house we are at today.
Shirley is making her panto debut in Liverpool this Christmas
Shirley says: “I have a policy. I have five really good friends to confide in. I met Terri in the playground with our kids when we were young mums. She’s followed me everywhere watching my dancing. And I stay at hers when I do Strictly. It’s a safe place for me. In my industry the green-eyed monster is very prevalent and dominated with men at the top who are bullies.
“I have to be strong. But I’m not very good at letting people in.”
On that note, while Shirley confesses to being lonely after being single for three years, she is in no hurry to find a man – and says she enjoys filling her time with trips to the gym.
“I can go and just be myself in a tracksuit and no make-up,” she says.
The conversation returns to her mum as Shirley talks about her debut on. She says: “Mum would critique my outfits. She still does. I call her every week at 5pm to see if she likes my hair and make-up with the whole team standing there.
She tells them: ‘I don’t like those bits, what’s going on there? Oh, you look lovely today’. If I’m wearing a long dress she says ‘why have they hidden those lovely legs?’
“Last season was funny as she would tell me to do her a twirl. I always did.”
Shirley has a home in LA but will spend Christmas in the UK – and make her panto debut in Liverpool as Mother Nature in Jack and the Beanstalk. Son Mark, who appears on Dancing With The Stars and is a star of Broadway musicals, will fly in from the US.
Shirley adds: “He’s so busy so him coming is like a little diamond. And with Mum being ill I am grateful for every moment I can spend with her.
“We are here for five minutes and then we are gone, so I try to live every moment to the full.”