Shirley Ballas has opened up about nearly quitting Strictly Come Dancing due to the abuse she received from trolls in 2022.
The dance champion took over as head judge on the BBC’s celebrity competition series in 2017, replacing long-serving panellist Len Goodman.
While Ballas was occasionally criticised by viewers for her harsh critiques of the competitors, things reached an “all-time low” in 2022. Many viewers claimed that Ballas was “sexist” and had a history of favouring male contestants over the female due to a perceived “jealousy”.
In a new interview with The Times, Ballas, 63, said that things had reached an “all-time low” during last year’s series.
Describing how the trolling had “snowballed out of control”, Ballas said that she had been left in tears after every show due to being on the receiving end of “the most negativity” she had ever had.
“Some of the messages were so cruel,” Ballas told the publication, describing how some viewers had perceived her to be particularly cruel towards young women or Black contestants.
She continued: “Just, how ugly you are and how fat you are, and how you’ve got horrible arms, and, ‘You don’t like men. You don’t like women. You don’t like Black men. You don’t like Black women.’
“And then once it starts steamrolling, it goes even further, and then it gets personal, about your being, how you look.”
Ballas was particularly criticised for one dance-off decision, where the head judge voted to save radio presenter Richie Anderson, seen to many as one of the competition’s “joke acts” over singer and Strictly frontrunner Fleur East.
While the other judges voted unanimously to save East, meaning she progressed to the next week automatically, Ballas’s decision rubbed viewers the wrong way. It has previously been claimed that other Black women, including Alexandra Burke in 2017 and AJ Odudu in 2021, have been undermarked by the Strictly judging panel.
For the forthcoming series, which launches on Saturday (16 September) before the first live show next week (23 September), Ballas said that she had employed someone to help with her social media.
“I’ll be going in with a much lighter heart, not taking things so personally. I have a new gentleman who will come on board, Harry Surplus, from Manchester University, 21. A mathematician,” she said.
“He’s going to do all my social media. He will be filtering. My mother adores him. Sorry, trolls, but Harry will be intervening this year.”
Strictly Come Dancing returns Saturday 16 September at 6.35pm on BBC One.