I remember: Anton du Beke

Caroline Hutton

Anton du Beke reveals the most memorable moments of his life and career

Anton du Beke is one of the most instantly recognisable dancers in the world, best known for his work on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, in which he has featured since its celebrity revival in 2004

…My parents worked very hard

My father was Hungarian and my mother is Spanish. They met in the UK in the early 1960s and we lived in Sevenoaks in Kent. My father was a waiter and later worked in a factory and my mother worked in the local bus depot canteen. After school I’d walk there across the fields and wait for her to finish work. Then we’d get the bus home. My parents weren’t academic types but they believed that hard work was the secret to getting on in this world.

Baby Anton is held by his mother

 

…Seeing my first ballroom dance class

My younger sister Veronica went to dance classes and one afternoon during the holidays I went to pick her up. I sat on the side and realised the room was full of girls. I thought, this is all right so the following week I went along a bit earlier. The teacher said “don’t just sit there, up you get and join in” and that was it. From that first minute as a 13-year-old I was hooked. I could see how I might progress and improve with practice and that sense of potential achievement was, and always has been, very important to me. Soon after I took my first dance exam and was commended. By the time I took my gold exam, I was highly commended!

 

…I left school aged 15

I wasn’t naughty and didn’t mix with the wrong crowd but I just slipped through the net. I needed someone to see the potential in me but sadly it didn’t happen at school, although I’d always excelled at sports—as a kid I lived for the weekends when I’d play loads of football and cricket. With only three channels on the TV in those days we spent most of our time outside on the playing fields. But by the time I left school I was already dancing every spare moment.

 

…There wasn’t much money around

Amateur dancers need to work to pay for everything—travel, outfits, accommodation and competition fees. I know I wasn’t the least lucky dancer around but my situation wasn’t great; my father was an alcoholic and spent any money he brought home on himself and so my mother was supporting the family.

 

…I started work at 3am each morning

I got myself a job in the in-store bakery at Tesco and the hours were tough. When I came home at midday I’d snatch a few hours sleep before taking a train to wherever I had a lesson or competition that day. I went all over the place to the best classes and competed every Sunday. Then I caught the last train home before starting work again. That was my life for about five years.

 

…I’ve always liked to be well dressed

Or at least pretending to be. As a young dancer, I had to buy my clothes from second hand shops. I remember finding a shirt with double cuffs that I thought was very smart but it was too big for me so I had to tuck the extra length in the arms into the cuffs. Nowadays I get my shirts made for me by Turnbull & Asser on London’s Jermyn Street.

Anton posing with his younger brother, Stephen

 

…My heroes were Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly

With the advent of home videos I could watch their films over and over again—classics like Bandwagon, An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain. I loved their style and their singing just as much as I loved their dancing.

"It was a massive decision to turn professional because suddenly you’re competing against the very best couples in the world"

…I started to travel the world

I became established on the amateur scene and was in demand as a ballroom dance teacher too. I met Erin Boag in 1997 and she has remained my dance partner ever since. She had come over from New Zealand and I admired her work ethic enormously. Like me, she wanted to do well and I thought, I could dance with her and, over 20 years on, we’ve proven that to be absolutely correct! We’ve been on tour together every year for the last decade.

 

…Competing against my own ballroom teachers

It was a massive decision to turn professional because suddenly you’re competing against the very best couples in the world—your teachers and people whose talent you most admire. At the quarter finals of my first UK Ballroom Championships I remember standing with Erin and looking at our competitors—the world champions, the winners of the German Open, the second ranked couple in the world—we were up against all of them and it brought home to me just how serious we’d become.

 

…Falling on the floor in front of the judges

Once Erin and I were doing the Viennese waltz in a major competition. It’s a very fast, sweeping dance, spinning round to the left and right and into the middle for the fleckerl. Erin and I were sweeping round the outside of the room with other couples flying around us when BANG! I went straight into one of the dancers whose shoe had come off. I fell flat on my backside in front of the judges—retired champions one and all—who looked at me with horror.

Erin Boag and Anton du Beke on Strictly Come Dancing Season 8

 

…The original launch show for Strictly Come Dancing

It was a little surreal. Imagine the scene—we’re all gathered at Claridge’s Hotel and the press are invited to watch eight celebrities dance with eight professionals (whom no one has ever heard of) and who’ve just walked off the competition floor, plus the four judges: Len, Bruno, Craig and Arlene. The press don’t know what to make of it and when Sir Bruce Forsyth asks if there are any questions they’re stony silent. So Brucie, love him, is feeding them all these little nuggets of information because honestly, it was like a library in there. Erin and I take to the floor and do a waltz and I remember the place going quiet to watch us—I have to say it was one of the best dances we ever did together. Next thing you know, Strictly is the biggest thing on television. It’s been such an amazing platform for us dancers, absolutely brilliant.

"I took the first opportunity I could find to talk to her—which meant following her to the Ladies when she got up from the table"

…My favourite moment on Strictly

It has to be when Bruce and I performed Me and My Shadow together in the sixth series. Not only did I grow up watching Bruce on the television but, as I was also a song and dance man at heart, I really looked up to him. So that performance with him was my equivalent of putting the winning ball at the Ryder Cup—unbelievable. He worked in a very natural way, moving to the lyrics, singing and working in the gags at the same time. I was honoured to call him my friend and I really miss our rounds of golf together. They say you should never meet your heroes—well, it couldn’t have been more wonderful for me. My fondest memories of Strictly are working with Bruce.

 

…A life-changing event at wentworth golf club

I love golf but it wasn’t while playing on the course that my life changed but at a charity dinner on April 20, 2012. It was there I met Hannah—who’s now my wife and mother to our twins. I spotted her across the table and thought Hello… I asked the chap that she’d come with if she was his wife and when he said they were just friends I took the first opportunity to talk to her—which meant following her to the Ladies when she got up from the table.

 

…Tears of joy when I found out I was going to be a father

When Hannah and I went to the first scan together we were over the moon when the nurse said “there are two heartbeats”. We were so lucky that the first round of IVF had worked for us. The twins were born by elective caesarean, which is quite a strange thing. One minute there I was chatting away to Hannah as she lay on the delivery table. The next thing I know there are two babies in our arms, just like that! I’m glad fatherhood has come quite late in my life because I’m able to be around to support Hannah, George and Henrietta. It’s the most brilliant thing that has ever happened to me.

 

…Rediscovering a love of reading

Hannah is the most bookish person I’ve ever met, she read English at university and she really got me back into reading. That gave me the confidence to put on paper an idea for a book I’d had floating in my head for years. I’ve spent my career choreographing dances with a beginning, middle and end and so telling the story of One Enchanted Evening came quite naturally.

 

…Feeling elated when the novel was handed to my publishers

I’ve always been captivated by the romanticism of London in the 1920s and 1930s, when people dressed up and gathered in fabulous grand hotel ballrooms to socialise and dance the night away. My book is set during 1936 when the country was still recovering from The Great War, but tensions were rumbling ahead of The Second World War. I’ve tied historical events and real figures into my story, as a backdrop to the goings on in the Buckingham Hotel.

 

…Being truly valued

Hannah is very supportive of my career and I think she is incredible. But the really special thing about her is that she thinks I’m great too. That’s a wonderful thing to feel in life.

Anton’s novel One Enchanted Evening is out now, published by Bonnier Zaffre.