SHE has led a cha-cha- charmed life as a Strictly Come Dancing judge and one of the UK’s top choreographers.
But Arlene Phillips, 79, says her biggest ever achievement was having her second child aged 47 — declaring: “I felt invincible”.
The TV favourite — who is mother to daughters Alana, 43, and Abi, 31 — feels having a child later on in life is a blessing.
She says: “I’ve always related to the age I feel inside.
“I had my second daughter when 47.
“When I went for my first check-up they were like: ‘Oh, you are quite old to be having this baby.’ But I felt invincible.
“I may have been 47 on the outside but I was ready to be a mother again.
“Then it was unusual, now it is far more common.
“But I have always listened to my own head and heart and got on with the things I want to do.
“I have encouraged so many of my friends to not give up, not to fear having a late baby. A late baby is a gift.”
Arlene — who starred as a judge on the BBC’s Strictly from 2004 to 2009 — wed first husband Danny Noble when she was 18 and he 27.
They had daughter Alana in 1979 but separated shortly afterward.
At 47, Arlene gave birth to their daughter Abi, who she explains was a happy surprise.
Now, more than 30 years on, Arlene says it is her younger daughter who keeps her young.
Most recently, Arlene has directed touring musical The Cher Show — choreographed by former Strictly pro dancer Oti Mabuse.
She adds: “I can’t believe I’m 79 but I am lucky I am surrounded by young people, who keep me in touch.”
Arlene turns 80 next May and is planning a huge party.
She says: “It is going to be big.
“There are so many people in my life who have helped put my career forward so I want to do a huge thank you to those people.
“The party will be in London, the entertainment is going to be incredible.
“I’m not going to jump out of a cake but would love to get on stage and do my thank yous.
“There will be many dancers there — and Oti will be there. But they will be there to have a good time, not to dance.”
Meanwhile, she will make sure she stays in shape, to counter any signs of ageing.
She says: “I am very careful about what I eat. I try to stay fit and healthy.
‘DON’T FEEL GUILTY’
“The hours in the day I used to put in, I don’t go near that. But I try to do a daily walk or go for a swim.
“It used to be the first thing in my life but now if I want to see the grandchildren or do a work-out, I choose the grandchildren.
“I want to do the things I want to do. I tell myself it’s OK to sometimes do nothing and stare into the abyss. Don’t feel guilty.”
But Arlene admits getting older does bring extra anxiety at times and is not always plain sailing.
She says: “You do worry about if you have the same fitness. Am I as quick and fast and smart? Do I think as fast?”
She says she was recently left riddled with anxiety after she lost a book with all her notes in.
She says: “Everything I do in life is written down and I had the most disastrous loss which has affected me more than anything — I lost my notebook which had every note and comment.
“Where it went, I don’t know. That week I was working on three different shows in three different studios.
“At one time, I would have been able to close my eyes and remember the pages — but now no chance.
“There is that looming desperation and I will try to close my eyes and remember one line. I berate myself and have this inner punishment.
“How could I have put something down like this?”
She says: “Judi is so charismatic, and Maggie is extraordinary, and they continue their careers which continue to be a part of who they are.
“And for me my passion is part of who I am too.”
Arlene — who in 1975 formed the dance troupe Hot Gossip, a huge hit well into the Eighties — adds that another person she has held close is the late Grease star Olivia Newton-John, who died earlier this year, aged 73.
She says of the singer-actress: “Someone who I have to thank is Olivia, who helped me with my film career because she introduced me to Allan Carr, producer of the Grease film, who hired me because he saw Hot Gossip.
‘WOMEN HAVE TO FIGHT’
“He hired me to go to LA and make a film (1980’s Can’t Stop The Music) and that was directly because of Olivia.
“She was the kindest, sweetest person.”
Arlene worked on the video for Olivia’s 1981 hit Livin’ In Desperate Times and says of the shoot: “It was an endless day in a freezing studio.
“We were both trying to encourage each other to keep going.
“My daughter Alana came to the shoot and kept trying to tell Olivia what to do — I’ve got a picture of her pointing at Olivia.
“Children on set drive people insane but that was a great memory.”
The Cher Show will continue to tour into next year and Arlene believes the diva is an inspiration for modern times.
She says: “Cher has been an icon for women.
“She fights for women’s rights and is outspoken.
“When I was younger, I wanted to look like her and dress like her, her music was the soundtrack to my twenties.
“I’ve never met her but I’ve worked with almost every diva.
“I worked with Tina Turner who has come through a great deal and become iconic.
“She lived through terrible times in her relationship with (ex-husband) Ike. Women have to fight for their rights.”
So who does she reckon will fight their way to the final of this year’s Strictly?
She says: “Fleur East is a real fighter.
“But there is no smoke and mirrors on TV, nowhere to hide. It’s up for grabs.”
- The Cher Show travels across the UK until March next year. Check out cheronstage.com for details.