Anton Du Beke: I don't think of myself as an older father, I just think of myself as a father
Strictly star Anton Du Beke tells Hannah Stephenson about his romantic side, being an older dad and his future on the hit dance show
DESPITE being the first to be voted out of Strictly with his partner, former home secretary Jacqui Smith, Anton Du Beke, the longest-serving professional dancer on the show, is ever the optimist.
He's often been landed with the dancing turkeys – Ann Widdecombe, Judy Murray, Nancy Dell'Olio and Susannah Constantine among them – but he has never given up hope of lifting the glitterball trophy.
Indeed, he reached last year's final with actress Emma Barton. “We were close last year. We'll have to wait and see, maybe one day,” he says.
Du Beke (54) has just penned A Christmas To Remember, the third in his historical romance series set at the swanky fictional hotel The Buckingham with its glamorous ballroom in pre-war London. This one opens with the announcement of the wedding of repeat characters Nancy and Raymond and charts the build-up to the big event.
“Although the novels are stand-alone, the hotel is the star of the piece, weaving the story in with the ballroom at the hotel and the dancing. It's been lovely to get all these stories in my head down,” he explains.
Du Beke readily admits his books are collaborations, with him narrating what he visualises and somebody else taking it from there.
Just as in his professional life, he is good-humoured, jovial and warm away from work when talking about his family life with wife Hannah and three-year-old twins George and Henrietta.
The twins were conceived via IVF, which meant he became a first-time dad at 50, but he has taken to it like a duck to water and loved lockdown with them.
“Three is a great age. We weren't like some of our friends, who had slightly older children and had to do home schooling. Our children were three during lockdown. Really it was just fun time and mini-adventure all the time.”
“There are pros and cons,” he agrees when broached about his age when he had children. “I don't think of myself as an older father, I just think of myself as a father. I don't know what it was like the first time around.
“Some of my friends have got remarried and suddenly had children again, and already have grown-up children. Neither Hannah nor I had that situation.”
Being older also means you're more settled, more aware of yourself, he says.
“We're both more settled in ourselves, a bit calmer and both quite established in our particular industries. My brother, for example, had his first son when he was 21. I can't imagine that. But on the flip side, that son is now of an age when he's going to be leaving home and my brother's only 40.”
He admits his life has changed completely since becoming a father.
“Before, I used to do things for myself, but now I do everything for them. I love being a dad – it's the best job in the world. I rarely think about myself now. It's all about them. And you think much more about the future. I'm always considering the future in regard to them. That's my role now. Tomorrow is very important for them.”
He recently revealed how his own late Hungarian father, Antal, was a heavy drinker who beat him when he was a child. But Du Beke does not want to dwell on heartaches of the past, just look to the future.
He says of Covid-19: “I'm waiting with anticipation about the new world we walk into when we come out of it and what's going to happen and how we navigate the new norm. I wonder what next year is going to be like.”
For now, Strictly is providing the perfect distraction – and the twins are watching it too.
“At the beginning it used to quite upset them seeing me on telly, as I suspect it does quite a number of people,” he joshes, “but they are much more up for it now. Strictly's on a bit late for them, as they're in bed by seven, but we record it and they watch me dancing in my bit, which they love. They're my greatest fans.”
Before this latest series started, there had been rumours that Du Beke could be the front-runner to replace judge Bruno Tonioli, who is currently in Los Angeles. The Italian judge also appears in Dancing With The Stars and has historically flown backwards and forwards to do both shows, but can't do that this year because of Covid travel restrictions.
But Tonioli is still involved remotely in the Sunday results shows and is set to return full time towards the end of the series, the BBC has said.
“I don't see myself not doing Strictly,” Du Beke muses. “I won't be like Kevin [Clifton] or AJ [Pritchard], where I'll say, ‘Thank you very much, I've had enough now'. That won't be me because I love doing it. For me, I'll just keep doing it.
“But if they decide they want me to do a different role, then, definitely. Why not?”
At 54, he's not worried about his fitness levels for the show.
“It's something I've always done. Being in shape has always been part of my life. As you get older, it becomes more important, of course, and when you've got three-year-olds it becomes even more important.
“But it's not a new thing for me and it's nothing I have to think about too much. Being in shape and eating healthily is just part of my lifestyle.”
He met Hannah, who is in marketing, at his local golf club.
“She's a great girl,” he says earnestly. “She's very beautiful, very clever and very funny and she's wonderfully kind. She's sporty and supportive. All these things mean that we have a wonderful relationship. We can do things together. We have a shared experience.”
Is he romantic? “I think you'd have to ask my wife,” he chuckles. “I like to have grand romantic gestures. I'm not romantic all of the time. If I go to the supermarket I'm always coming back with flowers and bottles of champagne for Hannah.
“I don't cook – so that traditional romantic gesture of ‘I'm going to make you dinner tonight' isn't what I do. But before the children, we'd always be going out for dinner, which I enjoyed doing.”
They play tennis and golf together, work out together, and she also rides horses. It seems a perfect partnership.
“The only thing she doesn't do is dance and I'm quite glad about that. She doesn't dance like me – she has her own style of dancing which is very unique. I'd describe it as individual and the best way to dance with her is individually and don't get too close. Her arms start to flail and it's best to give it a bit of a wide berth.”
A planned tour with former Strictly star Erin Boag has been postponed to 2022, although Du Beke is hoping that Him & Me, a short 2021 tour with his Strictly pal Giovanni Pernice, will go ahead in the summer.
One thing is for sure – that as long as he's able, Anton Du Beke will ‘Keep Dancing'.
:: A Christmas To Remember by Anton Du Beke is published by Zaffre, priced £18.99.