King of Swing

Anton du Beke is one of the most instantly recognisable figures in the world of Ballroom dance today and is proud to be the only professional dancer to have competed in every series of Strictly Come Dancing since the beginning, in 2004. Anton delights in sharing his passion and enthusiasm for dance – and golf! He plays off a handicap of 5 and takes to the course in various Pro-Ams each year.

Why do you love golf?

The best thing about the game is that you get to play in some of the most beautiful places in the whole world. I really enjoyed playing at Pebble Beach, Kingsbarns and Wentworth. You can play with two people, three or four. Golf is the best sport in the world.

Who are your favourite celebrities to play golf with and why?

Bruce Forsyth was my favourite; I used to love playing with Brucie. I like playing with the ladies, too. I played with Carly Booth in a Pro-Am and also, in the men’s game, I played with Padraig Harrington, when he shot 62, with a bogey! That was the best round I’ve ever seen.

Are there any dance beats that help you to practise your swing?

There was an old teacher, who used to ask, whilst you were dancing a foxtrot, ‘What’s your song, in your head?’ A foxtrot is basically a feather step, which is essentially three steps in a straight line for the man going forwards and the lady going backwards. First step’s in line with the partner, second step is forward and the third step is outside the lady’s left foot, man’s right foot. Three steps, over four beats of music. You have to measure your timing over those four beats. The rhythm is slow, quick, quick, so slow consists of two beats and a quick is one beat. He used to use this expression: ‘Measure your slow, and away you go!’ That used to take four beats. When I’m playing golf, I often think of this. For me, it’s always been about rhythm and this is a very good way of getting good rhythm, especially in competitions, when you’re under pressure.

Are there different rhythms for different clubs?

No, you’ve got to keep them all the same! There’s a wonderful video of Jack Nicklaus hitting four different clubs and if you slow them down, the timing of his takeaway and impact on all four clubs, timing-wise, is exactly the same, from a driver to a pitching wedge.

You met your wife at a golf club. Did you fall in love with her because she played golf?

We met in the ballroom at Wentworth after a round of golf. It was the BA golf day and in the evening they had a big do. She was already in there sitting on a big round table and I was sat next to a fella she arrived with. I remember seeing her across the table and thinking, ‘She’s alright!’ I found out later that she wasn’t with this fella, they were pals, so I made an effort to chat to her as the evening wore on and the rest is history. I did ask her to dance, and I never dance at these things, ever! Tony Hadley was singing ‘Gold’ and I asked her to dance and she said no, so I was turned down! I thought, ‘She’ll do for me!’ We have two-year-old twins now – a boy and a girl – and it’s the best thing in the world. I love every second of it.

As well as ballroom dancing, do you enjoy clubbing?

No. I don’t enjoy free style. I like to do choreography. My wife and I have a difference of opinion about dance, because she likes to do dramatic moves and freestyle and she likes a bit of house music and Ibiza. I’m not really into that. I prefer the Hammersmith Palais.

What’s the secret to your longevity on Strictly?

I still, even now, have lessons. I’m trying to find a new classical singing teacher, because I want to work on the technique. When I finish a tour I contact my teachers spend the summer getting myself back into a great technical place so that my form is good when we start the show. On Strictly, you’re partnering people who can’t dance, so it’s very easy to end up dancing with them as though you’re their teacher. You have to keep good form. I’ve always wanted to ensure I’m the best I can be.

How many more years do you have on Strictly and when will you be the Head Judge?

I don’t know. The trouble is there aren’t any chairs available at the moment! If they made a chair available, then I’d do it! Len Goodman was my favourite judge. He has a great charm.

What would it mean to you to win and lift the Glitterball trophy?

The problem is, I’d have nothing more to strive for in life, so I hope I don’t win until the very end! This could be my year. I’m hoping for a nice bendy one that I can flash around, like Carly Booth!

How do you keep fit?

The show keeps you fit – and then you’ve got to rest. I’ve been very blessed with my body, in that it hasn’t broken down. I’ve not had a dodgy back, or my knee hasn’t been a bit funny, or my ankle swells. I’ve had a perfect body for the job I’ve wanted to do. I’ve seen great dancers have to retire early because they were born with a weakness. I go to the gym, but not while I’m touring. I work with my personal trainer, a South African lady, who used to be a dancer. She’s great. During Strictly, you’re in the studio all day, every day, with your partner.

You always look so sharp and even wear formal attire when training. Why is that?

When I started dancing, you wouldn’t have a lesson or practise without a shirt and a tie on; you just wouldn’t be let in the studio, so for me it was normal. Before my time, they used to dance in a jacket! It’s like practising golf really. You wouldn’t practise with a Persimmon driver and a balata ball and then go out with a Pro V1 and a new TaylorMade M5, because you hadn’t practised with it. For me, I couldn’t dance in a T-shirt and tracky bottoms and then turn up and put tails on. It would be alien to me. The shirt and tie feels more like the bib and tucker and immediately you feel proper. If I had a lesson tomorrow, I’d turn up in a shirt and tie.

What were you like as a young ballroom competitor?

I was an absolute lunatic. I don’t know anybody that was a more fierce, angry, slightly mental competitor than me. There are lots of people who are competitive. At these major championships, such as in Blackpool, you would go to the Emperor’s Ballroom in May, for the festival, and hundreds and hundreds of couples would turn up for the week-long festival, with pros, amateurs and seniors. It’s like the world turns up and the good ones are fiercely competitive. It’s staggering when I think back. You practise every day, as much as you can.

Tell us about your debut novel, One Enchanted Evening.

It’s the story of my life really, without it being autobiographical. It’s all the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been, set in a time I find fascinating: the 30s. I set it in ’36 in the lead up to the Second World War. I wanted real-life people and events to wander through history. It’s based in a swanky London hotel with a grand ballroom. I’m working on a new book, coming out in October, which is the sequel.

Who would you want to play the leading role if it was made into a movie?

Who would I like to play Raymond? I think he’s a bit of a mix of people I used to know when I was competing and those I’ve seen in movies: swarthy, charismatic, handsome, sophisticated. Apart from me, I’m struggling! When I was writing it, I saw myself. Maybe someone angry, like Colin Farrell!

September 21, 2020 9:04 am

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