‘I am more qualified’: Ballroom champion rumoured to be replacing Len Goodman on Strictly claims he'd be a BETTER judge than the BBC icon

  • Gary Edwards, 50, says he is 'more qualified' than the outgoing head judge
  • The Essex dancing champion has years of ballroom experience
  • His 'biggest life achievement' was teaching Michael Jackson to cha cha
  • Gary counts Elton John, Whitney Houston and Bryan Adams as past pupils
  • He said it would be an 'honour' to work on the BBC show if he was asked 

Ever since Len Goodman decided to hang up his head judge hat to leave Strictly Come Dancing, speculation surrounding his replacement has been mounting.

But there's one person who is very keen to take up that soon-to-be vacant judging spot - ballroom champion Gary Edwards from Essex who has more than 30 international titles under his belt. 

And the Florida-based dancer - nicknamed the 'Ballroom Giant' because of his six foot four stature - told FEMAIL he is 'more qualified' than even the outgoing head judge himself. 

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Gary Edwards, 50, is one of  the rumoured replacements for outgoing head judge Len Goodman. He's seen here with former Strictly professionals Karen Hardy and Iveta lukosiute

Gary is a long time close friend of Len and asked him for a letter of endorsement when he was originally set to leave Dancing with the Stars

The 72-year-old announced he had quit his role as head judge on Strictly Come Dancing before the launch of the latest series. The BBC are yet to announce who will fill his spot on the panel

Edwards has taught Michael Jackson the cha cha, mingled with Barry White and Bryan Adams, and danced with Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston.

When asked whether he would agree to take up a much-coveted spot on the judging panel of the BBC show, the 50-year-old from Essex said without hesitation: '100 per cent, yes.

'It was such an honour to be connected with the rumour and to hear that. The UK is still my home. Absolutely, I would.'

As rumours began swirling that Gary was already a dead cert to replace his close friend on the show, he admitted it came as 'shock'.

Gary already has plenty of judging experience as part of the team on Dancing With the Stars All Access in the US

The 'Ballroom Giant' was a huge fan of Russell Grant when he took part in the dancing competition in the 2011 series

'My phone was ringing off the hook. It was a little bit of a shock because I've been in discussions with doing Dancing with the Stars but not Strictly. Which is where I think the rumours came from.'

Gary currently judges contestants for Dancing With the Stars All Access, a spin off show where he rates performances for an online show.  

And he hopes the experience would lend itself well to Strictly if he was offered the role.

'I quite like the way Dancing With The Stars has gone. Is it a dancing competition or not?' he ponders, before controversially adding: 'Len is always saying it is. I stick by what I believe - it is entertainment based on dance.

'You have to dance first, but technically I am looking to be entertained. And that is what it is for Strictly. For me that has a place on the show. 

The dancing champion has over 30 international titles to his name and reckons he's more than qualified to take over from his pal

Although Gary was a big fan of Arlene Phillips, who was on the judging panel from 2004-2009, he thinks Darcey Bussell has brought 'elegance and class' to the show

'Strictly has it right for England. The American one is going more internet based. I think Strictly has an older audience.'

Old friend: Len Goodman, 72, is retiring from the Strictly Come Dancing judges' panel

Gary revealed he had been in talks with the US show to take over from Len, who is also a judge on the American version of the show. But Len changed his mind and ended up vacating his Strictly seat to concentrate on Dancing with the Stars.

The moment her heard the news that Len, 72, was leaving he was quick to get in touch with his long-time pal.

'I contacted Len as soon as I heard the news, basically I said "Is it true?". I asked him to recommend me and he gave me a letter of endorsement. I applied with my resume but that was for Dancing with the Stars. 

'When he changed his mind I thought "There goes my chance",' he said, before realising that it could mean a potential hop over the pond to a seat on Strictly.

'I would hope that means I am still in the running. 

'For Strictly who is better placed than Len? It is bittersweet that he is leaving. 

'As great as he is, I am more qualified as I have award class level in eight different styles – all of which I think is going towards my advantage over Anton Du Beke. Not that you have to be one hundred percent qualified.'

The Ballroom Giant reckons he's got what it takes to take on Bruno Tonioli, Craig Revel Horwood and Darcey Bussell, as he says he's mixture of them all.

'I'm a modern judge. I am a little bit more in favour of dancing to tunes that are not strictly a cha cha or a paso doble.  

The ballroom where Gary taught Michael Jackson to dance while working for the royal family of Brunei. This room is in house three of the palace, where he worked for five years

Gary's close friend Dr Essam Shaaban, who also met with Michael Jackson while visiting the royal family of Brunei

Gary gave the Thriller hitmaker a lesson in Cha Cha which he grasped extremely quickly: 'I've never known anyone to pick it up that fast in all my life'

'I am a little bit more lenient on the performance style. I am more strict on the technique than Len, and more lenient on the music side.

Karen Hardy has also been brought into the mix as a potential new judge, and Gary says he would be more than happy to share the panel with the former pro

'Bruno I know very well, that’s why I think I would be a perfect fit. I've met Craig a few times. I think I tend to agree with what Bruno says more than Craig,' Gary says.

While Darcey is a fairly new addition to the judging panel, Gary still rates her: 'For me I have always been a lover of Arlene Phillips, but Darcey brings a certain elegance and class. You have to be balanced.'

Of rumours that Karen Hardy could make a fifth judge Gary says: 'I quite like that idea. But you still have to have the head judge.'

Despite Gary's keenness to take over from Len, a Strictly spokesperson has said: 'It is far too early to speculate about any future judges on the show. We are currently concentrating on making Len's last series the best yet.' 

Gary's knowledge of dance goes way back to when he first began lessons at the age of seven. 

His links to the entertainment world began when he took a sidestep into teaching after being invited by the royal family of Brunei to be their in-house professional coach, a role he fulfilled for five years. 

Gary is good friends with this year's newest Strictly professional Katya Jones, pictured here along with her husband Neil Jones, who has been a stand-in on the series this year

This meant being on hand to give the family and their visiting guests - including, on one memorable occasion, Michael Jackson - dance lessons.  

Moments before he met the Prince of Pop, Gary explained: 'I would never know who would walk in as I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone, even my partner. 

'The doors opened and Michael Jackson walked in.


Ore Oduba 

'What I've seen... is focus. Some celebs get the technique and others don’t. The focus on the technical side has gone down. 

'You need the technique before the performance can happen.'

Laura Whitmore

'I see a bit of stiffness, she is not supple enough. She is fighting against a little bit of her own body. I do think she has got a lot of potential. I think she could be very, very good.'

Judge Rinder 

'I like him. He has guts, for me he has the right attitude. I think he wants to win it more than anyone else. Can he win it? I'm not sure.'

Greg Rutherford 

'Natalie is getting the best out of him, she is probably one of the better pros out there for extracting dance quality. From what I remember I didn’t like his feet.'

Ed Balls 

'Entertaining? Yes. Attitude? Yes. Very little technique. Is he dancing to the music? Yes. He's similar to Russell Grant but he was a better dancer.' 

Claudia Fragapane 

'I've known AJ [Claudia's professional partner] a long time, he's doing really, really well. For me he is doing an amazing job, he's doing a better job than the older pros.'

Louise Redknapp

'She has huge potential. I thought she was going to be better than she is. She's a little bit stiff and she needs more personality. From my perspective, technicality wise when they get to 30 per cent, it is time to work on performance. Louise was one of my favourites early on.'

Danny Mac

'They [Mac's performances] have been over-marked for me.'

Daisy Lowe 

'I haven't seen enough of her performances to comment.' 

'It was the only time I ever felt nervous, the man... was a god to me at the time.'

Gary gave the Thriller hitmaker a lesson in the cha cha which he grasped extremely quickly: 'I've never known anyone to pick it up that fast in all my life.

'What some people might take weeks to learn he was picking up in minutes. We had a little routine done in 30 minutes and he made it funky.

Despite his lack of technical ability Ed Balls has impressed with his entertaining skills, and Gary thinks he will stay in the competition

Could Judge Rinder make it all the way to the final? Gary certainly likes his style and says the TV star has 'attitude' by the bucketful

 'It was incredible. One of my biggest life achievements was teaching him to cha cha.' 

A long-time Strictly fan,Gary says he 'always' watches when he is in the UK: 'It is so amazing. What you see on the television is so different from what you see when watching the show [from home].

'You only get that little viewing box, sometimes what you see on the dance floor is different to what you see on TV,' he says of Ed Balls' rather staggering achievement of clinging on in the competition.

Louise Redknapp is a 'little stiff', but Gary thinks she has potential if she improves her performances ahead of Blackpool

'They're filming with the moving camera, so I'd love to see him in the studio and see whether he is actually moving across the dance floor.'

However, he adds: 'Where the viewers are concerned, at the end of the day I would still trust those judging panels.'

Gary's advice to the Strictly contestants still in the running for that coveted Glitterball trophy? 'At this point it comes down to entertainment. Entertain the judges and the viewers.' 

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