Shirley Ballas (formerly Stopford; born 1960) is an English ballroom dancer, dance teacher, and dance adjudicator from Wallasey, Merseyside who specialises in the International Latin division, where she won several championship titles which earned her the nickname The Queen of Latin.
In 2017, Shirley became the head judge on the BBC TV show, Strictly Come Dancing, replacing Len Goodman.
Within the latest BBC episode of Who Do You Think You Are Shirley Ballas is left very emotional as the revelations come thick and fast in this fascinating detailed delve into her ancestry.
Having heard rumours that, she may have had black ancestors, Shirley travels to Cape Town where her great-great grandfather George was born and she discovers her four-times-great-grandmother, Caroline Otto, arrived in South Africa in the early 19th century after being snatched from Madagascar as a child and sold as a slave.
The death record from 1848 also states that Caroline was “Malay” — a term that referred to all non-white Muslims. Further details show she was born in “Malagas”, referring to Madagascar.
After her arrival in Cape Town, Caroline went to work for the Otto family, whose name she took.
Also, Shirley is saddened to discover the stories that have been passed through the generations – about her ‘irresponsible’ Great-grandmother, Clara, abandoning her three children to live a party life in America – are far from true.
Clara’s husband had died from cancer and left all his money to his own mother, Elizabeth, and nothing to Clara,’ reveals Shirley. ‘With no income at all, she went to America to find work and left the children with their grandmother because she thought they would have a better life with her.
She married her second husband, Arthur in 1919 and adopted a daughter called Dorothy after moving to Boston, USA.
They later divorced, with Clara claiming she was abused both physically and psychologically by her husband.
She ended up in a psychiatric unit where she spent 17 years before her death aged 66 in 1947. She had developed a fatal brain condition as a result of syphilis.
Who Do You Think You Are? made Shirley reflect on her own upbringing, which was not plain sailing, with little money and no father figure.
Shirley Ballas’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? is on BBC One on Monday July 30th, 9pm (except Wales)
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