BBC, Strictly Come Dancing

New Strictly Come Dancing judge reveals heartbreak over secret family tragedy

Len Goodman's replacement opened up about her lasting grief ahead of Strictly's new series starting

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Strictly Come Dancing’s new head judge Shirley Ballas has revealed her secret heartache after her beloved brother David took his own life.

There was only a two-year age gap between Shirley, 56, and David, who were incredibly close growing up in Merseyside, where they were raised by single mum Audrey after their dad left when they were kids.

In an emotional new interview, Shirley described David as a father figure and her best friend while sharing her grief and devastation at him taking his own life 14 years ago after a battle with depression.

New Strictly Come Dancing judge Shirley Ballas has shared her heartbreak over beloved brother David’s death [Credit: BBC]
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“My brother took his own life when he was 44,” she told The Sun.

“He gave me away when I got married the first time and the second time. My dad turned up for that but my brother gave me away.”

Shirley credited David with inspiring her to become a dancer after his love and support pushed her to pursue a career within the challenging industry, and escape the “poor broke” life of their youth.

She recalled: “I can always remember him saying to me from a very young age, ‘You’re going to be a dancer’. He used to tell me, ‘You’re better than this. You’re going to make something of your life’.

“He was my father and he was everything and anything you would ever need in a brother.”

Instagram @shirleyballas
Shirley described David as her best friend and father figure [Credit: Instagram @shirleyballas]
Instagram @shirleyballas
Shirley and David’s mother Audrey turned 80 years old this year [Credit: Instagram @shirleyballas]

Shirley, who joins Strictly Come Dancing this year as a replacement for outgoing head judge Len Goodman, set up The Ballas Foundation with son Mark in the wake of David’s death.

The organisation aims to help others who are suffering from depression, while raising awareness of issues surrounding mental health and suicide.

“If I can use this platform to help then I’m interested in doing that,” she told The Mirror.

Instagram @shirleyballas
Shirley and son Mark launched The Ballas Foundation together in the wake of David’s death [Credit: Instagram @shirleyballas]

A statement on behalf of Shirley and Mark on The Ballas Foundation website explains: “After the death of Shirley’s brother and Mark’s uncle, David Rich in 2003, both needed time to deal with their grief.

“While their friends and family knew of David’s suicide, Mark and Shirley did not speak about it publicly.

“In early 2010 they jointly decided that the time had come to ‘go public’ with their story.

“They participated in several events generating awareness of suicide prevention, including Shirley’s 50th Birthday Party as a fundraising event to support suicide prevention awareness programs. That party was the catalyst for the creation of The Ballas Foundation.”

Shirley is a proud mum to fellow pro dancer Mark Ballas [Credit: FameFlynet]
Instagram @shirleyballas
Shirley will make her Strictly debut on Saturday night [Credit: Instagram @shirleyballas]

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After David’s death, Shirley raised his daughter, Mary, whose mother passed away from alcoholism.

She has also been back in touch with her father over the last few years.

Shirley – a Latin and Ballroom dancing champion and international coach – was confirmed as the new Strictly judge back in May, after fan favourite Len chose to retire from the BBC dancing competition.

Viewers will get their first look at the Queen of Latin in action on Saturday night when the new series of Strictly kicks off at 7pm on BBC One.