Q&A with Anton Du Beke before he visits the Churchill Theatre, Bromley on tour
Anton Du Beke is one of the most instantly recognisable dancers today, best known for BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, on which he has featured since its conception originally as a dancer and finally as a judge on the latest season. His debut album reached the Top 20, his debut novel One Enchanted Evening was an instant Sunday Times Bestseller and he continues to waltz all over the country with his sell out dance tours.
Tell us more about An Audience with Anton Du Beke.
It’s gonna be an intimate evening with me, me and my wonderful band and my very good friend Lance Ellington. I’m gonna be talking about me, you can ask me any question you like and I’m gonna tell you about my career and my life, but we’re gonna do it with dance and we’re gonna do it with song. It’s gonna be a great night.
With this being your show, how was it not having to consult with a partner during the creative process?
I’ve always taken the attitude that I’m not doing this for me, I am doing this for an audience. What I might think is hilarious might not resonate with anyone else, so I’m very much of the attitude that I’ll ask people. Stuart, the producer, has been able to be involved with this, I’ve spoken to Lance about it as well, things like music choices and flow, because when you’re putting on a show it still has to have a flow to it and a direction to work in a certain way. You know what works and what doesn’t through experience.
I’m very much of the attitude that when I walk out of stage then it’s my responsibility to perform to the best of my ability, I’m not so egotistical that it has to be my way or the highway, because I might not be right. The process is a little bit more collaborative, people having an opinion. If there’s a “I don’t mind this, you choose” then fine. If I go “I think this is good” and five people in the room go “we’re all not sure”, you always have to go “well that must be wrong”, you can’t be the only person that thinks it’s okay. But once we get on stage it’s my responsibility to deliver, I’m very well aware of that.
How much is going to be scripted on the night?
It won’t be scripted, it will be completely improvised, I’m gonna go along with what people speak to me about. The bits between the numbers will be improvised. Obviously I’m not improvising the song, it’s not a jazz club, I’m not going to improvise the dance numbers, my partner would go “excuse me?”, she’ll be delighted if I suddenly don’t pick her up when she is expecting me to!
What is your pre-show regime?
For my pre-show routine, I like to have everything set up and ready in the wings. Certainly if I’m doing quick changes, everything is organised way before the show and then I like to get ready into my opening outfit at least half an hour before. Then I like to wander around, I can’t sit still. And then as I’m standing in the wings before I go on, I like to be quiet, nobody talks to me. I like to be in the wings on my own, preferably, I like to go on and be clear of mind. Otherwise I’ll forget my opening bit, guaranteed.
Do you feel that everything you’ve done in your career has led to An Audience with Anton Du Beke?
It’s very interesting actually because even I, the great Anton Du Beke (laughs), after doing this for so long, I sometimes think, “what if I actually could do this on my own?” I’ve never done anything on my own, I’d never done it solo. I’ve always had a partner. Fundamentally it will be driven by me. It’s to see if I can do this as well, even now I still want to know and push myself to try it and do it. With all the things I’ve done in my performing life, it’s lovely to go out on stage with all that experience, all that behind me and go “okay let’s do this and see what happens”.
What do you see in your future, the West End perhaps?
It’s interesting that you say that. A number of years ago I did talk to the producers about doing the Billy Flint role in Chicago, but we couldn’t make it work for dates. That was before I had children. At the moment, in the immediate future, I don’t see me doing any sort of residency in a theatre. 8 shows a week, it’s too long to be away from the children and from Hannah; the children are too young for that. I think that’s something I might revisit later. I prefer doing the one nights, going around, doing a show, getting home, jumping off to somewhere else the following day. I like that, that’s what I prefer and enjoy doing. The idea of doing Chicago or something like that would be fun but unfortunately not for me at the moment.
Is screen acting something that you have thought of before?
I’ve not done any sort of dramatic roles before. I did do the panto at Christmas, what I enjoyed about that was working as an ensemble, secondly learning the script and also being disciplined and delivering it. Understanding how to deliver lines and putting the right motivation through it, having a good director, I found that all fascinating as a new skill set as opposed to anything else. I’m not saying I would like to play Hamlet next Thursday. I enjoyed the whole experience and the thing with the panto, it would have been very easy to turn it into a one man show and gone “welcome to an audience with”. But that would have been horrendous for everybody else because I’m walking over everyone’s gags and everyone else’s lines, nothing would work and it would just be a shambles but I’m having the best time ever, I think I’m hilarious. Disaster! I didn’t want to be that guy, I was very diligent and disciplined, and I did find it fascinating.
Would look into expanding this show into a larger tour for 2023 or beyond?
Potentially yes. I mean it depends on what else I’m doing. We’re not doing massive venues and if it does work, I would like to take it into big venues. I have always wanted to do the Royal Albert Hall, all those people there, you can have a bigger band and get some special guests in. I went to see Bruce doing it once at the Royal Albert Hall, an evening with Bruce Forsyth with a few songs and Erin and I came out and danced. I remember watching it and going “I’d love to do this; this is exactly what I‘d like to do”. That’s what I’d like to be able to do with this, not so much doing 50 dates, just a few big shows. I’m not bothered with arenas; I think arenas are difficult to make work. But I’d love to do that.
When you started dancing, did you want to be an entertainer or just focus on being a dancer?
Difficult really, I grew up watching variety which seemed to be old fashioned, but I rather enjoyed it. I would have loved to have been able to do that but there wasn’t a platform for that sort of entertainment anymore. I fell into competitive ballroom dancing which seemed like the obvious thing to do, none of this was thought through, I wanted to be world champion of course because I was always competitive.
I knew the longer I did the traditional career path of a dancer – compete as an amateur, compete as a professional, retire from competing and teach other couples, you do demonstrations or shows until you don’t do that anymore and continue travelling the world teaching. That’s what you did, that was the career path, or you could open a dance school. I never wanted to open a dance school; I could never see me staying in one place.
I wanted to continue to perform, that’s why I haven’t really gone down the choreographer’s route – I do choreography for things if asked, but I’m not in that place, I still want to be that guy at the front going “ladies and gents welcome to the show”. I remember working for a lady in Kent and her bank was up in Aldwych in London and I used to have to do cash runs, so she’d give me an envelope with cash that I’d have to go and pay directly into her bank. I used to walk amongst the lovely theatres there and I used to stand in the foyer at the Aldwych theatre looking around at the posters going “I’d really love to do this” but of course I was in the wrong business, I was not in musical theatre, I was in ballroom dancing and we didn’t do theatres in those days. I knew that’s something I wanted to get into but I wasn’t quite sure how I would do it. Then by chance Strictly Come Dancing came along and everything changed. Erin and I were really the first couple from our business to put on a theatre show in that way. “Burn the Floor’ was quite big and quite global and still goes now but I never wanted to be part of anyone’s show, I wanted to do my own show. Everyone’s doing it now, but we were the first ones to do it.
How does it feel to be a judge on Strictly?
I’m absolutely thrilled being a judge on Strictly Come Dancing. I can’t tell you how excited I am every week to watch the couples performing their numbers, knowing exactly what they’ve been through to get to this point. And with my fingers crossed they don’t have any mishaps, I’m all up to speed on what mishaps go like, I have had lots of those over the years. So I’m very, very excited about being a judge and loving every second.
How does being a judge differ from dancing on the show?
The big difference between dancing on the show and being a judge of course is I’m guaranteed to make the final, that’s the most exciting thing for me. Also, I don’t get critiqued by the other three, they’re so mean! That’s always been the worst part of the show for me, being voted off. I’ve always hated that bit and wished I could have stayed into the final for every year I’ve done it. But it doesn’t work like that unfortunately. So being the judge is a joy, to stay there every week watching fabulous dancing.
What’s your favourite Strictly memory?
I have so many wonderful Strictly memories of which I shall talk about on the Audience with Anton Du Beke. But a couple of highlights – the moment I had with Brucie when we did “me and my shadow”. Another great highlight, we opened the show in musical’s week, with a great ensemble piece that I sang and walked through the number with everybody. It’s called “Anything can happen on the Strictly stage” and I loved that moment. But then I have had many classic moments with my wonderful partners. Whether it’s falling down with Ruth Langsford in the paso doble, whether it’s flying Ann Widdicombe in or throwing her across the floor and skidding, or dancing with Katie making the final. Even the very first moments on Strictly with Leslie Garrett walking out on the first show.
Who is your dream dance partner?
Well, I’ve always said I never mind who they put me with on the show. I’ve always enjoyed dancing with all the ladies I’ve danced with over the years. But there’s one person I would have loved to have danced with over the years, that would have been Darcy Bussell. I never got a chance to dance with Dame Darcy herself. That would have been a lot of fun. Maybe sometime in the future!
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you on stage?
Oh, I’ve had so many incredible moments on stage over the years. Whether it’s just great numbers or fabulous moments. But the funniest moments are the bits that go wrong – as was always the case. I’ve fallen on stage with a partner in my arms once, the audience seem to have really enjoyed that – harsh! Forgetting lyrics to songs, inside you’re dying but the audience is going ‘hey, he’s forgotten that one”. Things like that really are fun moments that you can laugh about after, but at the time it gives you the twitch. They seem to be the fun moments.
5 May 7.30pm Grove Theatre, Dunstable
8 May 3.00pm Theatre Royal, Brighton
13 May 7.30pm Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe
14 May 7.30pm New Theatre, Peterborough
15 May 3.00pm Richmond Theatre, Richmond
22 May 3.00pm Churchill Theatre, Bromley