You can take the judges out of Strictly, but a touch of the dancefloor dazzle always remains. More than a touch of the spray tan too, by the looks of things. Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood have matching mahogany skin today.
Fake, obviously? ‘No, it’s all real, darling,’ says Craig, 56, unzipping a few inches of his tracksuit top to show some bronzed chest. Bruno, 65, goes one step further.
The zip on his tracksuit top (yes, their sportswear is co-ordinated too) gets whipped all the way down, leaving his entire torso on display, complete with six-pack. Blimey.
This answers the question about what he’s been up to in lockdown: Bruno has been in the gym.
Bruno Tonioli, 65 and Craig Revel Horwood, 56, (pictured) who both live in London, have teamed up for ITV series, Bruno And Craig’s Great British Road Trips
Which exotic destinations have furnished them with such tans, though? They list them. ‘We started in Cornwall, then went to Cheddar Gorge and the Cotswolds,’ says Craig.
‘Then Wales, Snowdonia. Spectacular. We did Portmeirion, where they filmed The Prisoner. There are always groups there, re-enacting scenes from the series. Bruno didn’t have a clue what was going on.’
Bruno nods. Portmeirion, with its eclectic architecture, is so other-worldly he wondered if someone had spiked his tea.
‘I thought I was on a trip,’ he cackles, ‘like I was having an out-of-body experience.’
From there it was off to the Yorkshire Dales via the Lake District. Then Scotland. Bruno goes into raptures at this point. His arms are windmills.
‘We went to Loch Lomond. Have you been? It’s spectacular. It’s like Lago Maggiore in Italy.’ With more midges? ‘Yes, but we were very lucky with the weather,’ says Craig. ‘Apart from a few downpours it was wonderful.’
Just what is going on here? Well, Craig and Bruno – an Aussie and an Italian – have been on the ultimate British road trip.
They’re not going to both be on Strictly this year (Bruno’s being replaced on the judging panel by Anton Du Beke due to Covid commuting issues from his commitments in LA), but they are enjoying another form of togetherness: their first standalone TV show.
Bruno and Craig (pictured) spent a month in a mini to film their six-part series exploring the British countryside
The Strictly stalwarts may be national treasures in their adoptive homeland (Bruno moved to London in the 70s, while Craig has been living here since 1989), but their showbiz schedules have never really allowed them time to explore the British countryside. They’ve certainly never considered doing it together, cooped up in a Mini.
Lockdown has hurled us all into new worlds, however. Stripped of their usual inter-Strictly work regimes (theatre and choreography work mostly), the two decided to pair up for a freestyle TV venture.
With the cameras rolling, they packed their bags (they have a lot of them: Craig turns up for our photoshoot today with about seven) and headed off to find adventure. And ice cream.
The end result is a six-part ITV series, Bruno And Craig’s Great British Road Trips, which is part travelogue, part Top Gear.
Whoever thought to turn these two into a roving double act may well be a genius. Outside the Strictly studio they’re less Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and more like, well… ‘Craig is like Hyacinth Bucket,’ says Bruno.
‘And he says I’m Joan Crawford, at peak Mommie Dearest.’
Spending an hour in their company is a bit like being the referee at a ping pong match. The banter is fast and they’re both kings of the cutting putdown.
They spent a month together in a Mini, though, so how come they didn’t drive over a cliff? ‘Oh, I was tempted, darling,’ says Craig.
‘We had eight hours a day together, in the car, plus breakfasts and dinners. A lot of marriages wouldn’t survive that.’ Bruno purses his lips. ‘I nearly killed him.’
Craig said it’s about time feathers have been ruffled at the BBC, as Bruno reveals they aren’t contracted to the channel. Pictured: The pair on the new series
They shared the driving. Suffice to say they have very different driving styles. ‘Chalk and cheese,’ says Craig, rolling his eyes.
He, it seems, is a careful driver, mindful of speed limits and safety, particularly on mountain routes with sheer drops. Bruno, the accusation goes, drives like an Italian, although he objects to Craig’s criticisms.
‘A lot of the roads were difficult – hairpin bends – but I had Craig jabbering away saying, “Watch out!” It was like having your mother-in-law in the car with you.’
It was clearly fun, though. ‘It was hil-ar-i-ous,’ admits Craig. ‘We just laughed and laughed.’
They laughed about Craig’s face (‘I’m not the sort to say, “You look wonderful,”’ says Bruno. ‘I’ll say, “Is that a spot?” or “Have you thought of surgery?”’). Also about Bruno’s new silver fox look. He’s let his hair go grey in lockdown, while Craig is still maintaining that his dark locks are 100 per cent natural.
They particularly laughed one day when they had to wear wetsuits, and got changed in a car park in the Lake District. Bruno says bystanders would have been treated to more than an eyeful.
‘I didn’t realise the cameras were still on and I just stripped off and walked across the car park in my knickers. But I don’t think they’ll show that.’ Craig raises an eyebrow. ‘They will show that.’
It’s an interesting departure in all senses.
These two always were the lynchpins of Strictly. Craig is the only judge who’s appeared in every episode since the show began, and while Bruno only appeared remotely last year as he had to remain in America for Dancing With The Stars, the US version of the show that films in LA at the same time, he was very much a part of the Strictly furniture.
Craig is the only judge on Strictly who has appeared in every episode since the show began. Pictured: Craig with Motsi Mabuse and Shirley Ballas on last year’s Strictly
He admits he actually liked appearing remotely. ‘I got to watch the show!’ he says. ‘Usually I have to dash off, but this time I got to see everything.’
Are itchy feet in evidence with both of them, though? This year we’ve also seen Craig do other TV work (notably The Masked Dancer), and Bruno admits that a non-Strictly documentary series had been in the pipeline for some time. During lockdown Craig also found himself with more time on his hands, and the two got talking.
‘We’ve been friends for a long time,’ Craig explains.
‘We’ll go out for dinner or to see a show, but because of Bruno’s commuting we don’t get to hang out together much on Strictly. So the idea of filming something together, something a bit different, was appealing.’
Craig originally hoped his classic car, a Triumph Stag (pictured), would be the star of the show
Bruno’s original idea for the series revolved around cars. They’re part of his DNA, he says.
‘My father was a mechanic. During the day he’d work on buses and in the evenings he’d do cars. I saw my first Ferrari in the garage where he worked.’ He also saw his first Maserati because of his mother.
‘She was a seamstress, but she did upholstery for the cars too. I’m Italian, I love cars.’
Craig is also a bit of a car buff. He’d originally hoped the star of the show would be his own classic car, a Triumph Stag which has quite a history. It once belonged to a friend called Amber, who died when she was 41.
Her husband put the car (‘a rust bucket’, says Craig) up for sale to pay for a headstone and a memorial bench, and Craig bought it even though he couldn’t drive.
Since then he’s learned – and restored the Stag to its former glory. ‘I thought we might use it, but Bruno didn’t think it was reliable.’
Craig has four other cars and introduces them as if they’re his children. His newest is electric – a Tesla Model 3. Then there’s a Ford Fiesta (‘a runaround for the PA’), a shiny blue pick-up truck and a ‘practical Hyundai seven-seater where I can pack people in’.
Bruno, by contrast, only has one car, a Mercedes SLR. ‘But it cost £100,000,’ Craig points out.
Preposterously, he barely drives it because much of his life is in LA. ‘I’ve only done 3,000 miles in it in five years,’ says Bruno.
The format – highlighting the staycation idea that’s so relevant at the moment, as well as the motoring aspect – appealed. This series isn’t Top Gear Goes Camp, though (the look on their faces when I ask which of them is Jeremy Clarkson – ‘We’re both way too pretty for that,’ says Craig). It’s more about the journey, and the bromance.
Since returning from their trip they now swap more texts and messages. Should their respective partners be worried? Was there ever a hint of a romance be-tween them? They fall about laughing.
‘We’ve talked about that but no, we’d have killed each other,’ says Craig.
‘This was the first time we’ve spent so much time together. We were like an old married couple by the end. Bickering.’
Bruno lets slip he doesn’t actually have a partner at the moment (‘and if I did I wouldn’t talk about it because I like to keep things private’). Craig has always been more vocal about his love life.
He’d been planning to marry partner Jonathan Myring this year, but the wedding’s on hold until 2023. ‘It’s the first booking we could get. It’s a nightmare. You can’t even hire a marquee.’
Never mind that. Has he sorted a best man? Bruno would look very dapper. There’s more eye-rolling.
‘I have to work out if you’re worth spending £250 on, because that’s what it is a head,’ Craig tells Bruno.
‘I hate weddings,’ says Bruno, doing his best Joan Crawford impression. ‘All these people pretending to like each other, then being bitchy about each other.’
Interestingly, the new series is an ITV production. Has that ruffled feathers at the BBC? If it has, they don’t care.
‘It’s about time that happened because the BBC have been using ITV talent,’ says Craig. Bruno adds, ‘We aren’t contracted to the BBC. We’re gypsies. We just want to do exciting new stuff.’
You can detect some wanderlust here. Bruno stresses that even before the decision about this year’s line-up was made he’d wanted to do things other than Strictly, to show another side of himself.
‘We play roles on Strictly,’ he says.
‘This is different because it’s us, just us. There’s more to us than Strictly. And yes I do want to do other things. You should never limit yourself, or let other people limit you. You’re never too old, too young, too fat. If you have a passion, pursue it!’
Could there be a hint of midlife crisis involved in this particular adventure, though? They go wild swimming, and Craig gets very wet during a fishing jaunt in Cornwall. Bruno is still laughing about this one.
‘He said, “Let’s go out on a boat”, and it was a lovely day, but as soon as the boat was out the rain was torrential and the waves were 20ft high. Craig was soaked, but clinging on. He was like Celine Dion on the Titanic.’
I think he means Kate Winslet, but no matter, we get the gist. So midlife crisis then? ‘Darling, that was 20 years ago,’ says Craig. ‘We’re more into the HRT years.’
Pictured: The colourful village of Portmeirion in Wales
So it’s a Bruno-free Strictly this year. He tells Craig, ‘I will miss you all’, but admits having Anton take his place is the right call. He explains he’s contractually obliged to do Dancing With The Stars, so Strictly has to be sacrificed.
‘I’m gutted, but Anton is Mr Strictly and if anybody has to fill in for me, it has to be him.’ Then he makes a very Bruno-esque comment about him being excited to see Anton ‘waggle his paddle’.
And what did the other judges – Motsi Mabuse and Shirley Ballas – think of these two going freestyle with the new travel series? ‘We haven’t told them!’ says Bruno.
You mean they didn’t get an invite to grab a picnic basket and come along for the ride? ‘No room in the car!’ says Craig. ‘Too much baggage, darling.’
Bruno And Craig’s Great British Road Trips will be shown later this month on ITV.