‘I knew that if I were to have chil­dren it would be be­cause I had found the one I wanted to be with for the rest of my life’

The star of BBC’s Strictly Come Danc­ing, An­ton du Beke, talks about love, mar­riage, IVF ba­bies, his new novel and dodg­ing the dreaded Strictly curse, with

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - INTERVIEW - Ju­lia Molony

An­ton du Beke tucks into his eggs Bene­dict (sauce on the side) and his Amer­i­cano (milk on the side) over break­fast in Lon­don’s Lang­ham ho­tel with the gusto of a man who has been up do­ing the Paso Doble since dawn.

He hasn’t, though. At least not this morn­ing. He’s on promo duty to­day. Hav­ing been held up do­ing a ra­dio in­ter­view across the road at the BBC, he glides into a restau­rant booth and launches into chat­ter with barely a pause for breath, all friendly charm and be­fore-the-wa­ter­shed ban­ter. He cuts a strik­ing fig­ure, with the grace of Fred As­taire, the grin of a Cheshire cat, and the con­ver­sa­tional man­ner of a Lon­don cab­bie.

Strictly Come Danc­ing’s long­est-serv­ing pro­fes­sional dancer (he’s been on the BBC show since se­ries one) has writ­ten a book. Not a highly un­usual prospect for a man who found na­tional fame on a prime-time re­al­ity TV con­test, granted. Ex­cept this one is not a celebrity mem­oir but a novel, and a rather good one at that. One En­chanted Evening is a nos­tal­gic flight of fancy set in the 1930s. The cen­tre of the ac­tion is the daz­zling ball­room of a five-star ho­tel.

If I was sur­prised that the star, who to date is ar­guably best-known for lead­ing for­mer Tory MP Ann Wid­de­combe in a calami­tous samba live on tele­vi­sion, would be so deft at writ­ing fic­tion, per­haps I shouldn’t have been. Du Beke is a multi-tasker and a grafter who, out­side of the world of dance, al­ready has a rather suc­cess­ful side-ca­reer as a singer. And, as he ex­plains, he didn’t rise to the top of the cut-throat world of pro­fes­sional ball­room danc­ing by do­ing things by halves.

“I wanted the novel to be the best it could be,” he says. “I don’t want to just give it a bit of this and that. It says ‘An­ton du Beke’ on the front and some­one says, ‘Oh I’ll go and buy that and read it’ and it’s ter­ri­ble. I want it to be great. I want to do this prop­erly.”

And so he tack­led it the way he tack­les ev­ery­thing, with full-on fo­cus. “I spent my life do­ing les­sons, so I’m very good at tak­ing crit­i­cism and tak­ing ad­vice,” he says. “And seek­ing it out. I’ ll go and find the best peo­ple to ask, how do I do this? How did you do this? I’m al­ways in­trigued by peo­ple’s process. It doesn’t mat­ter who it is... dancers, singers.”

Not only that, he’s fa­mil­iar and com­fort­able with be­ing the one play­ing catch-up in a new dis­ci­pline. Du Beke came to danc­ing rel­a­tively late — he was in his teens be­fore he started and soon found him­self in the open cir­cuit danc­ing “against all these kids, and they were amaz­ing while I was still plod­ding around the floor, do­ing my best. But I was fiercely de­ter­mined, sort of a bit men­tal”.

There had been no real cul­ture of dance at home when he was grow­ing up in Kent, raised in mod­est cir­cum­stances by his Hun­gar­ian fa­ther and Span­ish mother. His par­ents were fu­ri­ously hard-work­ing im­mi­grants who taught him the im­por­tance of ef­fort. “My par­ents, they came to the UK with noth­ing,” he says. “My fa­ther es­caped from Hun­gary dur­ing the upris­ing and my mother came to Eng­land dur­ing Franco’s time, so the one thing they didn’t want to do was waste money. They didn’t have any money to waste. They had two jobs, both of them. That’s the one thing I got more than any­thing else, cer­tainly from my mum, is work ethic. My mum al­ways says now, ‘How’s it go­ing? Are you work­ing hard?’”

The an­swer, in­vari­ably, is yes. At 52, he’s the most se­nior dancer amongst the pro­fes­sion­als on Strictly Come Danc­ing but also prob­a­bly the busiest, what with the writ­ing and the singing on the side.

This year, he was part­nered with Su­san­nah Con­stan­tine and the pair were voted off in the first round of the com­pe­ti­tion. Ru­mours abounded that after a run of early elim­i­na­tions, he might be fed up and ready to quit. No chance he says. “I don’t know where that came from — that wasn’t even some­thing I said in a hissy fit. No no.”

Strictly Come Danc­ing, he says, has been “the bless­ing of all bless­ings, re­ally”. “For any­body in­volved in the show, it’s been the great­est thing that has hap­pened to any of us, I think.”

The idea for his book, One En­chanted Evening, came from the sto­ries he heard when he was ris­ing up the ranks in the world of com­pet­i­tive dance. “I had a won­der­ful teacher. He was a gen­tle­man of a cer­tain age when I was hav­ing les­sons from him, and he would tell me won­der­ful sto­ries of peo­ple he grew up watch­ing in an ear­lier era. These peo­ple in my mind be­came gods. Won­der­ful per­son­al­i­ties that seemed ro­man­tic and fas­ci­nat­ing, and of a dif­fer­ent time.

“I’m a big fan of things like Poirot and stuff. I grew up with Up­stairs Down­stairs as a child. I love Down­ton Abbey. I love that sort of thing. Ev­ery­one dresses prop­erly and we all speak nicely, and thank you very much, and ev­ery­one has their po­si­tion. Life had more of a struc­ture in those days. Whether it was right or wrong is a dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tion, but it did. And within that, ev­ery­body weaves their own story, their own per­sonal story. It’s not all that it seems to be. Ev­ery­body’s got a bit of a dark se­cret, and I like that.”

The plot takes in a di­verse cast of char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing an Amer­i­can heiress, British aris­toc­racy, work­ing class Ir­ish and Jewish fam­i­lies — a melt­ing-pot that fits with his own per­sonal his­tory. “I’m sort of first-gen­er­a­tion British — I was born here. But we don’t have any other im­me­di­ate fam­ily in the UK.”

How Hun­gar­ian and Span­ish does he feel? “Mas­sively, re­ally. It doesn’t feel like a dis­tant thing for me. Hun­gar­ian and Span­ish is sort of im­me­di­ate for me, be­cause it’s my child­hood. My sum­mer hol­i­days were all spent in Hun­gary or Spain. Most kids over here would have spent the bulk of their hol­i­days kick­ing around the UK and then go­ing away for two weeks. My par­ents used to save up all their an­nual hol­i­day and then we’d go away for the sum­mer.”

There’s some­thing old-fash­ioned and up­right about Du Beke. Among the tabloid-scan­dal pro­duc­tion line that is Strictly Come Danc­ing, its long his­tory of ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­ity be­tween pro­fes­sion­als and con­tes­tants, he has al­ways kept his nose clean. At least as far as we know.

He takes a dim view of the lat­est brouhaha play­ing out in the red-tops when we meet — con­tes­tant Seann Walsh and pro Katya Jones be­ing papped in a drunken clinch, de­spite the fact that he has, or now had, a girl­friend and she is mar­ried. “I saw Piers Mor­gan yes­ter­day and he was say­ing he in­ter­viewed Ann Wid­de­combe and asked her if I ever suc­cumbed to a heated drunken ex­change. And we didn’t. It doesn’t have to... it doesn’t have to end that way.”

Hav­ing been a bach­e­lor for the long­est time, he fi­nally set­tled down in his mid-for­ties with busi­ness­woman Han­nah Sum­mers, whom he mar­ried last year, shortly after

She’s won­der­ful to be with, I love be­ing with her and I love do­ing stuff with her

they wel­comed twins. “It wasn’t any­thing sin­is­ter,” he says of why it took him so long to get around to mar­riage and par­ent­hood. “I wasn’t a player or any of that old malarkey. I was a dancer, and that’s what I set out to do and be. I had no de­sire, par­tic­u­larly, to have chil­dren. It wasn’t some­thing that I was. I was, you know, get­ting older and stuff, but I wasn’t search­ing for some­body to have chil­dren with — a con­duit for hav­ing chil­dren.

“But what I did know in my mind, was that if I were to have chil­dren, it would be with some­body I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

“We would get mar­ried and have chil­dren be­cause (he’d found) the one I want to be with for the rest of my life, and that was Han­nah. She wanted to have chil­dren, and that’s what we did.”

There were some hur­dles to over­come on the way to par­ent­hood. Han­nah “had mas­sive prob­lems with en­dometrio­sis all her life”, he ex­plains, which is why his twins were con­ceived by IVF. And he’s now a firm be­liever in the im­por­tance of open­ness re­gard­ing fer­til­ity strug­gles. En­dometrio­sis, he says, “is one of those silent things that women go through on their own, which they shouldn’t. I don’t know why they do. They should stand up and talk about it be­cause so many women go through it. It’s a funny old thing, I re­mem­ber when I was com­pet­ing as a dancer, and you look around and you think, ev­ery­body’s got it bet­ter than you. ‘I wish I was more like him’. But ev­ery­body’s got their own demons. And it’s not till much later you find out that he had the same prob­lems you had and he had other prob­lems you didn’t have”.

IVF, he says, was tough, but rather than be­ing a strain on their re­la­tion­ship, it was “quite the op­po­site”. “I just think it was a shared ex­pe­ri­ence. I say shared, but nat­u­rally she does all the work. It just fills you with even more ad­mi­ra­tion for some­body who goes through that. We were for­tu­nate that we got it on the first go, but it’s a mas­sive thing.

“It’s hard for the girls, with the in­jec­tions in the tummy and the back­side and the blood tests ev­ery day. Hard. And so all I can do is just say, ‘Okay, right. What do we need to do?’ I feel like you do that thing where you just pick her up and carry her through. That’s what I felt my job was. There’s noth­ing I can do. I can’t take the in­jec­tions, so what do I do? How can I make this bet­ter? That’s my re­spon­si­bil­ity, that’s my role in this.”

A month after Han­nah gave birth to Ge­orge and Hen­ri­etta, An­ton whisked her away to get mar­ried. “I sort of sprung it on her, I don’t know why. I just had this urge. It was our fifth year of be­ing to­gether and it felt like the mo­ment — ‘to­gether for five years, we’re get­ting mar­ried. We’re go­ing to Clive­den House we’re get­ting mar­ried, I’ve or­gan­ised it. I’ve got six peo­ple com­ing. Af­ter­noon tea, bosh, home’.”

Some brides wouldn’t be thrilled with an am­bush for a wed­ding, but ap­par­ently, Han­nah took it all in her stride. “I did the fox­trot in front of her and she couldn’t re­sist me,” he wise­cracks. “We got en­gaged on Christ­mas Day, we had ba­bies on March 28 and we got mar­ried on April 20. After all, what else is there in life? She didn’t know any of it, apart from hav­ing the ba­bies bit. That one didn’t spring up on her.”

So what con­vinced him that Han­nah was the right woman for him? “She’s very beau­ti­ful, she’s very clever, she’s very funny and she’s very kind.

“There used to be an ex­pres­sion years ago — they’ll do you a good turn be­fore they’ll do you a bad — and she will only ever do nice things. There’s not many peo­ple like that. She’s won­der­fully sup­port­ive of what I do as well. And loves it. She loves to come and see me per­form. So it’s sort of ev­ery­thing. And she’s won­der­ful to be with. I love be­ing with her. I love do­ing stuff with her.”

He’s en­chanted by fa­ther­hood. “It’s the most in­cred­i­ble thing. It’s in­ex­pli­ca­ble. I love ev­ery se­cond of it.”

Will his chil­dren be signed up for dance classes? “I don’t know. They might do. I’d like them to try ev­ery­thing. Ge­orge is won­der­ful. When you put mu­sic on, he starts to do this danc­ing thing and doesn’t look at you, doesn’t show off in front of you. He turns his back to you and starts danc­ing”.

But Du Beke won’t be a pushy dad. “It’s one of those things, isn’t it, where if your child takes an in­ter­est in what you do, then give them to some­one else to teach, be­cause it would be a night­mare if you teach your own chil­dren... I want them to try ev­ery­thing. There’s so much to try.

“And if you do dance, try ev­ery­thing. Don’t just do ball­room danc­ing be­cause I do it. I’ve done it all. I’ve tried it all.”

DOU­BLE ACTS: An­ton du Beke with wife Han­nah Sum­mers, and (right) dance part­ner Erin Boag

One En­chanted Evening, Bon­nier Pub­lish­ing, £18.99

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