Len Goodman of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing is toe-tapping proof that it’s never too late to try something new or take up a challenge.
Goodman, who only retired from the hit programme last Christmas, was almost 60 when he was invited to audition for the role of judge on the prime time dancing show.
“I have enjoyed all that I have experienced whether presenting, judging or role playing; for me variety is the spice of life and I count myself very fortunate”, says Goodman who is now 73.
At an age when many are thinking of collecting their bus passes, Goodman picked up a scoring panel and became head judge alongside fellow experts Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel-Horwood. The trio have been part Strictly’s line-up of judges since its launch in 2004 and their combined experience has helped make the show the success it is.
With his vast knowledge of ballroom and Latin dancing, insistence on the correct dance techniques, as well as some fifty years experience, Goodman was always going to be the one who really gave Strictly its authority- not to mention fun!
His barrow boy twinkle and a deft catchphrase (who can forget “pickle me walnuts” and “seveerrn”), ensured that Goodman became a mainstay of the show for 14 seasons and charmed his way into the nation’s hearts.
His compliments, though hard won, were well worth the earning. Remember when on Frankie Bridge and Kevin Clifton’s foxtrot, in 2014, he said: “you floated across that floor like butter on a crumpet”; and then there was, “that was a mango of a tango – delicious,” on Kellie Bright and Kevin Clifton’s samba, 2015?
Goodman’s popularity was ensured and as Strictly took off, so did his TV career.
When the format of Strictly sold to the States, Goodman was asked to join the show and he found himself working on the US version: Dancing on The Stars. As another TV hit was born, Goodman started to regularly commute to Los Angles. Eventually the commuting became too tiring and he had to step back. Though he now does few transatlantic flights, he is still very much part of the show.
It’s all been a rather amazing success story, all the more so as Goodman did not initially want to be a ballroom dancer. At nineteen, the grandson of an East End barrow-boy was working as a welder and had dreams of becoming a footballer.
“I have enjoyed team sports because of the camaraderie,” says the sprightly pensioner. “I have always supported West Ham, because when I was a child, the ground was only one bus ride away from where I was brought up and so I was allowed to go and watch”.
A career as a dancer, never mind in showbiz, seemed as unlikely as “a ten from Len”.
“I had danced briefly before, mainly rock and roll as a teenager in the early 60's but it wasn't until I hurt my foot playing football that I took up dancing seriously. I went along the local dance school in Erith in Kent in 1965 as the Doctor had recommended dance as a form of exercise to strengthen the foot,” chuckles Goodman. “I also had a friend who attended who reliably informed me that there were lots of girls attending, so I didn't need any further encouragement”.
And so he began his career in ballroom dancing. Goodman turned professional in his twenties and, often with Cherry Kingston, his first wife, danced his way to success, winning the Dual of the Giant, British Rising Stars, and The British Exhibition Championships an impressive four times, “The most prestigious was wining the British Professional Rising Stars in 1973 at Blackpool,” says Goodman.
Another highlight, albeit non dance, was winning the 2014 Churchill Awards for TV & Radio, which were judged by Esther Rantzen. “It was the first award that I have ever won, outside of the dance fraternity,” says Goodman. “It was a total shock and an honour. The event took place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in London and it was a pleasure to part of an eclectic mix of famous and interesting people”.
A competitive dancer’s life is not long and so when Goodman hung up his dancing shoes, he took up teaching and judging, and eventually set up his own dancing school, Goodman Dance school in Kent.
“I always preferred to teach than dance as I found it so rewarding and I preferred teaching the social beginners,” says Goodman. It was a decision he never regretted and it was only when he was offered the job of judge on Strictly, several decades later, that he eventually stepped down.
His then long term partner Sue Barrett, a dance teacher, and now his wife, took over the running the school for him as Goodman stepped into the TV limelight.
Yet despite all his success, he remains very downturn earth and un-phased by it all. “My proudest moment was marrying my Sue and being a father and granddad”, he insists.
His dancing background as well as parent and grand-parenthood, has meant that Goodman is very keen on a well-balanced diet, particularly one that includes fish and chicken, as well as a healthy lifestyle. “Exercise as much as your time and body will allow even if it is a just a walk around the block,” he says. Keeping the mind active is also important for longevity, he stresses, even if that means continuing to work – albeit in a reduced way. “The joy of keeping working is that you can have a day off and appreciate it. Once you retire you no long have that same feeling of joy!,” he adds.
Though he may have retired from Strictly, Goodman is unlikely to be donning a pair of comfy slippers and putting his feet up. Media appearances and work on the US show will provide a few more challenges and keep him busy though these days, he has other things on his mind. “My biggest ambition,” says Goodman, “is to get a hole in one (playing golf) and spend more with my wife Sue and family”.
By Nicola Venning.
Photo credits: BBC/GUY LEVY