Strictly Sheffield star is Beirut TV judge

Time for the judge's scores: Darren Bennett is on the judging panel for the Lebanese TV show Dancing With The Stars Middle East.
Time for the judge's scores: Darren Bennett is on the judging panel for the Lebanese TV show Dancing With The Stars Middle East.
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SOUTH Yorkshire dancer Darren Bennett is attracting a whole new set of fans on the other side of the world – as a judge on the Lebanese version of TV show Dancing With The Stars.

The 35-year-old spent six years as a professional on Strictly Come Dancing, partnering EastEnders actress Jill Halfpenny to victory in 2004. His wife, fellow professional Lilia Kopylova, won with Barnsley bowler Darren Gough in 2005.

Now Darren, who was born in Deepcar and brought up in Todwick, is spending most of his time in Beirut, as one of the judges on Dancing With The Stars Middle East.

The new show, which is so far in week three, goes out to millions of viewers across the Gulf region.

Dad Tony told The Star Darren and Lilia are ‘quite the celebrities’ there already.

“Darren works for BBC Worldwide now, which sells the programme format to countries all around the world,” he said.

“So he and Lilia travel the globe setting up the shows for them, producing them, overseeing the choreography.

“Last year Lilia was head judge on the Turkish version Yok Böyle Dans, and Darren was in charge of the choreography. This year Darren is a judge on the Lebanon show, and Lilia is backstage doing the choreography.”

Tony, who owns City Limits dance studio on Penistone Road, said the couple have no time to miss Strictly Come Dancing. They appeared on the BBC1 show from 2004 to 2009, and were the programme’s most successful professional couple, before being controversially axed.

“They are travelling backwards and forwards constantly, staying in beautiful hotels, they have drivers,” said Tony.

“They are also judging championship competitions worldwide, doing their own shows in London, and setting up a version of Dancing With The Stars in India.

“They are currently working on the version in Thailand too. Darren is in Beirut now, then in a couple of days he flies to Thailand, then he’ll be back in Beirut in time for judging at the weekend.”

Tony said Darren – who delivers his judge’s comments in English, followed by his score in Arabic – is unfazed by all the travel.

“He is flying in and out that often he’s quite famous at the airport,” said Tony. “A man in passport control stopped him last week and said, ‘You’re that man off the TV’!”