Choreographer Arlene Phillips: I’m very good at being a total, utter slob

September 17, 2017
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Not a lot of people know this but I’m very good at… being a total, utter slob. Mostly my life is lived at a demanding pace, which may be why I love nothing more than a day when I can lie in bed with toast, newspapers and other creature comforts.

At the same time, I’ll also have my computer, my notes and my “must-do” yellow stickies spread all around me on the bed. But the main thing is to remain lying down throughout. 

My best friend is… Debbie Moore from Pineapple Studios. We’re total opposites – she’s as light and fluffy as a butterfly, into alternative medicine and specialist diets and not remotely “earthbound”. I’m the reverse – I’m practical and grounded in every way.

But we love each other, nonetheless. 

My nickname is… She Who Must Be Obeyed. I can’t imagine why this nickname has attached itself to me but I like to think it’s meant with humour and affection. 

The bravest thing I’ve ever done is… getting back on an aeroplane after a near miss on a flight from Düsseldorf to Heathrow three years ago. The pilot had to take evasive action after nearly hitting another plane on the runway. We were going down and then we suddenly surged back up. It was terrifying. 

In the aftermath, I turned down jobs because I couldn’t face flying. Then, one day, I got news that a good friend of mine in New York was extremely unwell and I realised there were more important things in life to worry about than flying. I got back on that plane without a second thought and haven’t looked back.

My favourite TV show is… Miss Marple because it’s the one drama that seems to stop me doing 100 other things at the same time as watching TV. I find that the red herrings and plot twists draw me in completely. I’ve loved all the Miss Marples in different eras, but my favourite was probably Julia McKenzie – she was just the right amount of brilliant and battered looking. 

My perfect evening… is a night out with Angus – a great film, followed by a meal. And if some friends want to join us for dinner, so much the better. A table for six at a lovely restaurant feels just right.

I’d like to say sorry to… Molly Molloy, my dance teacher and the person who changed my life. I’d come to London from Manchester and planned to stay for a week, but after going to one of her classes, I made a decision never to leave. Molly gave me a scholarship, found me a place to live and a job to keep body and soul together. She became one of my greatest friends and when she died I was devastated. 

I also deeply regretted a stupid row we’d had after she laughed at me for putting on weight and busting out of my new Biba dress. I raged at her like a tormented tiger, basically because I worshipped her and couldn’t bear to be less than perfect in her eyes. I’d say sorry to her all over again. 

My first kiss was… in junior school with a boy called David. He was the prettiest boy in the class and I was not the prettiest girl. I don’t particularly remember the kiss, but I do remember feeling that I’d scored an amazing goal.

My biggest regret… is having said yes to certain jobs I should have declined because what they brought in terms of creativity and satisfaction didn’t warrant the time I spent away from my girls. At the time, I said yes because I didn’t have the courage to say no. Now that I’m older, tougher and wiser, that doesn’t happen.

The best thing my parents taught me… was to work hard, be true to yourself and to do unto others as you would be done by.

The one thing I’d change about myself… is my height (5ft 3ins). I’d be another three inches taller – and it would all be in my legs.

The last time I cried… was watching Natalia Osipova dance in Marguerite And Armand at the Royal Opera House. My gosh, she’s not just an incredible dancer, she bares her soul on stage. It’s quite devastating to watch. 

The first record I ever bought… was Elvis Presley’s Teddy Bear when I was about 11. 

At home, we grew up with mostly classical music, but rock’n’roll was a secret passion indulged by my grandmother. I’d go over to her house and we’d watch Six-Five Special together. It was a precursor to Top Of The Pops and probably the first rock’n’roll show on British TV.

It’s not good for my image but I like… wide-legged, mid-calf culottes. I have loads of them in my wardrobe in different sizes for both fat and thin days.

If I could pass any law… I would not allow the utility companies and builders to work in the same street on the same day, causing immense traffic jams in London. I would insist that there were street schedules.

I drive… a little Suzuki Swift and I love it. I drive myself everywhere and when I do have to catch a taxi, I always believe I know the best route to everywhere in London, despite the driver never wanting to listen to me. 

The shop I can’t walk past is… Selfridges in London. In fact, I can’t even go on to Oxford Street before I’m guided to the famous revolving doors by an invisible string. 

The most expensive thing I’ve splashed out on… is a beautiful, exclusive Prada handbag. Unfortunately, it’s also cream suede, so I can’t take it out often. It was horrifically expensive, but it’s also an exquisite work of art.

My perfect Sunday is… breakfast in bed. And not just any old breakfast, I want soft poached eggs with smoked salmon, freshly squeezed orange juice, a big fruit platter and a pot of espresso. Then I’d get up and go for a walk on Hampstead Heath with my family, followed by lunch at The Orangery in Holland Park and, if we still had room, afternoon tea at the Rosewood hotel in Covent Garden.

My greatest weakness… is the triple-fat cream cheese from Primrose Hill food market.  Oh, it’s ridiculous. I could sit and eat a whole tub of it with a spoon.

I’m currently reading… the unbelievable pile of magazines that I order to my door and never have the time to read. But I refuse to chuck them until I’ve read them. It means that, at the moment, I don’t even have a book on the go.

My favourite place in Britain… is glorious Ludlow in Shropshire, especially the market there, which is just fantastic.

The best day of my life… aside from the two days on which my daughters were born, was going to the Palace to get my CBE from the Queen in 2013. She looked so exquisite, with skin that was so soft it could have been a powder puff. I can’t imagine what my parents would have thought about it.

When I was little, we used to have to line our shoes with newspaper when it rained because we couldn’t afford to have them soled. They’d never have believed how far this funny, odd little girl – who was always searching for something more – had come. They’d have been so delighted.

If I had half an hour left on Earth I’d… sit with my two girls, Alana and Abi, in my arms and tell them that they have been the thing in my life that I have loved the most and been the proudest of. No question.

Arlene! The Glitz. The Glamour. The Gossip. is currently on a nationwide tour. For details, visit arlenephillips.com. 



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