Anton Du Beke is not a man easily given to emotion. The original and most popular of all the Strictly Come Dancing professionals, he has spent the majority of his life gliding across polished floors smiling serenely despite dislocated toes, agonising back injuries and a horribly dysfunctional upbringing.
‘I cry all the time now,’ Anton Du Beke admits. ‘Even if I’m just thinking about my wife and my kids. I never expected this in my life. I never expected to be a father’
Thirty-odd years ago, Tony Beke – as he was called then – had two jobs, working in the early hours as a baker and in the afternoons selling second-hand furniture. With his jolly banter and impeccable manners, he was a favourite with his customers. They knew he danced (every penny he earned was spent on lessons and costumes) but they had no idea his father was a violent alcoholic who dominated the family home in Sevenoaks, Kent. The young Beke focused everything on the tough regime of capturing the perfect samba, waltz and tango where blood, sweat and tears were masked by wide smiles and the glittering facade of the ballroom.
But now, Du Beke tells me, he can’t stop crying. ‘I was crying this morning in my car listening to Alfie Boe,’ he says. Similarly, during an appearance on ITV’s Loose Women to promote his new novel, Moonlight Over Mayfair, and a Dance Those Magical Movies tour with ballroom partner Erin Boag, Du Beke burst into tears mid-conversation. The reason is simple: he is happy. Du Beke, 53, is happily married to businesswoman Hannah Summers and they have two-year-old twins, George and Henrietta. For a man who has suffered every hardship in life with a smile, his reaction to this new-found contentment is to weep.
‘I cry all the time now,’ he admits. ‘Even if I’m just thinking about my wife and my kids. I never expected this in my life. I never expected to be a father. I’m an old father and at times I do worry about that. I’ll be taking them to school alongside other parents who are young enough to be my kids. But for me it happened at the right time because I met the right woman. Watching my mother play with my children is just the most marvellous feeling in the world. I am a family.’
Du Beke had never wanted to have children but Hannah did. ‘And so that changed it for me,’ he says. ‘I want what Hannah wants.’
But getting pregnant wasn’t straightforward, as Hannah suffers from endometriosis, a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places. ‘It’s not always easy [with endometriosis] and Hannah knew we would have to go through IVF. I just got up and said, “Right, let’s do it,” and started the whole thing going.
‘We had to go through a procedure before we even started. Some women have strong immune systems and they produce these killer cells to fight off what comes into their system so there was a treatment to deal with that. And then on top there’s the IVF itself – the injections, the complications of it. You don’t just walk into a clinic and walk out again. Everyone has different issues to deal with. It’s a long process, it’s very tough and what women have to go through, what my wife went through…’ He stops for a moment, then recovers himself.
‘Look, I’m pretty tough, but to see what a woman will put herself through physically and emotionally is incredible. I felt humbled by it, I felt scared, I felt helpless because I could do nothing except be by her side. You have no control. I felt all that time I was holding dandelion fuzz in my hand and any minute it could either get crushed or fly away, but you have to try to hold on to that fuzz.
‘To think of how my wife handled it with such grace and dignity still makes me cry. I spoke to a woman at the hairdresser’s who went through IVF 14 times and I just could not believe where she got that strength.
Their first attempt with IVF proved successful. ‘And if anything makes you realise how precious your kids are, your family is, it is to live with the idea that it may not become a reality,’ he says. ‘And so that is why anything to do with my kids can make me cry.’
Du Beke has been part of many different families. Aged ten, when he first started dancing, the Holton School of Dancing became his second home. His next, rather dysfunctional family, was the brutal world of dance competitions. ‘You had to be like a piece of granite,’ he says. ‘You had to know every single person in that world and you had to beat them. You all belonged but you could never be friends.’
Since the advent of Strictly Come Dancing in 2004, Du Beke has become part of the Strictly family. ‘Me, Tess [Daly], Craig [Revel Horwood] and Bruno [Tonioli] are the only original members of the team left,’ he says. ‘I don’t know what I will do if any of them go.’
The late Bruce Forsyth was like a father to him. I saw Du Beke shortly after Forsyth died in 2017 and he told me then: ‘Bruce gave me confidence, he gave me support and he gave me a hell of a lot of laughs.’ Forsyth used to joke he was his son because they had the same chin. Du Beke was in the studio when he heard the news. ‘It was the one day the dancing stopped,’ he said.
Du Beke takes his role on the show very seriously. He works incredibly hard and trains every day. ‘I’m older but I don’t think it gets harder to stay in shape because I’m so used to training,’ he says. ‘If anything, I push myself more. I added gymnastics strengthening work to my training last year, and that was very tough but it pushed me further.’
As well as Strictly and his dance show with Erin Boag, next month he embarks on a six-date national tour, An Audience With Anton Du Beke. His novel is his second book and a third is already under discussion. It is a romantic tale of love and dance set in Thirties Britain. Did he have any help writing it? ‘I don’t do the actual typing, but I come up with the ideas, the plot and the characters. So I dictate and another person puts it together. Then I read it and make changes as we go along.’
He asks me what I think of the novel. I tell him it’s not as fascinating as his own life story. He laughs and begins to lightly tap-dance around the issue of his abusive father. ‘I don’t think I’d want to go there,’ he says. ‘I don’t look back. I don’t have any photos from my childhood, I don’t like to define myself by being a product of how I grew up. Poor me, poor me. I’ve never had therapy. Never wanted to, never needed to.
‘It’s true to say there was some chaos in my home life and I wanted order and discipline,’ he says. ‘I was focused. Dance gave me a different vision for everything.’
He will admit the spectre of his Hungarian father, who walked out on the family when he was a teenager, does ‘perhaps’ cast a shadow. His Spanish mother, Ascensión, who had two jobs when he was growing up, is a big part of his life. She is often to be found in the audience at Strictly watching her son and more often at his family home playing with her grandchildren. ‘She was the constant in my life,’ he says. ‘She believed in me and gave me the work ethic I have today. I work hard because I want to provide for my kids but I also want to be with my kids so I drive a lot. I will do a show and drive home. I want to see them. I want to have breakfast with them, even if it means I can’t get dressed properly because I would end up with marmalade prints all over my shirt.’
‘If I’m away, I do endless Facetime. It’s a marvellous invention. I had no relationship with my dad but I want a relationship with my kids. I want to be a good dad and I want to be in their lives for as long as I can.’
Anton Du Beke with wife Hannah Summers and their twins George and Henrietta earlier this year
As far as his Strictly family goes, Du Beke also wants to stay put, and has just been confirmed for the next season. This year he came close to winning the glitterball with EastEnders actress Emma Barton, only to have it snatched away in the finals by Oti Mabuse and Kelvin Fletcher. In the past he was tipped to take over from both Forsyth and former head judge, Len Goodman, but remains one of the pro dance team.
‘I never dreamed as a kid that my life would turn out this way. I have a family, I’m on the best show on TV. I’m just happy to be there and if they want to move me and put me anywhere I’ll do it as long as I’m on the show – just so long as they don’t have me sweeping the floors. That, I don’t think I could do.’
‘Moonlight over Mayfair’ (Zaffre), is out now in paperback, priced £7.99. For tickets to ‘An Audience With Anton Du Beke’ (April 26 to May 6) go to raymondgubbay.co.uk/antondubeke