Strictly Come Dancing judge Anton Du Beke talks danceﬂoor disasters, why he’s always up for a selﬁe and his new novel, which is partly inspired by the hotels of Mayfair and St James’s
Ensconced in the billiards room of Wentworth Golf Club in Surrey – “that’s swanky isn’t it?”- one of the country’s best-loved entertainers is just as fab-u-lous darling as you might imagine.
Anton Du Beke, the ever popular Strictly Come Dancing judge, carries an easy charm and perennial twinkle that may just seem elevated to the sacred status of national treasure. Fame? He “loves” it.
“I get upset when they don’t ask me for a selfie! I don’t understand people that say ‘leave me alone’ and then in a fortnight say ‘I’m coming to a theatre near you’. It’s all part of the job and you want people to invest in you, you must invest in them. Eric Morecambe once said, ‘if you don’t like all that, find another job!.”
The 56-year-old professional dancer has been a much-loved fixture on one of the biggest shows on television since its debut in 2004; replacing Bruno Tonioli as a permanent judge last year.
“People make light of Strictly Come Dancing at times and I feel a bit annoyed about that. Most of the population hold it in the highest esteem and I think it’s the crown jewel of television.”
While he “absolutely loves” his new role on the other side of the fence, there are still moments when he longs to be on the dancefloor. “I do sit there sometimes thinking ‘I’d love to do this number’. There is nothing like that moment where you walk out on stage.”
Presumably the door is always open? “I wouldn’t take it if they offered it to me,” he says. “I wouldn’t go back and dance again on the show as a competitor with a celebrity partner. I did it for years and loved every second, but wouldn’t swap one for the other. The problem is you get voted off and you don’t get voted off as a judge and I want to be in the final!”
To say that he hasn’t always been fortunate with his celebrity dance partners is something of an understatement. The likes of Nancy Dell’Olio and Susannah Constantine racked up woefully low scores, while his partnership with former MP Ann Widdecombe was played for primetime laughs with judge Len Goodman likening her to “haemorrhoids, which keep coming back more painful than ever.”
“I never minded who I danced with, I just didn’t want to get voted off. Sometimes bad is good; you do all sorts of things and if they are terrible it’s a lot of fun.” Such as Ann? “Exactly that. The worst dancer you have ever danced with in your life, but you can have some fun. At the end of the day, you are trying to put on a show.”
For Anton – whose father was Hungarian (growing up in Sevenoaks, Kent his name was Angalicised to ‘Antony’ and later changed back) – entertainment and escapism seems to be the thread that binds his work.
A bestselling author, his latest book – The Ballroom Blitz – is his fifth in a series centred around the famed Buckingham Hotel. A standalone story, it’s set in September 1940 as the Battle of Britain rages in the skies above London, the staff do all they can for guests by evoking the magic of the majestic ballroom amid a storyline that sees profiteers skulk the streets.
The series’ characters, he says, were “floating around his head for years”, based on people he either knew or had heard stories about. “I had wonderful teachers growing up – dance teachers fundamentally – who were also great raconteurs and I love a raconteur, like a Kenneth Williams or Peter Ustinov who tell these fabulous stories.
“I used to hear these wonderful stories about these old characters in the ballroom dancing world and it just conjured up these incredible images. The whole book was based on the characters and my experiences of having danced in great hotels around the world and great ballrooms around London. All the components of the novel are bits and pieces of my life. I once described the first book as the story of my life without it being an autobiography.”
One of the characters, Georges de la Motte, is based on a teacher of Anton’s called John Del Roy. “He has sadly passed away, but he was a great inspiration and mentor to me. I am the dancer I am today because of him. Georges’ relationship with Raymond [de Guise] in the novel is based on the relationship I had with John growing up.”
The most central of characters – the Buckingham Hotel – is, Anton admits, inspired by the luxury hotels of Mayfair and St James’s. “Absolutely. I lived in Mayfair for a number of years and I loved it. Slightly political point – I think Sadiq Khan is f****** up London royally, but I loved living there. There is no other place in London to live; if you are going to live in London you live there, otherwise you don’t live in London.”
He lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife now, but Mayfair and St James’s will always have a place in his heart. Last month he presented Mayfair Times’ annual Community Awards in the ballroom of Grosvenor House, toasting a part of the world which played such an inspiration.
“I’ve always loved The Ritz, because it’s old school. The steps to the revolving door with the chap standing with his top hat… that is all part of the imagery I have when I’m thinking about the Buckingham Hotel. That is why the hotel is set there; it goes back to my time living in Mayfair. I don’t cook, so I used to eat out every day and I would know all the doormen to all the restaurants.”
Back then he was forever working – “I wasn’t a playboy and living off daddy’s money” – and now he seems just as busy. He’s currently on the Strictly Come Dancing tour, has an ‘Evening With Anton Du Beke’ tour scheduled for April and May and a new book in the pipeline to be released around Mother’s Day.