How Len goodman overcame predictions of being ‘failure at life’

Brendan Cole pays a tribute to Len Goodman

The Strictly Come Dancing veteran judge, who would have turned 79 this week, died peacefully in a hospice on Saturday after a battle with bone cancer. The 78-year-old, who was just six months into his retirement, has been described in a tribute by the BBC’s director general Tim Davie as a “wonderful warm entertainer who was adored by millions”. Known for his famous catchphrases, declaring “SEVEN” and “it’s a ten from Len” if the dancers particularly wowed him, Mr Goodman has a special place in the heart of the British ball dance adoring public. But it did not always seem as though success was in Mr Goodman’s future — indeed this was the view held by his headmaster who did anything but mince his words.

Mr Goodman, who was born in Farnborough, Kent, towards the end of World War Two, grew up in London’s East End and spent most of his formative years testing his boundaries.

He explained: “As I grew older, it became clear I was never going to be an academic success.”

In his French lesson, he would compete with classmates to see who could get away with saying “b****r” without getting told off but he frequently ended up getting “the slipper or the cane”, he revealed.

Writing in his 2009 memoir, Better Late Than Never: From Barrow Boy to Ballroom, Mr Goodman revealed his headmaster once sought to make it clear that he had little hope for his future prospects.

The former Strictly head judge recalled him saying: “It’s obvious you’re never going to amount to anything, Goodman. You’re a failure at school and you’ll be a failure in life.

“Your attitude is totally wrong — if you think you’re only in this world to have a laugh and enjoy yourself, you’ll be in for a big shock when you have to get a job.”

Mr Goodman was not much of an academic at school, instead enjoying cricket and football with dreams of pursuing a professional career on the pitch.

He had taken up dancing at 14 when some of his schoolfriends began going to the Court School of Dancing in Welling, South East London. But it was by no means his favourite pastime and his friend sought to convince him to keep coming by reminding him that it was a great way to meet the opposite sex.

He continued: “I never fancied it much, being more interested in playing football and running. My mate Pete Dawson was always on my case about it. ‘Len, you’ll love it, you really will. You’ll meet girls’.”

At just 15 years old, he decided to drop out of school and instead became a welder, working for ship-building firms on the London Docks.

But his father, who frequently attended the Erith School of Dancing, tried to encourage him to go back to ballroom dancing but Mr Goodman was dismissive, feeling as though it was for “fuddy-duddies”.

Although he came close to becoming a professional football player, his dreams were dashed when he broke his foot on Hackney Marshes. But football’s loss was ballroom’s gain as his doctor recommended that he take to the dancefloor again to aid his recovery.

Tentative at first, he soon became a “regular” at the dance classes where his potential was recognised and he began winning competitions — at venues such as the Royal Albert Hall — alongside his first dance partner and first wife, Cherry Tolhurst.

The couple decided to hang up their dancing shoes and open up a dance school in Dartford instead. Cherry called it quits on the marriage too and Mr Goodman was left with half a business and a broken heart.

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But he later met his second wife Lesley, with whom he has a son, and managed to bolster his business by putting on dance classes based on the film Saturday Night Fever.

The former Dancing with the Stars judge has described himself in the past as an “average bloke that got lucky”. And it seems luck was on his side when the BBC was looking for judges for a new show in 2004.

The then 60-year-old Mr Goodman — described to BBC bosses as a “bit of a character” — was a last-minute replacement after a another judge dropped out.

Although initially hesitant as he felt Strictly Come Dancing might “take the rise” out of the ballroom and jeopardise his career, he agreed to join the show. As a result, he was launched to international fame, amassed a huge fortune, and solidified his adoration by many, certainly proving his headmaster more than wrong.

Better Late Than Never by Len Goodman was published by Ebury in 2008 and is available here.

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