Arlene 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 has since achieved mainstream fame as a judge on television talent shows including Strictly Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance. On 15 April 2010, she made her first appearance as a panellist for the ITV television series Loose Women.

Starlight Express Credits

London - 03/1984 - Choreographer

Broadway - 03/1987 - Choreographer

Japan/Australia - 11/1987 - Choreographer

US Tour - 11/1989 - Director and Choreographer

Las Vegas - 09/1993 - Director and Choreographer

UK Tour - 11/2004 - Director and Choreographer

Starlight Express (London 1984)

Our primary job was to find skaters who were singers, dancers and actors. In the spring of 1983 we set up a workshop where we decided it was going to work as a musical.

Nine months later we started rehearsing in Kensal Rise. For the cast is was very, very hard work. Every day they had to train to do warm ups in dance, skating and singing, before they even started to learn choreography for the show. Most days we started at 10.00am in the morning not finishing until 9.00pm at night. The first week was entirely taken up for dance and skating training as well as working together as a company to start moving and feeling like trains. Basically the hardest task was to combine all the varying talents because so many of the company were exceptional at so many different things. There were disco dancers who could skate, street skaters and artistic skaters.

When we got into the auditorium the problems of the races were that the leaders (all male) were street skaters who could skate very fast and the coaches (often female) were dancers who were more rhythmically attuned to working with music but could not skate as fast; of course they had to work together as a complete couple to combine speed with rhythm. A lot of the street skaters thought me rather tough as they were not used to keeping in rhythm or counting bars of music - the whole company had to increase their stamina and we used very strong exercises to develop certain muscles for skating. Some days we started doing 20 exercises increasing to 100. The main goal of the company was to be able to skate with enough breath to sing Andrew Lloyd Webber's music.

Starlight Express (US Tour 1989)

Most performers auditioning for "Starlight Express" will have first put on roller skates as children, either their own, or sharing a pair of strap on ones with a friend. This, too, is the way I first learned to skate.

The next time was in 1979, seven months pregnant and in Hollywood choreographing a sequence on skates for a film, having been hastily taught to skate much to everyone's amusement. On my return to London I mentioned this to Andrew Lloyd Webber over dinner one evening and three years later, Andrew remembered the tale, telephoned to ask if I would be interested in choreographing what was to be his newest musical "Starlight Express". Of course I was thrilled. I would like to share some memories of "Starlight" on its tracks across the world with you.

It was decided that first it was to be a workshop and auditions began. We were looking for actor / singer / dancers who could also skate, a tall order in London where roller disco was unknown. One by one each person was asked to skate, they did so, right into the table where we were sitting. Next we went to the streets and parks in search of skater. We watched them do tricks and stunts and thought that at last our luck was in. Brilliant though they were, many had difficulty singing "Happy Birthday" in tune and could not skate and dance in time to the music. So it was decided the first two weeks of the workshop would be a training camp, the professional performers to learn to skate and for the skaters, the shortest dance training in history. At the end of six weeks something happened - we had a show.

Now began the search for a theatre that we could turn into a train yard. "Starlight Express" opened at the Apollo Victoria, London, in March 1984 and still continues its great success. So, next stop - Broadway, where the set had to be built vertically, connected by bridges, and onwards to Japan where the show spread horizontally, the full length and breadth of the Tokyo Olympic Pool. Here the cast was doubled to 68 and the show played to crowds of 20,000. The next production was Germany, where the theatre was designed and built around the set. Now tracking throughout the USA is the touring production which I have been fortunate enough to direct as well as choreograph. This production, I believe, contains the best of every "Starlight" so far.

My admiration goes out to all the performers if Starlight Express everywhere, for what must be the most demanding and strenuous jobs anywhere in theatre today. It's a lot harder to sing on skates coming down a ramp at high speed than to sing on your feet on a flat floor, harder to dance on skates knowing that at any moment a high kick could send you crashing down, and harder to play a dramatic scene that requires stillness with wheels under your feet just waiting to roll.

"Starlight Express" is a classic story told in a different way. Not only a musical but a Rock and Roll Spectacular, a sporting event, and a thrilling dance and drama experience.

I hope you enjoy watching the show and have as much fun as I have had working on it. - Arlene Phillips
Andrew Lloyd Webber Arlene Phillips 2008

Arlene Phillips and Andrew Lloyd Webber at the German production's 20th anniversary celebrations.

Starlight Express (Las Vegas 1993)

When Andrew Lloyd Webber first asked me to choreograph Starlight Express, I was thrilled to be given the chance to create dance on roller skates. We began with an experimental workshop in the spring of 1983 with our director, Trevor Nunn, to whom I shall be eternally grateful for all he taught me about people playing trains and our designer, John Napier, who made people look like trains. I knew it was going to be tough, but I never imagined just how tough!

In any musical the performers have to be able to sing, act and dance. In Starlight Express they have to do this on roller skates which requires strength, stamina and grim determination. To build up this strength, Starlihgr has a lengthy rehearsal period which initially consists of skate training, vocal and physical aerobics, racing, dance rehearsals (both on and off skates) couples with specialized training to move and feel like trains.

It's exciting that each physical space for Starlight is different. This means, from a staging point of view, each new production is re-invented rather than just a copy of the original London production. In the '80s, Starlight went from London to Broadway, to Japan and Australia, to Germany and across the U.S. In the '90s, the show was rewritten, rearranged, restaged and brought up to date, ready for the new decade. All these versions have contributed to and culminated in this exciting Las Vegas Hilton production.

An unusual musical, Starlight Express is a true theatrical experience. It's a love story and a story of hope, all involving spectacle, sportsmanship, danger and thrills. Starlight Express truly has something for everyone and Las Vegas feels like its true home.


Early life

Phillips 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 age 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 career

Phillips 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 just becoming popular in London at that time, she began developing her own style of Jazz dance and began teaching her style of dance extensively 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. Most notably, Phillips is a multiple Olivier Award winner and Tony Award award nominee.

Phillips choreographed the 2002 Commonwealth Games opening and closing ceremonies alongside fellow Mancunian, David Zolkwer.

From 2004-2009, she was a judge on the BBC1 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 a new British 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 choreographed Engelbert Humperdinck's performance of The UK in the 2012 edition 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.

Hot Gossip

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 eventually 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. Sarah Brightman went on to achieve international fame as a soprano vocalist.

Hot Gossip were particularly noted for the risque nature of their costumes and the dance routines, all designed and choreographed by Phillips, and they are often credited as one of the UK's early television dance troupes, continuing a trend which started with the Go-Jos and Pan's People on Top of the Pops. Hot Gossip continued to be successful into the early 1980s with their own television show on the newly formed public service broadcaster, Channel 4, The Very Hot Gossip Show. Despite some early success, a strong decline in viewing figures led to the show being scrapped after the first season.

Theatre choreography

  • The Wizard of Oz, 2011 London production
  • Flashdance
  • The Sound of Music, 2006 London revival and 2008 Canadian production
  • Starlight Express
  • Grease
  • Saturday Night Fever
  • We Will Rock You
  • Fire Angel
  • Matador
  • Time
  • A Clockwork Orange, for the Royal Shakespeare Company

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 of the show. In 2005 and 2006, Phillips was a judge for the Strictly Come Dancing 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. To date there have been no indications that the BBC are planning to televise any further series of these other programmes.

Departure from Strictly Come Dancing

After 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 has been replaced by former Strictly winner Alesha Dixon. The news has led to much criticism being directed towards the BBC for its apparent discrimination against older women on television; the BBC, however, strongly denied this.

The axing of Arlene Phillips has led to an unprecedented intervention from the then government's 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. Phillips has joked that her sister has nicknamed her "Arlene-Phillips-66" because of the frequency with which her name has appeared in the press with her age appended. The BBC has not formally responded to Harman's request, but has repeated its comments that the decision was not due to age, while not saying what it was due to.

It was reported in the Daily Mail that Phillips could be returning to the judging panel for series eight of Strictly Come Dancing or may even be involved in training all couples, in the same fashion that Torvill and Dean train all couples on the ITV show Dancing on Ice. This has been unsubstantiated thus far, with the 9th series already in full swing.

In October 2009 Phillips appeared on the first episode of the 38th series of the satirical show Have I Got News For You, where she was on Paul's winning team.

Between April and July 2010, Phillips made 9 guest panellist on ITV's flagship show Loose Women.

In the Autumn of 2010, Phillips introduced her first Make up range 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.

Britannia High

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. The show starred Georgina Hagen.

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.

Personal life

Phillips and her partner, Angus Ion, have been together for more than 20 years. She has two daughters: Alana, from an earlier relationship, and Abi, with her current partner. They live in London. She met Angus, a set designer, on the set of a Freddie Mercury music video. she choreographed the music video of Elton John's "I'm Still Standing "

She is a fan of Rod Stewart.

Alana Dancing Star Books

In 2010 Phillips wrote a series of children's fiction books. Alana Dancing Star is a series of 6 books revolving around the central character Alana and her journeys through different genres of dance. The series covers Ballroom Dance, Samba, Hip-Hop, Bollywood, Broadway and Tango and many parents credit them with encouraging their children to read.

In Summer 2011 one of the books, Viennese Waltz, was selected to be part of Richard and Judy's Summer Children's Reading List.

Jewellery Range

Phillips has released a fashion jewellery range, which is currently being sold on QVC. The range consists of necklaces, bracelets, earrings and brooches, and in 2012 Phillips will expand her range.

Clothing Range

In 2010 Phillips released a range of clothing with plus size retailer Marisota. The range has been hugely successful as it is a fashion range for sizes 12-32, catering to a large market.

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