■ The dancer and choreographer, 77, reveals why she’s auctioning herself off and how lockdown has redefined her life
You’re involved with the Queen’s Tea in celebration of the 85th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation For Disabled People. What will you be doing?
Charities are really suffering because people have less cash in their pockets. The Queen Elizabeth Foundation supports so many who have physical or learning difficulties, or brain injuries. They need funds so they came up with this idea, led by Prue Leith and Nicholas Witchell, to host a virtual afternoon tea on August 4. I donated a Zoom chat with myself for the auction. I’ll provide lots of hot gossip, Strictly talk, secrets about the stars — anything!
They’re also auctioning chats with Marion Bailey and Alison Steadman. What would you ask them?
Well, Alison Steadman, how do you become as brilliant as you are? Marion has played the Queen Mother in The Crown, and anything you want to know about royalty you can ask.
What have you been up to during lockdown?
I’m in Herefordshire, where we have a little cottage. A lot of walking, creating and Zoom chats. Just trying to look to the future in my work — putting on musicals has obviously disappeared so I’ve had to almost reassess who I am. I define myself by my work. I think of myself as the Arlene Phillips who’s busy every day so I have to develop and discover this other side of me.
What’s the best way of getting audiences back to theatres?
We need a minimum 70 per cent of an audience to cover costs but will people return? I know Andrew Lloyd Webber is looking at ways of reassessing theatres to make them safe but that’s a very costly business and with no guaranteed insurance should someone get Covid. It’s all so confusing. I’m still getting food delivered, washing everything, wearing gloves and masks. Has the risk gone away? My trust has fallen into some giant puddle.
What have you missed the most about pre-lockdown life?
My 18-month-old granddaughter — but I’ve now seen her. That was the hardest thing, watching her grow up on the other end of the phone and saying my name for the first time. My next longing is to be back in a rehearsal room. It’s what I live for.
It sounds like you’re busy writing, though?
Yes, a musical drama for television and a musical, and I’m hoping both will go ahead. It’s been the perfect time to do some writing.
I imagine you’ve been spending more time with your partner, set designer Angus Ion, too?
I think I’ve seen more of him in the past few months than I have in the 35 years I’ve been with him. We have never spent all day, every day, together. We’ve enjoyed long walks. That’s been really good for me.
Wasn’t Freddie Mercury responsible for you meeting?
Yes. I was working on a video with Freddie, who I adored — he was an extraordinary man. There was an accident with one of the dancers and while Freddie took her to hospital, one of the set builders said it was all my fault. We started arguing and I walked out. The next video I was making was for AC/DC at Brixton Academy, which Angus was working on too. He came up and apologised to me. From that moment on we were together.
Do you think Strictly can go ahead this year with social distancing?
I’m sure it will, they’ll find a way. They have a lot of clever people on that show. Even if they have to do a socially distanced waltz, there’s a way to do it.
Would you replace Bruno Tonioli this year if you were asked?
Ha ha! It’s so unlikely that I would be asked! Of course I loved Strictly and I loved my role as a judge but I wouldn’t imagine at all that I would be asked.
Are you still investigating why the BBC replaced you?
Oh no. I did that a long time ago. My manager of 20 years passed away the day before I found out and I was in no state to really think logically about it. I got the freedom of information but so much of it was redacted that I gave up and moved on. I’m probably never going to get the defining answer.
Of all your achievements, what are you most proud of?
Right now it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I worked on at the Bridge Theatre. I loved the piece I did for Strictly too with Candoco Dance Company, with able-bodied and disabled dancers.
Is it time for same-sex couples on Strictly?
Yes. In the world of dance there is a complete freedom to play and work with male and female partnerships. People need to just accept it.
■ Arlene is supporting Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation For Disabled People Queen’s Tea event on August 4. To bid for a chance to win a Zoom chat with her, visit qef.org.uk/queenstea