The smash hit ballroom show returns tomorrow night with an “all singing, all dancing” celebration of the former host’s glittering 75 years in showbiz.
The entertainment veteran, who fronted Strictly for a decade between 2004 and 2014, died last month at the age of 89.
And the 15th series of the show will kick off with an emotional homage to Brucie that left seasoned dancers, cast and crew of the BBC show sobbing uncontrollably.
Shirley, 57, said: “People had better have a box of Kleenex at the ready.
“The professional dancers do the most beautiful tribute to Sir Bruce – it’s endearing, heart-warming and heart-wrenching. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.”
She added: “I grew up with Sir Bruce, he was an amazingly inspirational man and I was a huge fan – he could sing, dance, act – everything – and my son [dance champion Mark] was inspired by him from a young age.”
Wallasey-born Shirley also makes her bow during the launch show as Len Goodman’s replacement on the judging panel promising not to become the “Wicked Witch of the West”.
Asked if she was worried viewers would not warm to her the former dance star, known as The Queen of Latin, said: “Not really, because the public love someone who is sincere and honest.
“I have been around for 50 years in this industry – I really don’t worry about what people think – I’ll just be as honest as I can.
“I am very strict, feisty and fair. But at the end of the day I am a mother too – don’t underestimate that quality.
“I want people to do well but I want people to take healthy criticism. It’s a competition and I will be giving my honest opinion.”
Twice married Shirley has three children, including professional ballroom dancer Mark Ballas, 31, by her second husband, the US dance star Corky Ballas, 56.
The couple separated and the Texan embarked on a relationship with former Strictly professional Kristina Rihanoff after he became her teacher in 2003.
Today Shirley, who is single, says the most important thing in her life is her family – including her 80 year-old mother Audrey who brought her up on Merseyside.
The three-time Latin American and multiple British dance champion, who celebrated her birthday this week, embarked on a gruelling health and fitness programme over the summer to get into shape for the new series and swears by bikram yoga as a way of cleansing body and mind.
But the call telling her she had landed one of the most coveted roles on British TV came like a blot from the blue.
Shirley has been a hit judge on the American version of Strictly, Dancing With The Stars, and was said to have been “complete natural” during her audition.
She even outshone professional dancers Anton Du Beke and Brendan Cole who were considered shoo-ins for the plum role.
Shirley said: “I was absolutely genuinely surprised. I knew there were people who had done TV before going for the role.
“I did the interview but I didn’t dwell on it. I was so thrilled. I never think anything is real until it is on the table.
“You are only as young as you feel – I still have my own knees and everything is still working. I can’t wait to get started.”
Strictly Come Dancing airs on BBC One tomorrow at 7pm.