Strictly Come Dancing - Arlene Phillips raised in Prestwich

PUBLISHED: 04:17 17 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:54 20 February 2013

Strictly Come Dancing

Strictly Come Dancing

SHE'S been dubbed the Queen of Mean by X Factor judge Simon Cowell - and he should know. Graham Norton branded her the 'Captain Hook of Dance' and GMTV presenter Fiona Phillips - certainly no relation - just called her 'vile.'

SHE'S been dubbed the Queen of Mean by X Factor judge Simon Cowell - and he should know. Graham Norton branded her the 'Captain Hook of Dance' and GMTV presenter Fiona Phillips - certainly no relation - just called her 'vile.' But Arlene Phillips, the judge that audiences - and contestants - love to hate on BBC 1's phenomenally successful Saturday night hit show Strictly Come Dancing, just laps it up.

The show's latest series - the most hyped ever - may feature a host of celebrities taking to the dance floor, but it's Prestwich-raised Arlene with her acid tongue who's the real star.

Her put downs have become part of television legend - she accused her namesake Fiona of lacking a single naturally moving bone in her body and described another contestant as being 'about as hot as a frozen pizza.' Arlene, an astonishingly youthful and vivacious 64, has acquired the knack of bruising delicate showbiz egos in a remarkably short period of time.

Carol Vorderman - 'emotionless' - fired back that Arlene was 'a Sharon Osborne wannabe but without the brains, humour or humility.' Wrong, Carol. Completely off the mark. If anyone has earned the right to be hypercritical about dancing prowess it's Arlene Phillips who, for 40 years, has been one of the world's leading choreographers of stage, television and cinema routines.

Her career in front of the footlights is one tiny tip of a massive iceberg of show business achievement and, having worked closely with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, she is entitled to eat for breakfast telly celebrities who have two left feet. Arlene spent her childhood and teenage years in north Manchester.

Her parents were Polish-German Orthodox Jews; her father Emmanuel a barber and her mother Rita - who died of leukaemia at the age of 43 when Arlene was just 15 - was a housewife who looked after Arlene, her younger sister Karen and older brother Ian. Rita's early death left Arlene devastated for they were very close, with mum scrimping to pay for the dancing lessons her daughter craved.

They started early -

Arlene was dancing almost as soon as she could toddle, beginning ballet school at the age of two and later training at the Muriel Tweedy School of Dance in Manchester.

But her big break had all the elements of a fairy story. She was babysitting for Ridley Scott, now one of the most celebrated and bankable film directors in Hollywood, with huge movies like Gladiator and Bladerunner to his credit.

At the time he was making TV commercials in his native England and, impressed with Arlene's dancing talent, asked her to choreograph an ice cream advert for him. She first came to the attention of the British public when she created the raunchy dance troupe Hot Gossip in 1975 - the raunchy version of Pan's People - who shot to fame as 'the naughty bits' in the late zany comedian-cum-DJ Kenny Everett's TV show.

One of the saucy line-up's lingerie-clad dancers was the young, doe-eyed Sarah Brightman, whose subsequent singing career in such stage classics as Phantom of the Opera proved a far cry from her debut disco anthem I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper, choreographed, naturally, by Arlene.

The connection with the uber-successful composer Andrew Lloyd Webber - Brightman was his first wife - saw Arlene chosen to devise the complex dance routines (on roller skates) for his Starlight Express and for the concert tour of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Other theatre choreography credits include the hit musical We Will Rock You (music by Queen), Time starring Sir Cliff Richard, the Royal Shakespeare Company's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange (music by U2) and Grease.

As a director and choreographer, her credits include Saturday Night Fever and she has directed former Riverdance star Michael Flatley's acclaimed arena production of Lord of the Dance. The list of movie directors she has collaborated with reads like a Who's Who of the Hollywood A list, including John Huston (Annie), Ridley Scott (Legend, starring Tom Cruise) and Clint Eastwood (White Hunter, Black Heart).

In music videos she's worked with AC/DC, the Bee Gees, Duran Duran, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Sir Elton John. George Michael, Sir Cliff Richard, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Robbie Williams and Freddie Mercury.

It was while working with Queen that she met her partner of more than 20 years, set designer Angus Ion with who she had her second daughter Abi at the age of 48. Her elder daughter Alana has starred as a singer in several of Arlene's productions. Fittingly, Arlene Phillips' biggest production, with an audience of up to a billion television viewers round the globe, was choreographed for neither stage nor screen but a sporting extravaganza back in her old Manchester stomping ground.

The local lass was the Director of Choreography for the stunning opening and closing ceremonies of the most successful Commonwealth Games ever, staged in the city in 2002.

That same year she was awarded an OBE for services to dance. The latest series of Strictly Come Dancing follows her prime-time summer success with Dance X, which she devised, and she's as enthusiastic as ever. She said before the shows kicked off:

'I absolutely love it, I can't wait. It's the highlight of my year. My dream list of celebrities are David Tennant, because he's absolutely gorgeous; Jonathan Ross, because he needs putting in his place; and Jordan, because it'd be interesting to watch - no one would be able to get close to her, would they?' The mind boggles at how Arlene might have described her actual performance, but no one would be more entitled to an opinion.

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