Phillips was born in 1943 and grew up in Prestwich, Lancashire, England. She is Jewish and has a brother, Ian and a sister, Karen. She attended Broughton Preparatory School, Cheetham Hill, Manchester, Beaver Road Primary School, Didsbury and Manchester Central High School for Girls after passing the Eleven plus exam. When Phillips was 15, her mother, who had been suffering from leukaemia, died aged 43. Her father who had been a barber with his own shop died of Alzheimer's at age 89.
Phillips originally wanted to be a ballet dancer and began dance classes at the age of three, studying ballet and tap dance at the Muriel Tweedy School in Manchester after leaving school at 16. Her mother had always expressed a desire to dance, which inspired Phillips into pursuing dance professionally.
Phillips is internationally renowned as a choreographer and director of West End and Broadway musicals, but has many other professional credits.
In her mid-teens, Phillips moved to London where she has lived ever since. Strongly influenced by American Modern Jazz dance which was just becoming popular in London at that time, she began developing her own style of Jazz dance and began teaching her style of dance extensively in a number of prominent London dance studios, first at The Dance Centre and later at Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden, and the Italia Conti Stage School. She quickly established herself as a successful teacher and choreographer.
Phillips choreographed the 1982 film, Annie, and the Duran Duran song The Wild Boys, named Best British Video at the 1985 BRIT Awards.
Internationally, Phillips is most noted as a jazz and musical theatre choreographer, having worked on some of the biggest selling musicals in West End and Broadway theatre and a number of successful films. Most notably, Phillips is a multiple Olivier Award winner and Tony Award award nominee.
Phillips choreographed the 2002 Commonwealth Games opening and closing ceremonies alongside fellow Mancunian, David Zolkwer.
From 2004-2009, she was a judge on the BBC1 show, Strictly Come Dancing and commented on the acts in Eurovision: Your Country Needs You for the BBC in 2009. In 2008, she created, produced and choreographed a new British television serial Britannia High. She was also the creative mind behind hit BBC shows DanceX and Strictly Dance Fever.
Following Phillips's appearance on Your Country Needs You, she choreographed the performance of the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest 2009. She choreographed Engelbert Humperdinck's performance of The UK in the 2012 edition in Baku.
In March 2013, Arlene appeared on Let's Dance for Comic Relief in the Dance Judge Panel with Greg James and Lee Mack.
In Britain, Phillips first became a household name as the director and choreographer of Hot Gossip, a British dance troupe which she formed in 1974 using students she was teaching at the time.
Hot Gossip spent two years performing in a London night club where Phillips and her manager developed the group's dance act.
The troupe were eventually spotted by the British television director, David Mallet who invited Phillips to make Hot Gossip a regular feature of The Kenny Everett Show, which he directed for Thames Television on ITV, first being aired in 1978. It was during this time that Hot Gossip made their only hit record backing Sarah Brightman on "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper", a disco song which reached number 6 in the British music chart. Sarah Brightman went on to achieve international fame as a soprano vocalist.
Hot Gossip were particularly noted for the risque nature of their costumes and the dance routines, all designed and choreographed by Phillips, and they are often credited as one of the UK's early television dance troupes, continuing a trend which started with the Go-Jos and Pan's People on Top of the Pops. Hot Gossip continued to be successful into the early 1980s with their own television show on the newly formed public service broadcaster, Channel 4, The Very Hot Gossip Show. Despite some early success, a strong decline in viewing figures led to the show being scrapped after the first season.
- The Wizard of Oz, 2011 London production
- The Sound of Music, 2006 London revival and 2008 Canadian production
- Starlight Express
- Saturday Night Fever
- We Will Rock You
- Fire Angel
- A Clockwork Orange, for the Royal Shakespeare Company
Strictly Come Dancing
Phillips was a member of the judging panel for the successful BBC television series Strictly Come Dancing, an original entertainment programme which has been running in the UK since 2004 and whose format has subsequently been licensed to broadcasters overseas.
In the show, celebrities are given intensive training in ballroom and latin dance routines, being partnered by an experienced professional dancer. They perform new routines each week for a live television audience and each week a celebrity is eliminated until the series winner is decided. The panel of judges (Phillips, Len Goodman, Craig Revel Horwood, Bruno Tonioli) score the dance performances, and their scores are then combined with the results of a public televote to decide which two couples gave the weakest performance each week. These two couples then dance again before the judges decide who should leave the competition.
Phillips was asked to be a judge for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) version of the show Dancing With The Stars but decided that her loyalties lay with the British version of the show. In 2005 and 2006, Phillips was a judge for the Strictly Come Dancing spin off series Strictly Dance Fever, which was also created by the BBC. The show searched for dancers to join the chorus of a West End musical. Later in 2007, she created and judged another BBC dance series, DanceX, a show formed to find a new commercial dance act. After the initial audition process, the competitors were split into two troupes of dancers, with Phillips mentoring one troupe and the other being mentored by her fellow Strictly Come Dancing judge Bruno Tonioli. The two troupes competed live on television each week, with Tonioli's troupe being the eventual winners. To date there have been no indications that the BBC are planning to televise any further series of these other programmes.
Departure from Strictly Come Dancing
After the close of the 2008 series of Strictly Come Dancing, the BBC announced that several changes would be made to refresh the show in 2009. This led to a great deal of speculation in the media that Phillips might be dropped from the judging panel, but the BBC refused to respond to reports. They finally confirmed the news at the launch of their autumn schedule on 9 July 2009. She has been replaced by former Strictly winner Alesha Dixon. The news has led to much criticism being directed towards the BBC for its apparent discrimination against older women on television; the BBC, however, strongly denied this.
The axing of Arlene Phillips has led to an unprecedented intervention from the then government's Minister for Women and Equality, Harriet Harman. During a session in the House of Commons, Harman responded to questions stating that she believed the decision to drop Arlene Phillips was motivated by age discrimination and called on the BBC to ensure that she would be taking part in the new series. Phillips has joked that her sister has nicknamed her "Arlene-Phillips-66" because of the frequency with which her name has appeared in the press with her age appended. The BBC has not formally responded to Harman's request, but has repeated its comments that the decision was not due to age, while not saying what it was due to.
It was reported in the Daily Mail that Phillips could be returning to the judging panel for series eight of Strictly Come Dancing or may even be involved in training all couples, in the same fashion that Torvill and Dean train all couples on the ITV show Dancing on Ice. This has been unsubstantiated thus far, with the 9th series already in full swing.
In October 2009 Phillips appeared on the first episode of the 38th series of the satirical show Have I Got News For You, where she was on Paul's winning team.
Between April and July 2010, Phillips made 9 guest panellist on ITV's flagship show Loose Women.
In the Autumn of 2010, Phillips introduced her first Make up range in association with Cosmetics brand VIE at home.
Phillips was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2001 Birthday Honours and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2013 New Year Honours for services to dance and charity.
In 2007, Phillips became the Executive Producer and Creative Director for the ITV television series Britannia High. The show was a fictional drama about the lives of six students at a London performing arts school. Based on an idea by Phillips and West End producer David Ian, the series was marketed as the UK's answer to Disney's High School Musical. The show's music was created and written by hit songwriter, and Take That frontman, Gary Barlow.
So You Think You Can Dance?
Phillips has also been a judge on the UK version of So You Think You Can Dance?. The show's original creator Nigel Lythgoe is head judge on the series, and Phillips is joined on the panel by Pop Singer Louise Redknapp and dancer & choreographer Sisco Gomez. Preliminary auditions took place in major UK cities, starting in October 2009, with the first episode being aired on BBC1 in January 2010. There have since been two series with Charlie Bruce and Matt Flint taking the winners title respectively.
Phillips's appointment as judge for the series came soon after the controversy over her departure from Strictly Come Dancing, which prompted media speculation that she would become a judge for ITV1's Dancing on Ice or Sky1's then upcoming show Got to Dance (then titled Just Dance), presented by Davina McCall.
Phillips and her partner, Angus Ion, have been together for more than 20 years. She has two daughters: Alana, from an earlier relationship, and Abi, with her current partner. They live in London. She met Angus, a set designer, on the set of a Freddie Mercury music video.
She is a fan of Rod Stewart.
Alana Dancing Star Books
In 2010 Phillips wrote a series of children's fiction books. Alana Dancing Star is a series of 6 books revolving around the central character Alana and her journeys through different genres of dance. The series covers Ballroom Dance, Samba, Hip-Hop, Bollywood, Broadway and Tango and many parents credit them with encouraging their children to read.
In Summer 2011 one of the books, Viennese Waltz, was selected to be part of Richard and Judy's Summer Children's Reading List.
Phillips has released a fashion jewellery range, which is currently being sold on QVC. The range consists of necklaces, bracelets, earrings and brooches, and in 2012 Phillips will expand her range.
In 2010 Phillips released a range of clothing with plus size retailer Marisota. The range has been hugely successful as it is a fashion range for sizes 12-32, catering to a large market.