Arlene Phillips says shes the biggest coward ahead of Im A Celebrity appearance

Dame Arlene Phillips relished dressing up in colourful outfits for our exclusive shoot. But she is set to hit our screens wearing far less glamorous kit – as she'll be joining the cast of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!.

At the time of our interview, Arlene, 78, can neither confirm nor deny the rumours but it has since been revealed that she'll be heading into the Welsh castle this weekend.

Speaking ahead of her stint, she tell us she’s certainly not “Miss Fearless” with creepy-crawlies. “My family always laugh at me because they all camp and I’m definitely not a camper!” she giggles.

The choreographer, theatre director and former Strictly Come Dancing judge, who was awarded her Damehood earlier this year, has been hitting the headlines a lot of late.

As well as the I’m A Celebrity appearance, Arlene was reported to be replacingJohn Barrowman as a judge on Dancing On Ice and making a one-off return to Strictly. And she has teamed up with the National Lottery Awards 2021 to present an award to a cause that is very close to her heart.

Here, Arlene – who lives in north London with partner Angus Ion, 67, and is mother to daughters Abi, 30, and Alana, 42 – tells us how she’d cope on I’m A Celebrity, clears up some rumours and reveals whether or not she’ll ever slow down…

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Hi Arlene! We know you can’t comment on your potential I’m A Celebrity involvement but what do you think of the show?

All I can say is that I am the biggest coward in the world. I’m not courageous! Every time I watch the show, I absolutely admire those people who fearlessly enter into it. I’m the type of person who holds back.

What are you like with creepy-crawlies?

I’d like to be better than I am. I’m not Miss Fearless! I am when it comes to my professional life – I just go and do it, but not with this kind of challenge. My family always laugh at me because they all camp and I’m definitely not a camper! My partner went camping when he was a kid and my girls have, and I’m like, “No, I’m not lying on that and I’m not going to live in a tent!”

So, if you did the show they would be shocked?

Yes, I think they would [laughs]! I have a fear of getting out of bed every day and starting the day, let alone anything else!

How would you cope with the hunger?

I’ve done weekly fasts for a malaria charity I work with, so that wouldn’t bother me.

And is it true that you were in discussions to be a judge on Dancing On Ice?

I love Dancing On Ice and I would love to do that. The producers of the show used to work on Strictly, so we chat all the time and have chatted for years. That might be where that story came from. I love things where people have to do something where it’s a real challenge. I admire people who do that and will get their skates on, because it’s not easy. It’s much nicer to be in the judging seat than on the ice!

You were also rumoured to be returning to Strictly for an episode…

That’s another rumour running around! I don’t know where they’re coming from. I don’t think for a minute they would ask me, so I wouldn’t even think about it! It’s not even on my radar. I only think about things that are possible, not something that isn’t going to happen.

Do you still watch the show?

I haven’t watched this series as I’ve been putting on a musical in Birmingham called What’s New Pussycat? and we work every evening, six days a week. I go back to London on a Sunday but the connection is so bad on the train that I can’t even watch it on catch-up. I will watch it at some point but right now I can’t get invested in it.

You’re always so busy. Do you think you’ll ever retire?

I’ve got some wonderful things coming up but I do also pick and choose what I do and make sure I spend time with my grandkids, who I adore. I suppose it will be a gradual phasing out. I never think, “I’ll retire at this age.” As long as I wake up in the morning and think, “I’m going to have a good day at work today,” I’ll keep going as I love what I do.

Does your partner Angus ever say he wishes you’d slow down?

My whole family have always said that but they do also understand that my career is important to me. Any spare time I have I spend it with my family.

And you were made a Dame earlier this year – congratulations!

Thank you! It was such a surprise! I could never have imagined that this little girl from Manchester who dreamed of dancing would ever be made a Dame.

You said you cried when you found out…

Yes, as it wasn’t for a moment something I was expecting. Immediately, going through your mind is all this questioning of, “Why me? What have I done to deserve this?” My mother and father would have been so proud. They’re up there looking down on what their daughter did.

Your daughters must be so proud, too?

Oh, they are. We went for a family meal to celebrate and it was really lovely. I’m kind of aware that large gatherings have often not had great results Covid-wise, so I’m just going to wait until it flies away and then I’m definitely going to celebrate it with all the people in my life. All the work I do is not just me alone, it’s all the associates and dancers, so I want to say a huge thank you as they’re all very special to me.

Do all your letters now say Dame on them?

No [laughs]! Nobody uses the term. Nobody calls me Dame!

What’s been your career highlight?

It’s so hard. It’s like picking a favourite child when you have 10! I love Andrew Lloyd Webber for asking me to choreograph Starlight Express. That’s been very special to me.

You look incredible. What’s your secret?

Dancing, without question! And I think inside you have to have some get up and go. I used to dance all day, every day. I’d like to be fitter, stronger and more active, like I was in the 70s and 80s, but it’s not as easy when you’re older. But I’m rolling along in my 70s alright!

You’re 80 in a couple of years. Will you have a big party?

I just don’t know when big parties will feel relaxed but I would hope to celebrate it and dance all night long!

Dance is obviously very close to your heart. Tell us about presenting a National Lottery Award 2021 to a community dance project…

I was invited to present an award to the winner in the Art, Film and Culture category in the awards, which recognise people and projects doing good work across the UK. It was this extraordinary woman called Emily Jenkins, who set up this wonderful idea to help women with cancer called Move Dance Feel. Through National Lottery funding, she’s been able to hold classes for women who’ve had cancer, are having treatment or are grieving for someone. Emily teaches dance in a way that’s extraordinarily uplifting and allows people to feel whatever they may be feeling in that moment and be able to express it through movement. It’s become hugely popular and hopefully Emily will be able to do more classes in the spaces she’s currently in, or open new centres, because the women I’ve spoken to have said it’s helped them in ways that they never thought they could be helped. Emily is very special and the National Lottery Award 2021 means so much to her. When people buy a National Lottery ticket everyone is hoping to win but actually what they’re creating is a possibility of a massive amount for those with worthwhile causes to expand them. Everyone who buys a ticket is a winner really!

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The National Lottery Awards 2021 celebrate the inspirational people and projects who do extraordinary things with the help of National Lottery funding. By playing The National Lottery, you raise £30M for good causes every week. To find out how your numbers make amazing happen, please

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