Strictly’s Shirley Ballas says Darcey Bussell exit marks end of an era

Dame Darcey Bussell has been described by her Strictly Come Dancing co-star Shirley Ballas as an “incredible friend” after announcing her departure from the show.

Dame Darcey is stepping down as a judge after seven years on the panel to focus on other dance commitments.

The former ballerina, 49, said her exit from the BBC One programme was not due to an “upset or disagreement”, and that she will miss her fellow judges Ballas, Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood.

Head judge Ballas tweeted: “We’ve had the most laughs and fun times on the show. Today is certainly the end of an era.

“Thank you for holding my hand all the way and being such an incredible friend. You were my rock when I was new to the show and have always been so kind.

“I for one will dearly miss my partner in crime and our girly chats. It just won’t be the same without you!”

Tonioli said that he will miss Dame Darcey, and that her “knowledge, beauty, talent, charm and elegance” make her a “true national treasure”.

In a now-deleted tweet, he added: “I will treasures all the time we spent together on and off screen.”

Strictly host Claudia Winkleman and professional dancer Oti Mabuse have also paid tribute to the outgoing judge, telling her she will be missed.

In a statement announcing her exit from Strictly, Dame Darcey said: “It has been a complete privilege for me to be part of Strictly, working with such a talented team.

“I have enjoyed every minute of my time and will miss everyone from my fellow judges, the presenters, the dancers, the musicians, the entire back stage team, and especially the viewers of the show, who have been so supportive.

“I am not leaving because of any upset or disagreement at all, I am just stepping away to give more focus to my many other commitments in dance, after seven truly wonderful years that I can’t imagine having gone any better.

“I know I will miss being part of this unique show and the fact that it celebrates dance is something I am so passionate about. I hope that I may be very lucky to be asked back again one day.”

Dame Darcey, who received her damehood from the Queen last year for services to dance, was a guest judge on the programme in 2009 and joined the panel permanently in 2012, replacing Alesha Dixon.

During her time on the show, she also worked alongside long-running head judge Len Goodman, who left in 2016, and she has taken part in the live Strictly arena tour for the past two years.

It is not known who will replace her, although former Strictly dancers Karen Hardy and Brendan Cole have been suggested by bookmakers Coral, as well as former judge Arlene Phillips.

Last year, Dame Darcey was forced to deny rumours of a rivalry with Ballas.

Dame Darcey told The Telegraph: “Of course I get on with Shirley. She’s hysterical, she’s got a great sense of humour, and I totally respect her amazing amount of knowledge.

“She’s great to be with.”

Asked why male co-stars never appear to face the same reports, she replied: “Funny that.”

Craig Revel-Horwood, Darcey Bussell, Shirley Ballas and Bruno Tonioli  on Strictly
Craig Revel-Horwood, Darcey Bussell, Shirley Ballas and Bruno Tonioli on Strictly

Charlotte Moore, director of BBC content, said: “It has been an absolute honour to have Darcey, a national treasure and British dance icon, bring her passion for dance and her graceful presence to the Strictly Come Dancing judging panel for seven consecutive years.

“She will be thoroughly missed by us all and will of course remain part of the Strictly family in the future.”

Strictly professional dancer Pasha Kovalev will also be missing from this year’s show, after announcing in February that he was leaving after eight series.