That nice Anton Du Beke is doing an impression of the younger Anton Du Beke in pre-Strictly days (which he calls ‘TBS, Time Before Strictly’).
It is quite terrifying. His jaw is clenched, teeth bared, eyes nearly popping out of his head. His expression is one of pure fury.
‘I was an absolute lunatic,’ he says, cheerily. ‘In my competition days I was the polar opposite of the patient, charming person you see on Strictly. I was the least patient person you can imagine.
‘I wasn’t charming. I was out of control, a bit destructive to myself, to my dance partner Erin, impatient to win. I wanted it all, and five minutes ago. I should apologise to Erin, really.’
Anton du Beke (pictured with his wife Hannah and four-year-old twins) described himself as an ‘absolute lunatic’ in his competition days, saying he was ‘impatient to win’ and ‘out of control’
Blimey. Why the angst? ‘I think it stemmed from starting so late [he was a teenager when he began ballroom dancing].
‘I wanted to be Fred Astaire but couldn’t see how I’d get from a church hall in Sevenoaks, dancing a four step by the boys’ toilets, to the silver screen.
‘Everyone else on the competition circuit had started when they were three or four, and I was on the hurry-up. I was an outsider, never at the top table.’
Drum roll, though. He may have come to it late but Anton, 55, has arrived at the top table now.
When the Strictly lights go up this autumn, he will be on the judging panel. He never did get his hands on that glitterball trophy in 17 years as a professional dancer on the show, but has now landed an arguably more significant prize.
He can thank the pandemic. He was catapulted onto the panel during the last series, when judge Motsi Mabuse was stranded in Germany (he received a call the night before).
This year, as restrictions make it impossible for Bruno Tonioli to commute between the U.S. and UK, he will have his own seat for the whole series.
It is hard to think of a more popular appointment. Anton is the only dancer who has been with the show since it started in 2004, and one of only three of the original line-up (‘it’s just me, Craig and Tess,’ he says).
When the Strictly lights go up this autumn, Anton (pictured) will be on the judging panel. He never got his hands on that glitterball trophy in 17 years as a professional dancer on the show
He is Mr Strictly in many ways, a master of that delicate balance between the slick, sparkly and silly.
Like Strictly, he doesn’t take himself too seriously — but he takes the business-of-show very seriously indeed. Little wonder we all cheered when he was promoted.
‘That’s kind of you to say,’ he says, in his first full interview since his Strictly role was confirmed.
‘I can’t tell you how thrilling it felt to think people were going, ‘Hurrah’. It could have been, ‘Oh God, not him again.’ To feel people are on your side is lovely, though they could be cheering because they’d had enough of me dancing.’
What sort of judge will he be? Well, we have already had a taster, which suggests he will be constructive-with-the-criticism rather than Craig-level cutting.
Has he had to sit down with the producers and agree a persona?
‘Oh no, the producers don’t produce the judges. They will say things like, ‘Concentrate on being succinct’, because I do have a tendency to ramble on. And they want you to be careful with your language, so I’ll have to make sure I don’t tell anyone they dance as if they’re at a urinal.’
Pardon? ‘Len Goodman did that once — someone danced on their toes all the time and Len said they looked like a small man at a urinal. Len could get away with that, but even he got a look.’
When Anton first signed up for the show, it was little more than a joke in the ballroom world.
‘Strictly is a national treasure now, a yearly event like Wimbledon,’ he says. ‘But at the start, when I said to a few people in the dance world that I’d put my name down, they couldn’t have been less interested. ‘Ballroom dancing, on the telly? Good luck with that.’
‘At the time they were preoccupied with trying to get ballroom accepted as an Olympic sport.’
But Anton and a generation of ballroom dancers struck gold with Strictly. Suddenly there was a career route for them, away from the competition scene.
He credits two women with helping him find his feet in TV. The first was Strictly producer Karen Smith, who gave him the job. The other was Lesley Garrett, the opera singer, who was his first celebrity partner.
‘I really owe it all to Lesley. She was this great diva who was fizzing with energy, keen to learn. She made me look good.’
He makes it sound as if he just clung onto her skirts, smiling — but of course, he made her look good too. And a pattern was set.
Although there have been younger women in his arms since — such as Emma Barton, with whom he reached the final in 2019 — mostly he has been paired with more mature contestants. For the menopausal would-be dancer, he was HRT in human form.
Although there have been younger women in his arms, like Emma Barton (pictured), with whom he reached the 2019 final, Anton was mostly paired with mature contestants on Strictly
As he chats about his leading ladies, there is little talk of dance technicalities.
He describes the cosy restaurant where Ann Widdecombe had lunch before he schooled her in the cha-cha-cha. She used to like sauté potatoes as a side dish and would often finish with a slice of cake.
‘It was odd. When I was teaching before, I would never partner a student. But here my job is to be partner, teacher, psychologist,’ he says.
‘I had to learn about my partners very quickly. Did they drink coffee or tea? Were they better training in the mornings, or evenings? How did they want to train?
‘One insisted she wanted to train for eight hours a day, but it quickly became apparent that she wasn’t physically or mentally fit for that.
‘I knew it would be better if she did two hours and went home, but that would have been disastrous for her psychologically, so we ended up training for two hours and drinking tea for six.’
Ruth Langsford, the TV presenter, was one of his more challenging partners. He adores her, but she was gripped by what he calls ‘the Strictly fear’ and once refused point-blank, he says, to come down that big staircase: ‘It took four of us to coax her down.’
Tuesdays, when she was trying to learn the steps, were difficult. ‘Ruthie would call them Teary Tuesdays. Sometimes we had Weepy Wednesdays, too.’
Many of his celebrity partners went to pieces under the pressure. He was surprised that former Bond girl Fiona Fullerton, whom he had once idolised, told him she had lost confidence after leaving the entertainment world to have children. She also lost the power of movement in his arms, it seems.
‘At one point I was doing a lift and she whispered in my ear ‘I can’t feel my legs, Anton. Don’t put me down’.’
Often they gave him the tricky ones, though. So be honest, Anton. Did you want to drop any of them on their head, deliberately?
‘Hahahaha, no,’ he says. ‘Some of them may have got a bit Queen-y on me, but that might have just been because they were hungry and their blood sugar dipped.’
Nancy Dell’Olio? You must have been scared stiff of her. ‘Ah, well. Maybe she was a bit terrifying.’
He shudders at the memory of getting Nancy ready for the show’s Halloween special.
‘I said, ‘Get in the coffin, Nancy’ and she said ‘No, you get in it’. ‘Then it went like this: ‘I can’t be in the coffin, Nancy. I’ll give you a bottle of champagne if you get in the coffin.’
‘We can get in the coffin together.’ ‘
‘That won’t work, Nancy.’
‘It would make our relationship better.’ ‘
‘We don’t have a relationship, Nancy.’
Anton admitted that he should apologise to his former dance partner Erin Boag (both pictured in 2009) for his ‘impatience to win’ in his competition days
Still, he is defensive of his older ladies, ‘because it’s not the same for them as for some 19-year-old who has done musical theatre. When I say, ‘Just rub up against me on the fourth beat’, it’s not remotely normal for them.’
Perhaps the key is that he clearly respects women, even when he is convincing them to appear in front of millions dressed as a banana (Ann Widdecombe) or with a pineapple on their head (Susannah Constantine).
‘I hold women in higher regard than I do most men,’ he says, serious for a moment. ‘I probably always have.
‘You take someone like [his former dance partner] Esther Rantzen. She had to break through the glass ceiling, fight to get to prove herself.
‘I find the whole thing about women having to battle their way through quite pathetic. Like when men don’t want to give women jobs because they will go off and have babies. Come on! They can come back, and they are probably better than you anyway. I think women are just better at most things, really.’
You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to work out where this came from. Almost all the people he has looked up to have been women.
‘It started with my mum. It’s well documented that my dad was an alcoholic, and Mum was the rock of our family. She was the one who took two jobs, the one we went to if we needed anything. I never saw her take a sick day.’
He reckons he has segued into marriage with an equally strong woman, his wife Hannah, 44.
They married in 2017, six years after meeting at a party where he followed her to the Ladies and waited outside.
He was staggered when she spoke to him (albeit to say, ‘Have you followed me to the Ladies?’) and the rest is history. They went through IVF and were overjoyed to have twins George and Henrietta, now four and a half.
He says everything works seamlessly at home ‘but only because of Hannah’.
‘She works in marketing in a very difficult, high-powered job. But she still runs the whole ship at home. She’s incredible.’
Then there is his dance partner of 24 years Erin Boag, who was also a Strictly professional before she stepped down to have her son Euan, now seven.
I speak to Erin after our interview. Does she agree Anton was a ‘lunatic’ when they first met?
‘He was a monster, in the nicest way. He was just so driven — but you had to be in that world. His attitude was that if we weren’t in the studio, then our competitors would be. We trained on birthdays, even on Christmas Day. Anton would say we could train first, then have Christmas dinner.’
Anton’s former dance partner of 24 years Erin Boag (both pictured in 2009), was also a Strictly professional before she stepped down to have her son Euan, now seven
Has he apologised for putting her through such torture? ‘No. Maybe he will at my funeral.’
They are still together professionally, though — and she cheered when he got the Strictly judging gig. ‘I can’t think of anyone who’d do it better. It’s such a big part of his life.’
A lot of people make easy assumptions about Anton. They think he must be posh, from a privileged background. Not so.
Born Anthony Beke, he is the son of a Spanish mum and a Hungarian dad (‘I was the only person in my class who had foreign parents’) and grew up in a council house in Kent.
He likes to glide a little over his childhood, which is perhaps understandable, given that his father did beat him with a belt.
‘I suppose we were — it’s an old-fashioned term now — latchkey kids. My mum had two jobs, so that work ethic came from her. She worked in a care home and at the bus station canteen. My dad would be incapacitated, so I’d go to the canteen to meet her. We would have our dinner there.’
He had a sister who was four years younger, and much later (when he was 14) a brother arrived. ‘It was up to us to look after him, but I quite liked that.’
Was it an unhappy childhood? ‘It was a childhood of . . . avoidance, trying to avoid my dad, which became more difficult the older I got,’ he says. ‘When I got to my teens it was way more difficult, a whole different ballgame.’
When he was 22, he decided he didn’t want to play the game any more and left home. His father died eight years later.
There was no rapprochement and if there is any regret about that now, he is not expressing it. ‘I don’t really like to look back,’ he says. ‘Well, I do, but only to talk about Fred Astaire.’
His own children are enjoying a childhood very different from his. ‘I didn’t understand before why people made such a fuss about getting home after a show. Couldn’t they see their kids the next day?’ he says.
‘I get it now. I will drive through the night to get home rather than stay in a hotel.’
Lockdown was ‘awful for this industry but wonderful on a personal level because I got that precious time’.
Where did he learn to be a good dad? He is convinced that being a good father should be the default position.
‘I don’t think you need a massive IQ to understand what that means. You choose to be a father. The least you can do is follow it through.’
His children are just starting to dance, and showing promise. He larks about, showing off the ballet-esque swoops he has been teaching them in lockdown.
‘I’ll have them on stage soon. We’ll be the Von Trapps,’ he jokes.
You don’t have enough children for that, Anton.
‘I’d have a hundred, if I could.’
Showtime with Anton & Erin tours the UK from Jan-Mar 2022, tickets at antonanderinlive.co.uk