Len Goodman compared her dance routines to haemorrhoids and Craig Revel Horwood described her as “overwhelmingly awful”.
But when Strictly Come Dancing judge Shirley Ballas was asked to name her standout celebrity dancer from her five years on the show so far Ann Widdecombe was top of her list – quickly followed by the equally “entertaining” Ed Balls.
“Ann Widdecombe with her Samba, it was just iconic,” said Ballas. “I also loved Ed Balls when he did Gangnam Style. I want people to understand that it’s not always the best dancer that delivers the entertainment factor, which is extremely important in this show.
“Yes, it’s great to have talent and be co-ordinated, but I love the journey for those who cannot dance. I loved Ann and Ed for their banter, and they gave it their full 100%, even when they were scoring low scores. Sometimes the journey can be found in the not-so-gifted and not-so-experienced.”
Strictly’s 20th series launched this week with 15 celebrities, including singer Matt Goss, former Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton and Paralympian Ellie Simmonds battling it out for the Glitterball trophy. Broadcaster Kaye Adams and wildlife presenter Hamza Yassin are flying the flag for Scotland.
This series sees a return, after two years of Covid restrictions, to the Blackpool Tower – something that Ballas, herself a Latin dance champion many times over, is particularly looking forward to.
She said: “It’s home for me. It’s where my first event was when I was seven years old. The only year I’ve ever missed is when I gave birth to my son.
“I love everything about Blackpool, including the lights and the walks along the beach, the people and the nightlife. The best dancers from all over the world come to Blackpool. It’s their ambition and their dream.”
Ballas is joined on the judging panel by Craig Revel Horwood, Motsi Mabuse and Anton Du Beke, following Bruno Tonioli’s exit earlier in 2022.
Ballas, who joined Strictly in 2017, says her first day on the show is etched in her memory forever.
She said: “I will go to my grave remembering that first day. The zip on my dress broke and I was perspiring profusely. I was more nervous for that than any World Championship I’ve ever danced in.
“Fortunately, I was accepted and welcomed so warmly by the British public, which I will forever be grateful for, but it was terrifying. It has changed my life and I’m beyond grateful to be here, I just love it!”
Strictly Come Dancing, BBC1, Saturday, 6.30pm
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