Arts

I'd love to partner with Eamonn Holmes on Strictly says dancer Anton du Beke

Ahead of returning to Belfast with his latest show, Strictly Come Dancing dance professional Anton Du Beke chats to Jenny Lee about his continued desire to win the golden glitterball, how drinking tea helps his celebrity partners learn to dance, and that spectacular fall with Ruth Langsford

Anton du Beke and dance partner Erin Boag return to Belfast's Waterfront Hall next month with a new show celebrating the music of the golden age of Hollywood

DESPITE last week’s shock axing of Brendan Cole from Strictly Come Dancing, the one remaining original professional, Anton Du Beke, is optimistic about his future with the hit BBC series.

The 51-year-old veteran dancer said that while he hopes to be back out on the floor in the autumn, his role on the show was still in “discussion”. Adding that he was “heartbroken” by the news of Cole's departure, Anton, who has starred in Strictly since its launch back in 2004, hinted that he might even consider a future role as a judge.

“You can never take it for granted. There’s a lot going on at the moment; I’m happy to do whatever they want me to do.”

Although he has taken part in 15 series, with celebrity partners ranging form the comedic – Ann Widdecombe and Lesley Joseph – to the elegant – Lesley Garrett and Katie Derham – the coveted golden glitterball prize has eluded Anton.

“I’m still competitive. I want to keep going in Strictly as long as possible –­ to get the win and beyond. I want to be a multiple champion," he tells me.

The Kent native – who was born the slightly less showbiz Anthony Paul Beke – has no regrets about any of his past partners and says his role is to “get the best out of my partner and have the best time possible along the way".

Although he does believe there is such a thing as having two left feet, he maintains that everyone can learn to dance.

“Some just take a bit longer than other. The key to it is time. At the start I get them moving gently and then we stop and have a cup of tea,” laughs Anton, fondly regarded by television viewers for his light-hearted show banter and infectious smile.

“Although people like Judy Murray and Ann Widdecombe have not been the best dancers, I’ve had the best time with them. Like everything, if you are enjoying something and having fun, it’s easier to do. Once you get near the show day, the tension ramps up, though.

“You need good stamina for Strictly. Depending on your partner's work schedule, you can just go on and on with practice, ideally spending eight hours a day."

Now the father of 11-month-old twins, Anton certainly had fun last year with television presenter Ruth Langsford, the highlight of the series being their Paso Doble to The Shady Dame From Seville by Julie Andrews.

Performing as a matador and his paramour, Anton and Ruth's take on the dance was hilarious­ – particularly so their unrehearsed ending, where they both lost their footing and ended up collapsed in a pile on the ballroom floor.

Trying to make light of the situation, cheeky Ruth then gave the audience and judges an eyeful as she straddled Anton, leaving him wriggling underneath.

Addressing Ruth’s husband Eamonn Holmes in the audience when he picked himself up, Anton said: “Eamonn, I’m sorry about the end."

After the show back in November, Belfast broadcaster Eamonn joked that he was a victim of the dreaded Strictly “curse” – referring to many examples of long-term relationships or marriages ending due to the close bonds that can develop between the celebrities and the dancers.

Ruefully defiant about the less-than-graceful performance, Anton tells me: “You can’t get all emotional about a fall; you just have to laugh. I think I should have won it last time with Ruthie."

While Anton doesn’t have a celebrity partner wish-list, he would like to see Eamonn Holmes himself take to the dancefloor.

“That would just be hilarious. He would never do it but even I would dance with him.”

Having two males dance together would be certainly be a first for Strictly, but in today’s world of gender equality, it's an idea that enthuses Anton.

“Eamonn and I having a bit of a side-by-side moment on the dance floor – why not?” he says.

Anton is currently touring his own dance show, alongside former Strictly star Erin Boag, who left the show after 10 series to have her first child. Professional partners since 1997, the couple competed on the international dance circuit before being chosen to star in the revived TV show.

For the past 10 years Anton and Erin have been wowing audiences with their own ballroom dancing show, merging live music and dance and encapsulating the glitz, glamour and elegance of a bygone era.

The duo, who are often referred to as the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of our modern times, are back in Belfast next month with their anniversary show, From Broadway to Hollywood.

Featuring classics such as Cry Me a River, Mr Bojangles, Downtown, New York, New York and Libertango, they will be accompanied by the London Concert Orchestra.

Anton promises a night of “great entertainment and fun”, when the dance couple will also be joined by an ensemble of dancers and regular Strictly vocalist Lance Ellington.

“I enjoy the musical theatre aspect of our show, with the song and dance numbers being a highlight.”

Having realised his dream of launching his debut album, From the Top, a collection of swing hits, at the end of last year, Anton will also be singing.

His favourite song from the album and the show is Me and My Shadow, which he included as “a little tribute to Brucie”.

Of course this was the signature tune of the late Sir Bruce Forsyth, who passed away last August, and Anton, who describes Bruce as “his hero”, says he felt honoured to perform the song live with him on Strictly.

Thinking ahead to the inevitable day when he does have to hang up his Strictly dance shoes, Anton remains upbeat. As well as continuing to create new dance shows annually with Erin, he would like to take to the West End stage.

“I would absolutely love to do musical theatre, if a decent role came up. They are about to do Chicago again in the West End, and that role of Billy Flynn is a role I’d love to play. The role of Jerry Travers in Top Hat would be another one. It’s about Hollywood’s golden age and similar to our current show.”

And would he consider swapping channels and trying Dancing on Ice?

“I haven’t ice skated before. I don’t know if I can. Eventually I will give it a go," he says, adding, with a laugh: "Though I’d hate to be rubbish at it."

:: You can see Anton & Erin’s new show From Broadway To Hollywood at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall on March 10. Tickets at Waterfront.co.uk

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