Arlene PhillipsArlene Phillips, CBE (born 22 May 1943) is an English choreographer, theatre director, talent scout, television judge and presenter, and former dancer, who has worked in many fields of entertainment.
For many years, she was most noted as the choreographer of numerous West End and Broadway musicals, films, and television shows, but she later achieved mainstream fame as a judge on television talent shows including Strictly Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance.
Early lifePhillips was born in 1943 and grew up in Prestwich, Lancashire, England. She is Jewish and has a brother, Ian and a sister, Karen. She attended Broughton Preparatory School, Cheetham Hill, Manchester; Beaver Road Primary School, Didsbury; and Manchester Central High School for Girls after passing the eleven plus exam. When Phillips was 15, her mother, who had been suffering from leukaemia, died aged 43. Her father, who had been a barber with his own shop, died of Alzheimer's at the age of 89.
Phillips originally wanted to be a ballet dancer and began dance classes at the age of three, studying ballet and tap dance at the Muriel Tweedy School in Manchester after leaving school at 16. Her mother had always expressed a desire to dance, which inspired Phillips into pursuing dance professionally.
Professional careerPhillips is internationally renowned as a choreographer and director of West End and Broadway musicals, but has many other professional credits.
In her mid-teens, Phillips moved to London where she has lived ever since. Strongly influenced by American Modern Jazz dance which was becoming popular in London at that time, she began developing her own style of jazz dance and began teaching her style in a number of prominent London dance studios, first at The Dance Centre and later at Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden, and the Italia Conti Stage School. She quickly established herself as a successful teacher and choreographer.
Phillips choreographed the 1982 film, Annie, and the Duran Duran song The Wild Boys, named Best British Video at the 1985 BRIT Awards.
Internationally, Phillips is most noted as a jazz and musical theatre choreographer, having worked on some of the biggest-selling musicals in West End and Broadway theatre, and a number of successful films. She is an Olivier Award nominee.
Phillips choreographed the 2002 Commonwealth Games opening and closing ceremonies alongside fellow Mancunian, David Zolkwer.
From 2004 to 2009, she was a judge on the BBC One show Strictly Come Dancing, and commented on the acts in Eurovision: Your Country Needs You for the BBC in 2009. In 2008, she created, produced, and choreographed the ITV television serial Britannia High. She was also the creative mind behind hit BBC shows DanceX and Strictly Dance Fever.
Following Phillips's appearance on Your Country Needs You, she choreographed the performance of the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest 2009. She went on to choreograph Engelbert Humperdinck's performance of the UK entry in the 2012 contest in Baku.
In March 2013, Arlene appeared on Let's Dance for Comic Relief in the Dance Judge Panel with Greg James and Lee Mack.
In Britain, Phillips first became a household name as the director and choreographer of Hot Gossip, a British dance troupe which she formed in 1974, using students she was teaching at the time. Hot Gossip spent two years performing in a London night club where Phillips and her manager developed the group's dance act.
The troupe were spotted by the British television director, David Mallet who invited Phillips to make Hot Gossip a regular feature of The Kenny Everett Show, which he directed for Thames Television on ITV, first being aired in 1978. It was during this time that Hot Gossip made their only hit record, backing Sarah Brightman on "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper", a disco song which reached number 6 in the British music chart. Brightman went on to achieve international fame as a soprano vocalist.
Hot Gossip were noted for the risqué nature of their costumes and highly rated dance routines. They continued to work into the early 1980s, with their own television special on the newly formed public service broadcaster, Channel 4, The Very Hot Gossip Show.
Strictly Come Dancing
Phillips was a member of the judging panel for the successful BBC television series Strictly Come Dancing, an original entertainment programme which has been running in the UK since 2004, and whose format has subsequently been licensed to broadcasters overseas.
In the show, celebrities are given intensive training in ballroom and latin dance routines, being partnered by an experienced professional dancer. They perform new routines each week for a live television audience, and each week a celebrity is eliminated until the series winner is decided. The panel of judges (Phillips, Len Goodman, Craig Revel Horwood, Bruno Tonioli) score the dance performances, and their scores are then combined with the results of a public televote to decide which two couples gave the weakest performance each week. These two couples then dance again, before the judges decide who should leave the competition.
Phillips was asked to be a judge for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) version of the show, Dancing with the Stars, but decided that her loyalties lay with the British version. In 2005 and 2006, Phillips was a judge for the spin-off series Strictly Dance Fever, which was also created by the BBC. The show searched for dancers to join the chorus of a West End musical. Later in 2007, she created and judged another BBC dance series, DanceX, a show formed to find a new commercial dance act. After the initial audition process, the competitors were split into two troupes of dancers, with Phillips mentoring one troupe and the other being mentored by her fellow Strictly Come Dancing judge Bruno Tonioli. The two troupes competed live on television each week, with Tonioli's troupe being the eventual winners.
Departure from Strictly Come DancingAfter the close of the 2008 series of Strictly Come Dancing, the BBC announced that several changes would be made to refresh the show in 2009. This led to a great deal of speculation in the media that Phillips might be dropped from the judging panel, but the BBC refused to respond to reports. They finally confirmed the news at the launch of their autumn schedule on 9 July 2009: she was replaced by former Strictly winner Alesha Dixon. The news led to much criticism being directed towards the BBC for its apparent discrimination against older women on television; the BBC, however, strongly denied this. Phillips joked that her sister nicknamed her "Arlene-Phillips-66" because of the frequency with which her name appeared in the press with her age appended.
The replacement of Phillips led to an unprecedented intervention from the then Minister for Women and Equality, Harriet Harman. During a session in the House of Commons, Harman responded to questions stating that she believed the decision to drop Arlene Phillips was motivated by age discrimination, and called on the BBC to ensure that she would be taking part in the new series. The BBC did not formally respond to Harman's request, but repeated its comments that the decision was not due to age.
Later activitiesIn October 2009, Phillips appeared on the first episode of the 38th series of the satirical show Have I Got News For You. Between April and July 2010, Phillips made nine guest panellist appearances on ITV's flagship show Loose Women. In the autumn of 2010, Phillips introduced a range of makeup in association with cosmetics brand VIE at home.
Phillips was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2001 Birthday Honours and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2013 New Year Honours for services to dance and charity.
In 2007, Phillips became the Executive Producer and Creative Director for the ITV television series Britannia High. The show was a fictional drama about the lives of six students at a London performing arts school. Based on an idea by Phillips and West End producer David Ian, the series was marketed as the UK's answer to Disney's High School Musical. The show's music was created and written by hit songwriter, and Take That frontman, Gary Barlow.
So You Think You Can Dance?
Phillips has also been a judge on the UK version of So You Think You Can Dance?. The show's original creator Nigel Lythgoe is head judge on the series, and Phillips is joined on the panel by pop singer Louise Redknapp, and dancer & choreographer Sisco Gomez.
Preliminary auditions took place in major UK cities, starting in October 2009, with the first episode being aired on BBC1 in January 2010. There have since been two series with Charlie Bruce and Matt Flint taking the winners' title respectively.
Phillips's appointment as judge for the series came soon after the controversy over her departure from Strictly Come Dancing, which prompted media speculation that she would become a judge for ITV1's Dancing on Ice or Sky1's then upcoming show Got to Dance (then titled Just Dance), presented by Davina McCall.