While the professional world of dancer Shirley Ballas may appear to be shiny and full of smiles, sequins and sparkles, the new head judge of Strictly Come Dancing has opened up about the heartbreaking grief she still struggles with personally after losing her brother, David, 14 years ago.
Shirley and her brother were incredibly close, and she described him as ‘like a father’ to her – it was he that walked her down the aisle when she got married. Their biological father walked out on the family when Shirley was just two, changing the relationship between the siblings who became even closer growing up.
Speaking to The Sun, she described her beloved brother as ‘an amazing, amazing man.’
Devastatingly, in 2003, David took his own life aged just 44. At that moment Shirley lost her confidant and biggest supporter. It was David who had encouraged her to follow her dream to become a dancer.
‘He used to tell me, “You’re better than this. You’re going to make something of your life”. He encouraged me,’ she explained to the paper. ‘He was strict with me and he was firm with me.’
‘He was my father and he was everything and anything you would ever need in a brother.’
Shirley was 42 when she lost David, who left behind a young daughter. Shirley’s son Mark, who was also close to David, has spoken previously about how even his uncle’s love for his own child couldn’t save him.
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‘People struggle with it [mental health] every day. Nothing matters,’ Mark wrote in a blog post. ‘My uncle’s daughter was everything to him, but it didn’t matter because he was sick. ’
Ballas is now 56, and has raised David’s daughter Mary – who is now a successful forensic scientist – as one of her own.
Following the ‘overwhelming grief’ of learning about her brother’s suicide, Shirley and her son Mark decided to set up The Ballas Foundation which is dedicated to dedicate raising awareness about depression and mental health issues.