Strictly Come Dancing head judge Shirley Ballas, 58, called Darcey Bussell, 49, an “incredible friend”, telling her 122,000 Instagram followers: “We’ve had the most laughs and fun times on there show. Today is certainly the end of an era.” Backing up Darcey’s insistence there had been no negative feelings behind-the-scenes on the show, Shirley added: “Thank you for holding my hand all the way and being such an incredible friend. You were my rock when I was new to the show and have always been so kind. I for one will dearly miss my partner in crime and our girly chats.
“It just won’t be the same without you,” she said.
Former prima ballerina Darcey previously said she was not leaving due to any “upset or disagreement” but simply to focus on “other commitments in dance”.
“I know I will miss being part of this unique show and the fact that it celebrates dance is something I am so passionate about,” she said in a statement, which she shared with her 172,000 Twitter followers.
“I hope that I may be very lucky to be asked back again one day,” she added.
Darcey first joined the Strictly panel as a guest judge during the seventh series, before becoming a permanent fixture on series 10 in 2012 after Alesha Dixon, 40, departed the show.
Over the years, she has earned a place in fans’ hearts with for her fair and constrictive criticism.
Members of the Strictly family took to social media to pay tribute to Darcey following the announcement, with host Claudia Winkleman, 47, tweeting: “We love you Darcey. You’ll be so so missed.”
Janette Manrara, 35, shared a picture of Darcey on Instagram, saying: “I will miss having this elegant, talented, smart and funny judge in our judging panel so, so much!
“For six years I had the privilege of working alongside her! She always has a smile on her face and is truly one of a kind!
“Her passion for dance is extremely evident in all of the projects she is involved in,” Janette continued. “A role model for me and someone whom I will always look up to.
“Best of luck for all your future endeavours and as our saying goes… ‘Keeeeep dancing!’”
Ore Oduba, 33, also gushed about Darcey’s “expertise, experience and grace”, thanking her for everything she has “given the show”.
Darcey’s fellow judge Bruno Tonioli, 53, tweeted: “My darling @DarceyOfficial I will miss you so much your knowledge beauty talent charm and elegance makes you a true national treasure.
“I will treasures all the time we spent together on and off screen,”(sic).
Director of BBC Content Charlotte Moore said: “It has been an absolute honour to have Darcey, a national treasure and British dance icon, bring her passion for dance and her grateful presence to the Strictly Come Dancing judging panel for seven consecutive years.
“She will be thoroughly missed by us all and will of course remain part of the Strictly family in the future.”
Suzy Lamb, MD, Entertainment and Music at BBC Studios lauded Darcey’s “exceptional knowledge of dance and generous spirit”.
Strictly Come Dancing returns later this year on BBC One.