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Liverpool Echo
Gemma Jones

Dancing on Ice's former judges' controversy from 'living in a tent' to secret romance

Dancing on Ice has brought bits of drama to our screens over the years.

But the controversy sometimes follows the cast off screen too. Since the show first launched in 2006, a total of 12 judges have been tasked with scoring the performances, with everything from skating professionals to eagle eyed pop stars turning their hand to the judge’s scoreboard.

While they are supposed to remain professional, some of the judges just can't help themselves and have explosively clashed with the celebs, pro skaters and even each other during the weekly live shows. This year's judging panel consists of Olympic legends Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, Diversity star Ashley Banjo and former Strictly Come Dancing pro Oti Mabuse.

READ MORE: Dancing On Ice viewers baffled by 'unfair' issue as Ekin Su survives skate off

But what has happened to all of the judges that have appeared before them? From one 'living in a tent' to another having a 'secret romance' OK! Magazine reported, what they're up to now?

Robin Cousins

Robin Cousins on Dancing on Ice (Manchester Evening News)

Appearing on the first ever episode of Dancing on Ice, was head judge Robin Cousins, a former competitive figure skater, who won Gold at the 1980 Olympics and was even the 1980 European champion. For eight years, Robin provided his fair and constructive critique to the contestants, and remained a firm fixture of the panel until the show went off air in 2014.

In a surprising move, when the show returned in 2018, Robin was no longer a member of the panel, but rather than being any grand snub by show producers, it was simply due to outside commitments that prevented him from taking part. Since his departure, Robin has been busy touring the world with his own ice skating performance company, while also offering his expert commentary to BBC Sport’s skating coverage.

The skating sensation has also performed on stable ground in stage performances of Cinderella, The Rocky Horror Show and in pantomimes. Despite no longer being a member of the judging panel, Robin has since revealed he still regularly watches the show.

He said: “I love the fact it’s getting such high viewing figures. One moment it’s glory and the next it’s catastrophe. It’s great entertainment and nice that figure skating is being seen that way again. I had a great time on the show. If I had a penny for every time someone asks me about Todd Carty then I’d never have to work again.”

Despite his usually encouraging comments, Robin has at times also been known to be very critical of some of the stars, such as when Gemma Collins suffered her dramatic and horrifying fall in 2019. Shortly after the fall had aired, Robin liked a tweet brutally branding her a "lazy, publicity hungry harridan”.

Karen Barber

Judge Karen Barber (ITV)

Another member of the original judging lineup was Karen Barber, who stayed on the panel until 2011 when she became head coach. A former ice dancer by trade, Karen competed at two Winter Olympics with fellow judge Nicky Slater, and helped the contestants with their routines in 2011 and 2012.

In what of her most memorable (and infamous) moments to date, she famously clashed with fellow judge Jason Gardiner live on air, after she disagreed with Jason’s highly critical comments to one of the contestants. In response to her comments, the judge savagely responded: "If your opinion mattered you'd still be on the judging panel.”

Unwilling to be spoken to which such disrespect, Karen then marched over to the judging table and began to argue with the judge, with the scene so tense and volatile, pregnant judge Holly Willoughby was forced to intervene. Outside of Dancing on Ice, Karen had previously been married to skating coach Stephen Pickavance for 21 years and is the father of her teenager daughters. The couple parted ways in 2011.

In a shocking twist, just a few months later it emerged that she had begun a relationship with skating superstar Christopher Dean, who had been her friend for more than 30 years. Despite the shock of the public, Karen later opened up on how she felt the situation had been blown out of proportion, as she candidly told The Mirror: “It was hardly a scandal, was it? We were both separated and middle-aged, and got together after knowing each other for 30 years.”

Karen later returned to the judging panel in 2013 and 2014, but once again locked horns with Jason Gardiner, after he suggested she only secured the job because she was dating Chris. “We’re never going to be friends, but saying things like that is low, even for Jason,” remarked the star as she lambasted Jason’s comments in 2013.

Following the reboot of Dancing on Ice in 2018, Karen did not return to the judging panel, but is still a familiar face to many fans as she has remained on board as a skating coach to help offer advice and guidance to the contestants.

Jason Gardiner

Dancing on Ice judge Jason Gardiner is living a completely different life as he sold everything he owned and moved into a tent (ITV)

One of the most iconic and memorable judges to ever grace Dancing on Ice, has to be Jason Gardiner, the aptly titled ‘Mr.Nasty’ himself. Making a name for himself on the judging panel with his often savage and scathing critiques, the Australian choreographer and theatre producer was one of the original judges on the British show as well as the Australian version.

Jason famously left the show for the first time in 2011, when he was replaced by his close friend Louie Spence, but soon returned again in 2013, after a one-series absence. He was also the only original judge to return with the show when it was revived by ITV in 2018.

Alongside his infamous clash with Karen, Jason also famously came to blows with 2019 contestant Gemma Collins, as the pair engaged in a painful slanging match after Gemma became sick of his brutal comments. Gemma hit back during a live show by accusing Jason of “selling stories” about her to the press, then accused Jason of "bullying" her and targeting her with "personal" comments.

In the wake of her public attack, Jason consulted with his legal team before vehemently denying her claims.

He later quit the show in August 2019. Sharing the news on Instagram, he wrote: "After all these years I feel it's time for me to say goodbye to my judging role and return to things I have been putting on hold and have been on the back burner for a while.

"To all of my DOI fans I really thank you for your support and encouragement over the years, I know we've gone through some controversies and I'm glad you got my unique judging style and honestly."

Realising he didn’t like the direction his life was heading in, Jason surprised the world when he pulled out of the limelight and swapped his celebrity lifestyle for a more down to earth life in rural Portugal. Working as an eco-friendly farmer, Jason completed a biodiversity and sustainability course and now describes himself as a ‘Nomadic Permaculture Designer’.

Living out of a tent, the star revealed he couldn’t be happier now that he has adopted a far more stress free lifestyle. Jason told The Mirror : "I have gone on many adventures, met the most amazing people and acquired the most amazing qualification. I have found a new life that isn’t about the toxic environment of the TV industry.

“My tenure on Dancing on Ice was always marred with controversy and lots of issues but the problem is, I didn’t realise how toxic it was until I left. It took me a while to decompress from it, I’ll be honest.”

Nicky Slater

Nicky remained on the judging panel for five years (Ken McKay / Rex Features)

Before joining the Dancing on Ice team, former Olympian Nicky Slater appeared as a judge on BBC One spin-off Strictly Ice Dancing in 2004. However he later joined the Dancing on Ice lineup in 2006, and was already good friends with fellow judge Karen Barber, as the two had previously competed together for Great Britain at two Winter Olympics and won bronze at the 1983 European Championships.

Despite a solid friendship, the two came to blows in 2008, when the pair had a blazing row over his low mark for actress Suzanne Shaw which spilled over into the ad break. Speaking about the incident, Nicky diplomatically said: “Karen coaches the celebrities and spends a lot of time with them, so I think she gets too emotionally involved, whereas I find it easier to stay subjective.”

Nicky remained on the judging panel for five years, before stepping away to pursue other projects in 2011. He did however return for one series in 2014, when Robin Cousins was busy commentating at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Ruthie Henshall

As the first non-skater to join the judging panel in 2008, theatre performer Ruthie Henshall initially sparked controversy among many viewers as they felt she lacked the technical knowledge to accurately score the performances. However, the star soon rebuffed the claims as she pointed out that there was more to a performance than just raw skating skill.

She said: "You've got quite a few people on the panel who are experts on the skating and I just don't think it only comes down to that. I've had nearly 22 years in the business and so I really want to bring that experience of watching people doing very, very different shows; everything from Chicago to Cats.

"I'll really be looking at how people throw themselves into it and the kind of risk they're prepared to take. I don't mean a physical risk but not worrying about looking silly, whether they commit, whether they've taken criticism from the week before and advice and applied it. They have to learn from what everyone says and develop.”

After just two years on the show, Ruthie stepped away from her judging duties to return to the role of Roxie Hart in Chicago. Starring in a number of other theatre and small screen roles after that, including in Blithe Spirit and Billy Elliot the Musical, Ruthie also went into the I’m A Celebrity castle in Wales in 2020 to face a number of gruelling trials before finishing in 11th place.

Emma Bunton

Dancing On Ice Judge Emma Bunton (ITV)

Filling Ruthie’s shoes in 2010, was former Spice Girl Emma Bunton, who took on the challenge of judging the skaters for two years before leaving to focus on other projects. Emma said in 2011: "I loved working on Dancing On Ice – it was so much fun and I loved the team.

“I made this decision as I have to prioritise all the exciting projects lined up for me next year, as well as my Heart radio show, and juggle these with being a busy mum. I wish everyone on the show the best of luck.”

Since her stint on the ITV skating show, Emma has continued to produce music and honour her girl band roots, with the star even featuring in the 2012 London Olympics closing ceremony. Alongside her music, Emma also turned her hand to radio presenting on Heart, alongside Jamie Theakston from January 2013 until December 2018.

She also famously appeared in the Absolutely Fabulous movie in 2016 and was a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars in 2018. Most recently, Emma has turned her hand to presenting on television, as she is currently the presenter of the Great British Bake Off’s American offshoot, The Great American Baking Show.

Louie Spence

Pineapple Dance Studios star Louie Spence surprised audiences in 2011 (ITV)

Pineapple Dance Studios star Louie Spence surprised audiences in 2011, when he took over judging duties from his close pal Jason Gardiner for one series. Opening up about his brief time on the show during a chat with This Morning, Louie said: ”What can I say? I thought I was pretty fabulous myself but, no, I've been kicked to the kerb.”

“That's showbusiness. One day you're in, one day you're out. Dancing On Ice always change up their panel. I think it's a great idea because then they've always got different opinions. If you watch some of these shows, judges always repeat the same things year in, year out. I think having the change up is great.”

Following his time on the show, Louie turned his attention towards another reality TV challenge, as he entered the Celebrity Big Brother house in 2013. Despite receiving the support of many fans at home, he was sadly eliminated just two days before the show’s final.

He also took part in The Jump in 2015 and Celebs on the Farm in 2018. Prior to the pandemic, the popular star had been intending to conduct a national tour of dance master classes, but sadly had to shelve his plans as lockdown hit. Louie later announced he was jetting off to Benidorm in Spain to work behind a friend's karaoke bar.

Katarina Witt

Another professional skater to join the judging lineup was Katarina Witt, a two time Olympic gold medallist from Germany who joined the panel in 2012. Despite her friendly and fair comments on each performance, it was the star’s outfits that got her in hot water with fans, as many complained that they felt her cleavage was too distracting.

The German skater later addressed the controversy as she revealed she hadn’t been asked to cover up, while also joking she also hoped people were paying as much attention to her commentary as they were her outfits. Speaking on This Morning, she said: "And the thing is when you wear those dresses and you try them on in the dressing room you are standing up – but when you sit down, everything slides down a little further so I should’ve watched it and I’m watching out now."

She added: “I hope they still listen to me about what I have to say and they don’t just look at the dress.” Katarina famously broke down in tears last year, while discussing the plight of teenage Russian skater Kamila Valieva, who found herself in the middle of a doping scandal at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

She said: "What has happened is exactly what she should have been protected from. She is 15. She’s a child. I’m sorry. When you see her sitting there, shattered.

“She was a shadow of herself,” she continued. “She couldn’t win in this whole game whether she had skated perfectly and became Olympic champion. Yes, it would have been debated, but what has now happened is the absolute worst.”

Ashley Roberts

After finishing I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here as a runner-up in 2012, former Pussycat Doll Ashley Roberts joined the judging panel for Dancing on Ice, just a few short months later. Appearing on the panel for two years until the show went on hiatus in 2014, Ashley continued hosting Ant vs Dec on Saturday Night Takeaway until 2016, then appeared as a judge on BBC musical contest Let It Shine in 2017.

The talented star also turned her hand to rival BBC show Strictly Come Dancing in 2018, where she was partnered with professional dancer Pasha Kovalev. Impressing both the judges and public at home, Ashley and Pasha danced their way to the show’s grand final, but were sadly pipped to the glitter ball trophy by Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton.

Despite not having bagged the trophy, Ashley did walk away with a boyfriend, as she began dating fellow strictly professional Giovanni Pernice shortly after her time on the show. The couple dated for around a year in total before amicably parting ways. The singer is currently the showbiz correspondent on the Heart Breakfast show.

John Barrowman

John Barrowman was on Dancing on Ice in 2019 (PA)

Another popular but short-lived judge on the show, was Torchwood star John Barrowman. Impressing the public with his likeable personality and friendly critiques, John served as a member of the judging panel for two years, before finally being pulled from our screens after reports emerged that he had previously exposed himself on the set of other shows.

In May 2021, John came under fire after it was alleged he had repeatedly" exposed himself on the sets of several shows", including sci-fi drama Doctor Who. His co-star from the show, Noel Clarke, alleged to fans at sci-fi convention Chicago Tardis that John exposed himself “every five seconds” on set when they worked together.

John later admitted to "tomfoolery" on the BBC show set, but said he had evolved in the years since. He added that his "high-spirited behaviour" was "only ever intended in good humour to entertain colleagues on set and backstage”.

The star also said that he was undergoing “therapy” for his past behaviour and was keen to draw a “thick black line”under the past. Although he ultimately left Dancing on Ice, ITV showed that there were no hard feelings towards the star as they announced his return to presenting duties this time on a number of All Star Musicals specials.

Speaking at the time, an ITV spokesperson said: “We thank John Barrowman for two brilliant years on the Dancing on Ice panel and are pleased to be working with him again as host of the forthcoming All Star Musicals specials. John is thrilled to be returning to work for ITV as host on the new All Star Musicals."

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