Widdy and me? It was Strictly showbusiness
As Strictly Come Dancing’s Anton Du Beke heads to Belfast next week for his own show, he tells Matthew McCreary about performing with Ann Widdecombe and being, ahem, 29
In an industry where a cheesy grin is almost a weapon of war, there is one man who has mastered the art of making his own pearly whites shine more brightly than most.
Anton Du Beke has a grin that would make the Cheshire Cat envious and it has become as much a trademark of the Strictly Come Dancing stalwart’s on-screen persona as his neatly-pressed shirt and tie and impeccably-ironed slacks.
And the dapper dancer will be bringing his boyish good looks and effervescent charm to the stage next Friday with his regular dance partner and fellow Strictly star Erin Boag at the Waterfront Hall.
“It’s our favourite destination on the tour, everybody in Belfast is so lovely,” he coos during a break in his busy touring schedule. From any other celebrity such flattering words might be taken as a false compliment, but one gets the impression that everywhere he goes is a favourite place for Du Beke.
With the show itself not long over and fellow Strictly stars also due to hit town next week for the official Strictly Come Dancing tour at the Odyssey Arena, it might be a touch of overkill for the Belfast audience.
But Du Beke has all the skills of a car salesman when pitching the show to a dubious hack.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of ballroom, and a couple of really lovely theatre dances,” he explains. “It won’t be strictly ballroom or Latin, there will be a few songs, and we have a wonderful singer from Strictly, as well as a fabulous orchestra on stage with us.”
Alas, Du Beke will be arriving just following the departure of the Strictly show, and so the prospect of him reuniting on stage with his most recent partner, former MP Ann Widdecombe, will not materialise. Rather, Widdecombe will taking to the stage with her on-screen nemesis, Strictly judge Craig Revel-Horwood. But Du Beke insists he is not jealous of the new pairing.
“No, I’ve done that, had enough of that,” he laughs. “I’m sure they’ll be very happy together.”
He is still in touch with the formidable iron lady, with whom he shared some of the most, er, memorable routines of recent years — including a pink-clad Widdecombe soaring above the dancefloor in a harness.
“We had a great time,” says Anton.
“She was so up for a laugh. We knew we weren’t going to dance brilliantly. There’s not much we could do that was going to be technically excellent because we were a foot different in height.
“We were just going to have fun with it and make the numbers witty and interesting. We got a bit showbiz, we wanted people to tune in just to watch us.”
Du Beke was surprised himself that he was paired with Widdecombe, although audiences at home would have been unwise not to put money on it, as his natural charm and humour were perfectly tailored to Widdecombe’s scathing retorts.
“I didn’t see it that way,” muses Du Beke. “I thought I was going to get Felicity [Kendal] or Pamela [Stephenson]. I thought Vincent [Simone] would get Ann because of their height. I didn’t think what I could do with her.”
Strong and sassy older woman have become something of a speciality for Du Beke (who has been with the show since the very beginning) as he has been paired off with the likes of opera star Lesley Garrett, TV presenter Esther Rantzen and actress Gillian Taylforth.
“Yes, well, thank you very much,” he roars with laughter, and just a smidgen of embarrassment.
In a programme which has not been without its ups and downs, Du Beke himself has not been without his own controversy. In 2009 he came under fire for a jokey reference to his dance partner Laila Rouass’s fake tan. The tabloids cried racism, and Du Beke swiftly apologised for the misunderstanding.
“There was alot of stuff kicking around that year with egginess in general. This year there was a much better vibe about whole thing,” he says. “If the show takes a bit of a knocking I feel sad about that. People work so hard on these shows, you don’t want them to get knocked.”
His own story of the path to fame reads almost like the script of hit film Billy Elliot — the young lad eschewing the appeals of football and boxing in favour of dancing with a bunch of girls.
“I went along one day with my sister and there was a room full of girls. I couldn’t understand it, really — lovely girls, a whole room of them. Where are all the boys?
“What’s wrong with these fellas who want to run around with other boys, I want to run around with the girls.
“That was my moment of inspiration,” he coos, “a rooooom full of giiirls. They only had me to choose from.”
Although very much one of Strictly’s established matinee idols, Du Beke reveals that he is now spoken for.
“It’s been three years now and very lovely she is too,” he says of the lady in his life, although he is tight-lipped about revealing her identity. “It’s no one you would know. If it was Nicole Kidman it would be interesting but if it’s a lady no one knows then it’s not that interesting is it?”
I might well disagree, but Du Beke is quick to pull the drawbridge up about parts of his personal life, even when discussing his age.
“I’m 29 and a half”, he quips (although a quick trawl online puts him in his mid-40s).
It seems Du Beke is a man who would rather let his dancing do the talking for him.
Anton & Erin are at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, Friday, February 4. See www.waterfront.co.uk for tickets