After a lifetime of shuffling the shoe leather, Len Goodman might not take to the floor as much as he’d like these days, but the 72-year-old was once one of the best ballroom dancers in the world.
Here the star judge on both Strictly and its US counterpart, Dancing with the Stars – and now the presenter of Holiday of My Lifetime – invites Radio Times on his favourite vacations.
Picking hops in Kent
“I could have only been three or four, but the very first holiday I remember was going hopping [picking the hop crop] down in Kent with my mum and dad and grandparents. It was only 20 miles outside of London, down Maidstone way, but I was so excited. We stayed in a shed, and the first thing we had to do was clear it all out and then fill the hops sacks with straw to sleep on.
“It was bizarre, really, and pretty primitive. But those holidays got you away from the East End and the smog. The first day all of us kids started pulling a few hops off, but then we’d soon go off and play.”
Bank holidays in Devon
“My parents split up when I was nine and my dad moved out. Every Whitsun bank holiday my mum would take me for a long weekend to Salcombe in Devon. She had busy London greengrocers in the mid-50s – before supermarkets – so she had a few bob, and she bought a red Ford Zephyr Zodiac. When we arrived at the boarding house they thought we were gangsters from London, but it was only me and my mum!
“We were driving down the A303 to Devon once and I said, ‘What’s all those stones?’ and my mum said, ‘Oh, that’s Stonehenge – hang on, I’ll turn around.’ And we turned around and drove through a gate, through this field, and parked right by it. There was none of this, ‘Stay 400 yards away,’ we just parked there! I remember Mum picking me up and sticking me on one of the stones. They were just in a field! Amazing.”
Luxury in Cornwall
“My dad used to take me to the Carbis Bay Hotel near St Ives. He was an electrician and didn’t have very much, but we stayed in this posh hotel. I mean, it was posh. At home I’d eat my meals in the kitchen, and suddenly there’s a tablecloth and you have a choice of what you eat! I used to sit there petrified in case I knocked anything on the table over, because Dad did have a bit of a temper. But happily it all went off smoothly.”
Camping in Brighton
“When I was 17 I was a mod with a Vespa scooter, and me and my mates went down to Brighton at weekends. We’d go down Saturday, come home Sunday night. We had a bell tent and we used to always go into the same pub called the Mayflower, right on the beach. Nearby was another pub, the Fortune of War, where all the rockers went.
“Eventually, of course, there was a big fight on the beach and the police came, though I got through it all unscathed. I’ve never been much of a drinker, but I’d have a couple of halves of Red Barrel, the popular beer at the time. Purple Hearts [amphetamine pills] were the thing, but I don’t know if they had any effect on me. And definitely not the old wacky baccy, we never got into that.”
Ballroom in Blackpool
“Blackpool is still the Mecca of dancing in Britain. It’s like Wembley is to football, or Wimbledon is to tennis. And in the Tower Ballroom they still have tea dances. But I can’t go dancing any more. A man will come up and say, ‘It’s my wife’s birthday, would you please have a dance with her?’ If you do, that opens the floodgates and you’re dancing all night long with people. It’s fortunate, in a way, that I’ve got a bad knee. So I always say, ‘I’m sorry, my knee’s playing up. I’d love to but I can’t.'”
Cycling in Los Angeles
“I was filming Dancing with the Stars twice a year in America, for ten weeks on the trot, flying there and back every week. When I had time off, I’d drive down to Venice Beach and rent a bicycle. There’s a beautiful flat pathway along the side of the beach, and you can cycle along to your heart’s content with the sun belting down on your balding head and loads of other people cycling or on roller blades, flying about – it’s lovely. That, I would recommend.”
As told to Michael Hodges
Holiday of My Lifetime with Len Goodman continues on weekdays at 3.45pm on BBC1