The candid choreographer reveals her health and wellbeing secrets to Gabrielle Fagan, days before Strictly Comes Dancing arrives in Blackpool this weekend.
Former dancer and leading choreographer Arlene Phillips has, it seems, never paid any attention to age.
The 75-year-old is super-glamorous, looks far younger than her years and is still working. She’s worked on a host of West End and Broadway musicals - from Cats to Grease and Saturday Night Fever - but even she’s had to accept that ageing does have a consequence - she’s going deaf.
The former Strictly Come Dancing judge, who joined the show in 2004 and whose shock exit in 2009 caused controversy, is undeterred by the problem and happy to talk about her new hearing aids, as well as giving her candid verdict on the latest series, and revealing her secrets for staying youthful.
How do you feel about hearing loss?
“It’s a natural part of the ageing process, but it certainly doesn’t make me feel old! It was just something I needed to sort out - like wearing glasses, if you need them. I first noticed it when I was in Germany earlier this year directing a new production of the musical Starlight Express.
“There seemed to be an extreme between the huge rock numbers and the dialogue, which sounded quite soft and slightly difficult to hear.
“I started wondering about the clarity of my hearing. Back in the UK, a Specsavers hearing test showed I had mild hearing loss. I realised I was missing the sweet, wonderful sounds, such as high notes in music, birdsong, or high-pitched voices.
“Hearing aids have made an incredible difference - it’s thrilling to get those sounds back, and my hearing’s restored to as good as it can be, which is vital for my job.
“I must admit, I was a bit anxious about wearing them at first. I thought, ‘What if they look awful or fly out of my ear while I’m dancing?’ In fact, the Signia Styletto aid is so tiny, nobody notices it, and I regard them as ear jewellery.”
Could anything have contributed to your hearing loss?
“I don’t really know, but I look back to the Eighties when I was all day, every day in studios all over the world, choreographing music videos for rock groups like KISS and AC/DC, Elton John and Freddie Mercury. They liked their music incredibly loud and it really hit you between the ears. Ear protectors didn’t exist then, so maybe that’s when I got some damage.”
Do you feel your age?
“I know how old I am chronologically, but I honestly don’t really know what old age feels like, because I’m still busy, busy, busy working. Apart from a few things my body doesn’t like - I can’t slam down on my knees any more, because they’ve sustained a bit of damage through years of dancing - I feel the same as I ever did.
Will you ever retire?
“Retirement isn’t an option at the moment - I get bored if I have too much time to laze around - but I think it will come gradually. Mind you, I’ve always done everything late - I think there’s a delay on my time clock!
“I had my second daughter, Abi when I was 47 and was even told at the time I might find it hard to bond with her, as at that age, I should be a grandmother! Now I’m going to be a granny - my eldest daughter Alana’s having a baby in December - and I absolutely can’t wait, but I’m probably the age when most people become great grannies.”
How do you look after your appearance?
“As I’ve got older, I’m more relaxed about it. I think I’m generally more confident and certainly don’t feel any pressure to look perfect.
“Oddly, the things that bothered me so much as a teenager - big cheeks and oily skin - stand you in good stead for old age. I still have a full face and smooth skin, perhaps down to the oil.
“Alana’s a make-up artist who’s taught me so much about skincare and I’m now very conscientious about it. I also have occasional fillers done, and go for lifting facials.”
Comedian Seann Walsh and his married professional dance partner, Katya Jones caused a storm when they were pictured ‘kissing’ on a night out. Do you believe it was down to the so-called ‘curse’ of Strictly?
“No, I don’t believe in curses - they’re only in children’s story books. After all, think of all the dancers and celebrities who’ve taken part in Strictly over the 16 years, and yet it’s only a tiny percentage who’ve had ‘moments’ or relationships.
“Moments like that can happen in any setting, an office or whatever, but they’re not usually as magnified, with millions of people commenting. It’s very intense being on the show - long hours, physical contact and sharing a goal of trying to keep your place in the contest. That’s like going for the high jump every week.
“You and your partner are the only ones sharing that unique experience and, of course, that’s bonding. Anyway, I believe often things are meant to happen for whatever reason - to shake you up, change your mind - whatever it may be. I adore Katya and her husband Neil, who are fantastic people and brilliant creative dancers, and I’m sure the whole thing has blown over by now.”
Are you still upset about your exit from Strictly?
“No, you have to choose to move on. I’m good at moving on. I think I have an inner spirit that allows me to do that and not sink backwards.
“Losing my mother when I was a teenager also toughened me up, taught me that there are no ‘givens’ in life and that you have to stand on your own feet and battle your way through.”
How do you look after your wellbeing?
“I’ve always been up and down like a yo-yo mood-wise, but if I feel a little low, I make myself get active. I go for a walk, dance, cycle, swim, listen to music, and, of course, talk to friends and family.
“I’m very lucky with my partner, Angus. We’ve been together since 1985 and we’re always there for each other. We both have lots of interests, but love coming together and sharing things. We’re always interested in what the other’s doing. I couldn’t wish for a better life companion. We never get bored with each other.”
Arlene Phillips is working with Specsavers to coincide with the launch of the new Signia Styletto. For information visit specsavers.co.uk/hearing.