Arlene Phillips found out she was a Dame when her PA handed her a letter after dinner

·3-min read
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13:  Arlene Phillips holds her Commander of the British Empire (CBE) medal after it was presented to her by Queen Elizabeth II at the Investiture Ceremony at Buckingham Palace on February 13, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Arlene Phillips holds her CBE medal in 2012. She's been made a Dame in 2021 (John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Arlene Philips spent a normal evening in having dinner with her PA before opening the letter that told her she was being honoured as a Dame.

Speaking on White Wine Question Time, the powerhouse choreographer and former Strictly judge said she burst into tears when she realised she was being honoured.

She said her PA, who had been working on and off from home, popped over one evening for a catch up.

Phillips told host Kate Thornton: “I said: ‘Oh that’ll be nice... why not stay and have some dinner?’ We sat down, had dinner, we’re chatting away.”

After dinner, as she was leaving, her PA handed over a piece of paper.

“And the piece of paper said 'you have been recognised by the Queen and are being honoured as a Dame',” said Phillips.

“And I was flabbergasted, sitting in my kitchen. I burst into tears and then I started laughing, there were goosebumps on my arms. I could not believe it. I really couldn’t.”

WATCH: Arlene Phillips opens up on how it felt to become a Dame

She spoke of her difficult childhood, the infamously sexy Hot Gossip work of her early career, and opened up about her disbelief that this life could be recognised in such a way.

She said: “I know it sounds silly Kate, but somehow where I'd grown up, the life that I'd lived, the difficulties in my childhood, the poverty, the hard work, the kind of getting well known for a notorious and very sexy dance group.

“It just didn't seem in any way that that life could be recognised for a Dame.

24th October 1978:  Dance group Hot Gossip, who will be appearing regularly on former Radio One DJ Kenny Everett's weekly television comedy programme.  (Photo by M. Fresco/Evening Standard/Getty Images)
Dance group Hot Gossip, of which Arlene Phillips was a part (M. Fresco/Evening Standard/Getty Images)

“I was astonished, amazed. Also, it’s not just for recognition through dance, it’s also through charity and of course the charities that I'm involved in − which I've been involved in for many many years − they're just part of my life.

“I don’t think this is something that one gets honoured for. But it’s also a big part of what I've been honoured for and that is the immense amount of work I do with charities.”

Listen: Arlene Phillips talks about working with Elton John, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner and more

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She opened up to Thornton about her early life in Manchester and the chance moments that led to the stellar career she has since had.

She said: “My life has built on pivoting. Where you step on a little platform before you dance and pivot and it changes dramatically.

Arlene Phillips, British choreographer, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, British composer, and Stephanie Lawrence (1949-2000), British actress, posing for a group portrait at their musical 'Starlight Express', at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London, England, United Kingdorm, 1984. Lawrence is in costume for the role of Pearl in the stage musical. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Arlene Phillips, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, and Stephanie Lawrence posing at their musical 'Starlight Express', 1984. (Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“One of those began when I was in Manchester and I had become a dance teacher due to my mother dying when I was young.

“I didn't feel I could leave home. I didn't feel it was right, my sister was 12 and my brother left school to go out to work and my father wasn't well.

“So I knew the family had to stay together. So I studied dance in Manchester and became a teacher.”

Arlene Phillips attending the Mirror Animal Hero Awards 2019, in partnership with People's Postcode Lottery and Webbox, held at the Grosvenor House Hotel, London. (Photo by David Parry/PA Images via Getty Images)
Arlene Phillips attending the Mirror Animal Hero Awards 2019 (David Parry/PA Images via Getty Images)

Her dance teacher recommended she visit a dance school in London, where Phillips went by chance to a class led by American dancer Molly Molloy. This led to a babysitting job for Ridley Scott, and later to work in commercials and eventually in America.

Phillips said: “Theres something there that tells you ‘go in that direction’, which way is the right direction? Where is the fork in the road? You can choose the right fork.”

WATCH: Arlene Phillips on making music videos with Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Whitney Houston and Diana Ross

Hear Arlene talk about what it was like to work how Kate Thornton helped her to 'find herself again' in the new episode of White Wine Question Time. Listen now on Apple podcasts and Spotify.