Not hugging family at Christmas brings back memories of being away from my son when he was a child

THERE was bubbly flowing, a roast dinner delivered to my doorstep and a boogie around the tree to Abba.

But like millions of others, my Christmas Day was tainted by the absence of loved ones.

Coronavirus restrictions meant my son Mark, boyfriend Danny and niece Mary couldn’t be with me this year.

So I had a quiet day with my 83-year-old mum Audrey and my little Lhasa Apso dog Charlie.

I found out about the new Tier 4 rules a few hours before the Strictly final was broadcast live to the nation last Saturday.

The cast and crew listened to the radio as Boris Johnson announced the new measures which meant that many of us wouldn’t be seeing our friends and families for the holidays.

An eerie silence fell over Elstree film studios and everything stood still for that moment. As soon as the Prime Minister’s broadcast was over, I’ve never seen so many tears.


I was so upset even my false eyelashes were falling off. It brought back memories of the five Christmases I was away from my son Mark when he was growing up.

I was competing as a dancer in Japan, and even though I was earning a living and the money for his school fees, I remembered the massive guilt I felt leaving Mark with my mother and brother for those years.

It’s a really unique feeling that all mothers will know — it’s a wave of emotion that starts in your head and works its way through your body. I knew what it’s like to be unable to hug your child at Christmas so I realised how tough it would be for others.

When I heard the news I was overwhelmed and I needed 20 minutes to sort myself out. I felt sorry for the poor make-up artist who had some significant touch-ups to do!

But at Strictly, we know how important it is to put on a show for the public. So it was a case of dress on, eyelashes back on, wiping away those tears, and pulling it together.

We put a spring in our collective step and went out there and entertained the public for two hours and 15 minutes and I think we all did a damn good job.

After the final there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Everybody felt a sense of relief that we had managed to carry on with the production and lift people’s spirits.

We always know how important it is to put on a show but this year it was particularly poignant. People have been so grateful to us for bringing that bit of magic to their lives at such a difficult time.

This year I published my autobiography Behind The Sequins and it’s fair to say it was a difficult project to work on. It meant I had to confront those emotions of not being there for Mark at Christmas or for birthdays.

When I asked Mark about it, he told me, “Of course I missed you as a child, but I understood that you were looking after the bigger picture and providing for us. We’ll keep moving forward and we’ll make up for it.”

Back when I’d left Mark at home to dance in Japan there were no video calls. But this year we could pour a glass of champagne and talk over Zoom.

It meant so much, I don’t want to miss any more Christmases together.

Bailey's showed his metal

MY favourite Strictly performance this year was Bill Bailey and Oti Mabuse dancing the tango to Metallica’s Enter Sandman.

One thing people don’t know about me is I love shaking my head to a good heavy metal track like that one.

My son Mark is an avid musician and he’s grown up with posters of bands on the wall, which sparked my interest.

Some of my favourite metal bands include Korn, Slayer and Cannibal Corpse.

So Twirly Shirley can be Headbanging Ballas too!

Dance to beat blues

I SET a place for my brother David every Christmas, even though he passed away 17 years ago.

David took his own life when he was 44. It led me to work with charities such as the Campaign Against Living Miserably and generally be more mindful about those around me.

This week on Instagram I urged people to check in on their neighbour with a phone call or encouraging letter.

Now, more than ever, it’s important that we really come together as a country and not just think about ourselves.

It’s vital that we listen to people and perhaps identify the warning signs I never spotted with my own brother.

Mental health is so wide-ranging, but all of us have suffered at some point during this pandemic, myself included.

You have to find ways to keep yourself afloat that work for you.

Something we can all do to keep our spirits up is dance.

If you’re on your own this festive season, then send me a little video of your best solo moves over social media and I promise to get my “ten” paddle out.

Judge Shirley judged

PEOPLE often asked how a judge like me reacts to being judged.

Well, you can get a glimpse tomorrow night when I appear on The Great British Sewing Bee’s Celebrity Christmas Special on BBC1. I’d never used a sewing machine in my life.

To be judged by someone else is not a big deal to me, as a professional dancer I was used to it. It’s just an opinion.

So when I saw the clothes I’d made, I gave myself a pat on the back. It didn’t matter if others thought they were crap!

Save me from trolls

WHENEVER I go out for dinner I make sure everyone puts their phones in the middle of the table.

Then, whoever reaches for theirs first, has to pick up the tab.

Technology can be brilliant but I do worry that we rely on it too much and aren’t communicating properly any more.

Like most people, I’ve also had to put up with my fair share of trolling.
A couple of weeks ago I was sent this absolutely disgusting message calling me a “s*** and a w*****” because the writer disagreed with my choice to save Jamie over Ranvir in a Strictly dance off.

I removed the man’s name and posted the message on my Instagram feed to let the younger generation know they’re not the only ones to receive this sort of abuse.

It was met with such an outpouring of love that I’m still working my way through the thousands of responses, which I’m so grateful for.

People need to be accountable for their words online and social media giants should be more responsible for content posted.

Fab news on Beatles doc

FANS of The Beatles were given an early Christmas present with a glimpse of the unseen footage from Peter Jackson’s upcoming documentary Get Back.

I grew up in the Wirral, so the band were practically from my backyard, and I was so inspired by them as a young girl.

I remember when I Want To Hold Your Hand came out. It played on the radio after the first time I’d ever held a boy’s hand, and I felt butterflies.

I’ve been to The Cavern Club, I’ve been to Abbey Road and I feel a connection with the band.

My favourite song, Yesterday, was played at my brother’s funeral and always reminds me of him.

Give ’em bell

MY new toy is a Tibetan bell which I ring to keep me calm.

It was my counsellor’s idea. I have weekly sessions so I don’t go to the dark places I experienced when my brother David died.

People see this outwardly confident woman with big eyelashes on Strictly yet I suffered in silence for years.

I am anxious and counselling has encouraged and helped me.

So I’m letting my Tibetan bell ring out for Christmas.

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