Len Goodman: five things you might not know about the Strictly star

Former Strictly Come Dancing judge Len Goodman has died three days before his 79th birthday, following a short battle with bone cancer.

The “much-loved husband, father and grandfather” died “peacefully” in a hospice in Tunbridge Wells in Kent on Saturday, “surrounded by his family”, his spokesperson said.

Goodman rose to stardom at the age of 60 when he became head judge on BBC show Strictly Come Dancing. The former ballroom dancer and coach went on the make several other shows with the broadcaster, including Len and Ainsley’s Big Food Adventure in 2015 and Partners in Rhyme in 2017, and also filled in occasionally on the BBC Radio 2 show of Paul O’Grady, who died last month.

Here are five things other things that you might not know about Goodman.

Owed Strictly gig to wedding speech

Only days before the first-ever episode of Strictly Come Dancing was due to air back in 2004, “the producers hit a crisis” when one of the judges dropped out “at the very last moment”, according to BBC News.

The producers had interviewed “dozens of former world champions” from the dance world but “none had been right”. Then, one of the dancers on the show, former New Zealand champion Erin Boag, suggested Goodman. “He’s just a dance teacher from Dartford, but he’s a bit of a character,” she reportedly said. 

In an article for The Telegraph following his death, Boag recalled how she had recently met Goodman, who “was already very respected in the dancing world”, at a London wedding, where he “gave the most incredible, funny, quick-witted speech”.

Acting on her suggestion, Strictly producers immediately invited Goodman in for an interview, and “he more or less instantly got the job”, Boag wrote.

Goodman remained a fixture on the show until 2016, and also hosted the US version Dancing with the Stars between 2005 and 2022.

Foot injury triggered dance career 

Goodman attended his first dance class at the age of 14 but became a professional dancer “by accident”, said ITV News, after breaking a metatarsal bone in his foot at the age of 19. He had been training to become a footballer, but the injury ended his sports career.

Goodman had also begun an apprenticeship at an engineering factory after leaving school at 15, “but, by his own admission, was dreadful at it.was dreadful at it”, said BBC News. He  took a welding course too, and did a stint working at the Harland and Wolff Royal docks in Woolwich, but “it wasn’t a job he liked”.

After injuring his foot, “he was advised to keep dancing as a way to aid recovery”, said The Telegraph. Goodman later recalled that he “looked like a man trying to dance with one leg in the gutter and the other on the pavement”. But “as my foot got better, I began to find I actually quite liked it”, he said.

Polish ancestry

Goodman was born in Farnborough in Kent and grew up in London’s East End. However, after signing up to appear on the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? in 2011, he discovered that his great-great grandfather was a Polish soldier named Josef Sosnowski, who came to Britain in 1834. 

Sosnowski was “a member of a crack cavalry unit that fought in an uprising against Russia”, said the Who Do You Think You Are? website, and was “honoured for his bravery on the battlefield”. But he was “forced to flee his homeland” after the rebellion failed.

Upon learning of his heritage, Goodman said: “I feel no different, I look no different, I am no different and yet I’m not what I thought I was. I thought that I was truly an Anglo-Saxon, English through and through.” 

Refused to eat foreign food

Despite being known for his spicy language and colourful sayings, Goodman’s “dining room table is another story”, said The Mirror in 2014, after Goodman appeared on BBC show Room 101. The star revealed that “I have never had a curry and I’ve never had spaghetti – all those worms and big brown sauce”.

He would eat some seafood, he said, but added: “Sushi? No! Cockles, mussels and maybe a winkle. Lovely jubbly… We’d all be happier and healthier if we could go back to those days of fish and chips.”

His food phobias, Goodman explained, stemmed back to advice offered by his grandfather, who told him “never eat anything you can’t spell and anything you wouldn’t want to tread in”. 

Quit dancing at his peak 

Goodman retired from competitive dancing in his late 20s, shortly after “winning a rising star competition in Blackpool” with his then wife Cherry Tolhurst, said BBC News.

The pair had been “driving thousands of miles a year” to demonstrate the cha-cha-cha and rumba to amateur classes, and opened a dance school in Dartmouth. But despite also winning several titles, Goodman later explained, he quit competing because he got “fed up with the politics of the business” and having to “placate and schmooze people that you didn’t really like, because you did not upset them, as they were judges”.