‘Craig’s gone bloody mad… and Shirley’s just as bad’: Legendary ballroom dancer and freshly retired Len Goodman reveals he spends his Saturday nights shouting at the Strictly Come Dancing panel (and don’t get him started on ‘strange’ Anton!)
- Len Goodman reveals what he enjoys doing in his free time as a retired man
- The ballroom star recaps his incredible journey, auditioning for Strictly at 60
- He chose retirement to spend more time with his lovely wife and grandchildren
Hurrah for retirement! Len Goodman has only been a gentleman of leisure for a matter of weeks, but he’s discovered a new hobby — shouting at the telly while Strictly is on.
It might already be a national sport for the rest of us, but this is the first time the former Strictly head judge, just returned from LA, has been able to join in.
He left the U.S. version of the show, Dancing With The Stars, last month after 17 years, just in time to enjoy the big UK final tonight.
Mostly, he spends his time shouting at Craig Revel Horwood — or ‘bloody Craig’ as Len calls him.
Razzle dazzle: Len has put his dance judge days behind him and now enjoys kicking back on a Saturday night to watch Strictly Come Dancing
Why retire now? He wants to spend more time with Sue, and his grandchildren. Pictured: Len with his Grandson, Jack
‘I’ve been giving it a load of ‘WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM, CRAIG. WHAT ARE YOU ON ABOUT?’ ‘ admits Len.
‘Craig has gone bloody mad. He gave Will (Mellor) a seven for his paso-doble. I’d have given him a nine.
‘Shirley’s just as bad. She gave him a seven, too. What’s wrong with them?! No one in the semi-final should be getting a seven and for Will it should have been an eight or nine.’
We pause here for a moment as Len — a legend on both sides of the Atlantic, but at heart ‘just a dance teacher from Dartford’ — gives me a potted history of the paso-doble. It’s the only dance, don’t you know, where all eyes should be on the man, and he reckons Will nailed it.
Len, now 78, makes a marvellous matador himself, swishing an imaginary cape around as he’s talking, and possibly trampling an imaginary Craig underfoot too. ‘Craig has consistently been scoring low. I don’t know what’s got into him. This year he’s determined to be the panto villain.
‘Mind you, Anton’s been strange too. He gave Fleur (East) a ten for her paso doble. No way was that a ten. I spoke to him the other day, about playing golf. I said: ‘What were you thinking of, giving that girl a ten?’. He said ‘I thought it was terrific, Len.’ Well, it wasn’t!’
Len Goodman has only been retired for a matter of weeks, but he’s discovered a new hobby — shouting at the television while Strictly is on
Next, he’s onto Shirley. ‘Do you know what gets on my nerves about Shirley?’ I’ve a feeling he’s going to tell me.
‘She keeps leaping up and down. I keep shouting: ‘WILL YOU SIT DOWN, SHIRLEY’.
‘Honestly, she’s up and down as often as a whore’s drawers. Motsi is as bad. I don’t like it. Ballroom dancing is supposed to be an elegant thing. You don’t want all that leaping up and down and cocking your leg.’
I’m not sure I remember either Shirley or Motsi cocking their legs, but never mind. The point is, Len says no ballroom judge worth their salt would leap to their feet thus. He says he has risen aloft himself, but it has been with dignity.
He demonstrates. His back and face are poker straight. His accompanying slow clap is reverential. ‘To get a standing ovation from a judge on Strictly should be an event. You shouldn’t be up and down like…like a bride’s nightie.’
You know who wouldn’t have had Len drawing parallels with brides’ nighties and whores’ drawers? Darcey Bussell, that’s who.
Helen’s sexy Cabaret number got him a little hot under the collar, although he points out the simplest way to get a bad score from Len is to be too raunchy
Of all the Strictly judging lineups, his favourite was the one where he and Darcey Bussell, the ballerina, were sandwiched between Craig and Bruno.
‘Now, Darcey was a touch of class,’ he says, all wistful. ‘She would talk about balletic style and fluidity of movement. She had real credentials.’
Alesha Dixon, another fellow judge of old, is summarily dismissed: ‘I liked Alesha and she was a worthy winner of the show, but when it came to the judging she was no Darcey,’ he says.
Judges flayed (except Darcey), shall we move on to his verdicts on this year’s finalists?
Since Will, whom he would have liked to see reach the final, was voted out, tonight’s line-up is made up of Helen Skelton, Hamza Yassin, Fleur East and Molly Rainford.
I’m pretty sure Len would never have heard of any of them before (‘but that’s the joy of Strictly,’ he beams) but now his money is on Helen.
Helen’s sexy Cabaret number got him a little hot under the collar, although he points out the simplest way to get a bad score from Len is to be too raunchy.
It still tickles him that he auditioned for Strictly on his 60th birthday, a time when most people would be thinking of retirement
Being an ‘old fuddy duddy’ and a stickler for standards, he particularly hates a ‘raunchy rumba’.
‘It’s not my cup of tea, Jen. I always say: ‘It’s a ballroom, not a bedroom. Calm yourself down’. The rumba needs to be romantic, not raunchy.’
While Helen’s corset- clad performance for the couple’s choice was ‘quite fruity’, what he loved about it were ‘the elements of light and shade in it, the little stops, twists of the head. I loved all that. How bloody Craig only gave it a nine is beyond me’.
Every woman who has ever been treated badly by a man will be voting for Helen, I suggest.
She’s had a tough year, having split from her husband, rugby league Leeds Rhinos star Richie Myler, the father of her three, young children and moving back in with her parents on their farm in Cumbria. Len tut-tuts at this. ‘The audience has the luxury of being able to vote with the heart, but the judges have to think with the brain.’
Len, of course, was the original Strictly head judge, a man plucked from the ballroom dancing world and — quicker than you could say ‘pickle my walnuts’, which he did, often — given a passport to fame and fortune.
It still tickles him that he auditioned for Strictly on his 60th birthday, a time when most people would be thinking of retirement. He still had a mortgage and his dance school, he tells me, was making only a small profit.
Then the great glitterball appeared from the sky, ‘and it changed my life’.
‘I remember coming home to [my wife] Sue saying: ‘They want to pay me £1,000 an episode and they will pick me up in a car, and take me home again.’
For 12 years, we loved him at the helm of Strictly, then we lost him to the glossier, U.S. version, Dancing With The Stars. It was an unlikely export, but he soon won them over.
‘Some of the things I came out with did confuse them a bit. I remember saying: ‘Give it some welly’, and they said ‘Willy? What’s a willy?’ But someone said to me, early doors: ‘Be yourself, and be honest’ and I’ve stuck to that, as much as you can.’
Len, of course, was the original Strictly head judge, a man plucked from the ballroom dancing world
I interviewed him years ago and was worried that, in the intervening (LA) years, he’d have gone a bit Liberace or had a facelift and no longer be recognisable as our Len (just look at Simon Cowell and Sharon Osbourne). He winces.
‘Certain people miss being young, and so they have Botox or a bit of a lift or tuck. I did have a little tiddly time where I stained my hair, but I felt such a fraud. It looks so fake, too. I can’t say I’m happy when I look in the mirror — look at this (he wiggles excess skin on his throat). I’ve got a wattle. What’s that all about? — but it’s me.’
Len was born in Kent and raised in London’s East End, in Bethnal Green, but seems to have Dartford (where he started his dance school) branded on his soul.
He talks me through some of his experiences in LA. Once, he watched not one, not two but seven (‘seveeeeeen’) SUVs arrive at the Dancing With The Stars studios.
‘It was Barry Manilow, who was singing. He was great, of course, but who needs seven cars?’ He was star-struck meeting the late Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. Neil Diamond — his great hero — sent him a box of goodies saying he was a fan, which rendered him speechless (a rare thing).
Once on a plane, Mick Jagger — a fellow Dartford boy — came up to have a chat. What did they talk about? Strictly, of course!
‘It’s only a little dance show but that’s the thing — everyone, on both sides, of the Atlantic has seen it. Even if they don’t watch all the time they are aware of it.’ This is true. The Queen was reportedly a fan. He knows for sure the new Queen Consort is.
The ballroom star was chuffed with the fuss made of him on his final show in LA. ‘Even donkeys need a carrot, Jen,’ he said
He was chuffed with the fuss made of him on his final show. ‘Even donkeys need a carrot, Jen,’ he says. ‘I do feel bad for Bruno. He never got that when he left.
(The pandemic led to Bruno departing the British version without so much as a carriage clock). Did Len get a clock?
‘Better than that,’ he says, disappearing to fetch a huge glitterball trophy, which was Fedex-ed all the way to Dartford.
‘It cost thousands. I know, as they had to put the estimated value on the box.’
‘But you take it all with a pinch of salt. People are hardly going to say: ‘Goodbye Len, you were bloody awful’, are they?
‘That’s what I’ve noticed in this industry. Everyone says ‘Marvellous, marvellous’. No one tells the truth.’
The one person who does not tell him he is marvellous is his wife Sue. His love life has been chequered. His first wife Cherry, whom he married in 1972, ran off with a rich Frenchman. Then he met Lesley, who became the mother of his son James, born in 1981. But Sue was — and is — ‘The One’.
He laughs when she calls from the kitchen to remind him that she earned more than he did when they met. They were together for ten years, running the dance school, before they wed in 2012.
The one person who does not tell him he is marvellous is his wife Sue. His love life has been chequered
Sue has stopped him getting ‘giddy’ on fame. ‘I’ll say: ‘I’ve been invited to this opening of whatnot, should I go?’ and she’ll say: ‘Do you really want to go or is it your ego that wants it?’
‘She’s right. It’s all about your bloody ego, buffing it up a bit. I see all these people going to these things and I’m sure, deep down, that they’d rather be indoors having a nice apple pie.’
Why retire now? He wants to spend more time with Sue, and his grandchildren Alice, seven, and Jack, four. He is a smitten grandfather, and clearly a pushover.
‘Oh, I’d cut out the having children and go straight to grandkids if I could,’ he says. ‘You have no responsibilities with grandkids. The only thing I’m responsible for is having fun with them. I mean there are rules — you are not supposed to give them orange squash, but I give them what they like.’
I suspect he feels he is a better grandad than he ever was a dad. While he was present in James’s life, he was often away working. As a dance coach he would be ‘all over the place, in America, in Germany, making a living for the family’. And buffing that ego, possibly.
‘I have asked James about this. I said: ‘By and large, was I an OK dad?’, and he said: ‘By and large, yes’. But as we were just saying, people don’t always tell the truth. He might have been thinking: ‘You were bloody awful’.’
He seems in fine fettle, but he’s had cancer twice (prostate, and a melanoma) so you have to ask. He harrumphs. ‘The papers said LEN BATTLING CANCER.
His final words were: ‘He was a dance teacher from Dartford who got lucky. Because that’s just about the truth of it’
‘I was not battling it. I had it. I don’t make a fuss about stuff like that. It’s like when you have a car — you keep it serviced but even so, you’ll have some trouble with your carburettor and you’ll need to get it fixed, and eventually the whole thing will conk out, and there you go. It’s more about the journey, and mine has been lovely.’
We can never choose when we’ll conk out, but would he rather it happened gently, or say in the fast lane of the motorway?
‘Bing Crosby had the right idea. He played 18 holes of golf, then, bosh, dropped down dead. I don’t want a load of lingering. My dad had the right idea, too. He loved gardening and he had a stroke while he was out in the garden. He was 79 so if I go the way of my dad, that’ll be next year.’
He seems astonishingly chipper about this. He says maybe I could write his obituary. Blimey, Len, not yet. What would I write anyway?
‘Just write: ‘He was a dance teacher from Dartford who got lucky’,’ he says. ‘Because that’s just about the truth of it.’
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