By: Millie Fender and Beth Pritchett
Preparing for his address, Anton Du Beke seems somewhat bewildered to be in Durham, as though he doesn’t understand the appeal he holds to an audience of university students.
And yet, Du Beke has garnered more interest than almost any Durham Union event in recent years. Even with deadlines piling up during summative season, people couldn’t pass up the chance to see the Strictly star.
Telling us of his plans for the event, Du Beke makes it clear that he wants the evening to be interactive. “In my experience of these things, which in a university scenario is limited, I find that I’ll start chatting about something and people want to chat about other stuff.”
Social media has become a bigger part of the show because it’s a bigger part of life
Indeed, knowing where to start in interviewing Du Beke is a challenge. The only dancer to feature in all 16 seasons, he is most famous for his esteemed career on Strictly Come Dancing, but we worry he might find yet another Strictly-centred interview tiresome.
His love for Strictly becomes apparent, however, the second we touch upon it. “The popularity of the show just grows and grows, introducing new audiences” he remarks, highlighting that we, and everyone at the Union tonight, are too young to remember the first season.
When asked what he thinks the secret behind the show’s enduring success might be, he tells us that “it’s a great concept…it’s easy. The premise of the show is the show, there is nothing after it, no great big pot to win at the end, no £50,000 prize, no place in a West End show. It’s not like Love Island where you have continuing fame to try to develop. It’s a bit more like the jungle in I’m A Celebrity. Once it’s done it’s done, and you just enjoy the experience. And that’s how it should be – if there was anything lingering it would take the gloss off it.”
Sometimes someone comes out in a tail suit and you go ‘ooh that’s nice’
Indeed, it’s hard to think of a show more universally loved across the country. Du Beke explains that Strictly’s widespread appeal is a result of its winning format. “You can love it for different reasons […] that’s the joy of the show, that’s the draw of the show […] that’s its charm, and it hasn’t been tampered with really, it’s evolved but it hasn’t been tampered with.”
When asked about Strictly’s shift towards featuring social media stars, such as this year’s YouTuber Joe Sugg, Du Beke highlights that “social media has become a bigger part of the show because it’s a bigger part of life. You can’t ignore it.” But- “the actual integrity of the show remains, and that’s the key.”
“It’s still a show about dancing, we still do the dances the right way, although they evolve over the years, introduce new styles, costuming is still traditional. Sometimes someone comes out in a tail suit and you go ‘ooh that’s nice’.
“I think it’s one of these things you have to be the gatekeeper of really, rather than sort of revolutionary about the whole thing, you just look after it.” He laughs when we suggest that, of everyone involved in the show, it is his name that has become synonymous with Strictly. “I am grateful to have been on it in the beginning…I’m very lucky in that sense.”
Who knows, maybe I’ll make the final one day!
Du Beke’s love for the show shines through when discussing his favourite moments. “A highlight for me always remains the number I did with Brucie on the show. It must have been 8 or 9 years ago. We did a school song- and-dance number and it was my favourite thing ever. I’ve done lots of fabulous things but never anything quite as starry as that.”
With his upright posture and dazzling smile, Du Beke is truly a performer, and it becomes clear that this is his real passion. Given his level of experience, we ask him what it’s like to be assigned dance partners who aren’t quite up to par.
“They are all so wonderful” he remarks. “I mean they’ve not been much good, but they are incredible women.” He mentions his partner from season two, Dame Esther Rantzen. “She is sort of a pioneer of females, of women in telly. All the ladies in television in an elevated position owe a debt of gratitude to Esther Rantzen.”
On Anne Widdecombe: “I just love spending time with her”
Among the many notable women he has danced with, Anne Widdecombe is perhaps the most memorable: “what a fascinating woman, fascinating. I just love spending time with her.” It’s safe to say that his time on Strictly has included many iconic moments of British TV history.
Yet Du Beke’s creativity is not just limited to dancing. Alongside his various performing commitments, he has recently stepped into the world of writing with his debut novel, One Enchanted Evening.
“It was a tremendous process” he recalls. Explaining the premise, he’s keen to emphasise that although “we have a lot of dancing in it, it’s not a story about dancing… when you read it, you don’t feel like you are reading a dancing novel, or any kind of cliché at all.”
You must grow and I want to continue to do that
He laughs when asked about his plans for the future. “I’m very spontaneous. Forget five year plan, you’d be lucky to get a five minute plan.”
However, with a sequel to his book already in the pipeline, and the next season of Strictly in the works, he’s certainly not planning on slowing down any time soon. “I want to continue to push myself, you must grow and I want to continue to do that. And who knows, maybe I’ll make the final one day!”
Photograph via Antondubeke.tv