Anton Du Beke

Anton Du Beke

Bright as Buttons

Tina Lofthouse chats to Anton Du Beke as he heads to Richmond Theatre in his panto debut

‘King of ballroom’ Anton Du Beke is feeling festive. Speaking at the launch of Richmond Theatre’s panto Cinderella, the cast are on location at the Petersham Hotel, they’re all dressed in full panto garb and a beautiful glass carriage has pulled up outside. The dancer, who is best known for his role on BC’s Strictly Come Dancing, is delighted to be playing the part of Buttons in his panto debut.

“I’m looking forward to seeing a theatre full of people. We’ve not had a chance to do it very much in recent times,” he says. “I’m really excited about seeing children, and mums and dads, and grannies and grandads all coming together and enjoying the show, and it is going to be a lot of fun.”

Richmond Theatre’s traditional panto will have all the ingredients that make it the perfect festive treat for all ages. “When I was young, I went to see pantomimes and I think it went a bit out of fashion, but now it has come back in again and everyone’s loving this sort of renaissance. There are the new stories but then the enduring ones like Cinderella, which is still everyone’s favourite. And panto is the one show where all generations of a family can all go out to the theatre and enjoy something together.”

“And Richmond and Richmond Theatre are just so beautiful…”

Anton, 55, who lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife businesswoman Hannah Summers and four-year-old twins George and Henrietta, says his family will definitely come to watch. And he’s very much looking forward to not only the panto but to the festive season. “I love Christmas and for me, Christmas is all about being quite traditional. I love the decorations around the house, the turkey and making the whole thing feel very festive. And with the children being young, it really makes it special.”

After the panto, Anton has a busy schedule. He’ll be touring with his dance partner Erin Boag, with whom he has been dancing since 1997, with Showtime, a glittering celebration of dance inspired by performers including Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Charlie Chaplin, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, Liza Minelli, and Elton John. The show will stop at local venues from January until March, including New Wimbledon Theatre, Fairfield Halls, New Victoria Theatre and G Live. He will then have a one-man show going on tour.

“I like being as busy as I can be. I had tried the other option during lockdown, and I didn’t like it very much.”  To that end, he set up some classes and live chats online. “I wanted to make a connection with people, really, because I knew how many were feeling quite isolated during the lockdown. Loneliness was becoming a big problem with people being separated from family and friends. I was doing dance in the morning and a sort of workout in the afternoon, and it became a daily thing – there were the same faces there each time and it was tremendous.”

He’s also a successful novelist – the fourth instalment of his Buckingham series, We’ll Meet Again, has just been released. Described as ‘Downton with dance’, it delves into a world of scandal beneath the glitz and glamour of the ballroom. Anton says he loves the writing process and working on a series of books. “After you’ve done the first one, you have the dilemma of whether you continue with the story, or write something different with another character but I liked the idea of continuing. They are standalone stories within a serial and it’s rather like choreography putting them all together.”

Anton’s interest in dance started at the age of 14 when he was sent to a local dance class in Kent to meet his sister one evening. He loved it and so began his career, with Anton studying ballet, contemporary, jazz and modern theatre dance, before specialising in ballroom. He has taken part in all 14 series of Strictly, and seen him partner a host of celebrities including Esther Rantzen and former MP Ann Widdecombe (the latter of which achieved record viewing figures of over 11m!). So, what have been his career highs so far? “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had so many lovely moments where I’ve met amazing people… spending time with Brucie [Bruce Forsyth] was a great highlight for me. I’ve made an album, written a novel, sung with Gary Barlow, and, of course, being on Strictly. You realise how incredible they are when someone asks you what you have been up to, and you think, ‘I’ve just sung at Ronnie Scott’s,’ which I have always wanted to do. Or you think, ‘I have just danced at Buckingham Palace…’ but I tend to always be looking forwards rather than back. I’m not very good at collecting photos or mementos but I sort of wish that I had kept something…”

Anton Du Beke stars in Cinderella at Richmond Theatre. Tickets from £13.

3 December to 2 January