Strictly's Shirley Ballas stars in Tunbridge Wells panto this Christmas

Shirley Ballas in Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs in Tunbridge Wells

Shirley Ballas explores her wicked side in Tunbridge Wells this Christmas - Credit: The Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells

The record-breaking dancer and Strictly judge is treading the boards in Tunbridge Wells this Christmas. We catch up with her to find out about her career highlights, her wicked side - and why she believes everything in life is “a little bit of an act”

Shirley, we're delighted that you're coming to Kent to star in Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs at The Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells! Do you know the town?

I had never been to Tunbridge Wells, but when I came for the press photoshoot, it looked unique and very sweet! The few people that I met were really lovely. Everybody seemed excited, so I’m really looking forward to having a little look around and going to some of the restaurants ­ I’ve heard talk of fabulous food! And I believe that the town has a reputation for being one of the friendliest in Britain. Certainly everyone I've met so far seems very friendly!

Tell us about your role ­ you're certainly not regarded as The Wicked Queen among Strictly judges, so how does it feel to indulge a side of your personality that the public doesn't usually get to see?

Well first of all, this Wicked Queen will definitely be all about the acting ­ my mother is so excited that I’m playing a different role rather than my usual one of the good fairy. I have been practising my scary laugh, I’m very excited about that, and about the change of tone. I shall be putting on my Wicked Queen Hat and enjoying every minute of it!

How does acting in panto compare to acting through dance?

Everything in life is a little bit of an act, don’t you think? Everything. Everybody has lots of different ‘hats’ that they put on throughout the day ­ you have the ‘mum hat’ the ‘business ‘hat’ ­ I will be wearing all different types of ‘hats’ during the panto! And I will definitely be dancing, darling! There will be some scary scenes with a bit of pasodoble and a little bit of jive... But with dance, you’re moving to music and expressing yourself through your body ­ you don’t have to speak. I’ve done this for so many years, I know exactly how many steps there are and know exactly what footwork I’m using. With panto, you have to learn lines. That is difficult for me, but what I've realised over the course of the last few pantos I've done is that the more you forget, the more the audience loves it. So I'm not too worried about this one, but I will certainly be giving it everything I’ve got! I really want people to think that I’m a mean Queen! If they still think I’m sweet, then I haven’t done a good job.

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You've had a colourful, distinguished career ­ any highlights so far that particularly stand out?

Giving birth to my son, Mark, when I was twenty-­five was a life highlight because having him was the best thing I ever did in my entire life! Mark also performs on stage as an actor and singer ­ he was on Broadway playing Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, Charlie Price in Kinky Boots and has had many other roles ­ so I get a lot of tips from him. Dance wise, I guess winning the British Open To The World Championship in 1983 with my first husband, leaving in 1984 and getting a new partner ­ making the first round. I then came back to beat to my first husband with my second husband, to win the title two years in a row! I spent 18 years in the British Open To The World Championship Final, which is a record, but the biggest highlight of my career has been landing my dream job on Strictly!

Talking of Strictly, as the show gets ever close to its final, how are you fitting everything in?

It's difficult as I have several jobs. I do everything relating to Strictly, then the Strictly tour after Christmas. I have panto choreography, I teach people to get them ready for World Championships...all while learning my panto lines as I go!

Anything that's particularly stood out for you about this series?
Having two male contestants dancing as a pair has been ground-­breaking. I think generally we have never had such talented celebrities ­ they’re so good every year. This year, though, it’s been difficult to send anybody home. They’re all amazing!

To read this interview in full, see the December issue of Kent Life magazine, on sale now. Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs runs from Dec 17 to 3 Jan at The Assembly Hall Theatre Tunbridge Wells