Anton du Beke interview: Ballroom Blitz
Now, we're standing outside in swirling rain that makes an umbrella pointless, and instead of shaking hands and walking off in opposite directions – as interviews usually end – Anton is grilling me about where I'm going next. "So what direction are you heading?" he asks.
"That way," I point in the direction opposite to where we've come from.
"Why are you going that way?" he asks. He's like that too.
I don't know I tell him. Usually once an interview is over I just walk away purposefully, even if five minutes later I have to walk back the other way, sheepishly retracing my steps to get to the tube station. I tell him this too. "Well, you can walk with me along this way and then you'll go over London Bridge, you've got some time before your flight (this was information he'd extracted earlier), so you should head to Harrods and treat yourself before you fly home." But I don't want to go to Harrods, I tell him. I'm working. He gives me a du Beke grin and says, "Of course you do."
You probably already know that Anton du Beke is cheeky and charming. He is. You also probably know that he's dapper. He is. He's dressed down in jeans, a striped shirt and a blazer, but he's pristine. The jeans don't have a crease down the front, but they might as well. Casual Anton du Beke is not. Bossy, yes he is rather. And very, very familiar. That's why you end up telling him things you didn't intend to tell him. And then you get sent to Harrods to do some shopping when you don't want to buy anything.
Strictly Come Dancing brought Anton du Beke to public attention – he's danced in every series since it began. But there's something about him (that grin? those gags?) that has seen him shimmy beyond the sequins and land himself a daytime cookery show of his own, Step Up to the Plate, which he says he's "enjoying enormously", and a role as silver-suited team captain alongside Strictly alumni Darren Gough on the bizarre pre-Strictly show, Hole in the Wall. There's even talk – aided by the double acts and a certain similarity of chin – that Anton could be the successor to Bruce Forsyth. "What a lovely thought. What a lovely thought," he says as if he's thinking of it for the first time. "It's a lovely thing for people to say, but to have half the talent that Bruce has got. He's amazing."
Well you've got plenty time, I offer. I mean Forsyth's 80 and you're only about half that, so you must have twice as long to get there.
"More than twice," he says. Hilariously, he won't confirm his age, which is why I guessed. I can tell he thinks I'm very cheeky when I laugh. I tell him I think he's 42, but he's not telling.
Du Beke may be self-effacing about the comparisons with Bruce Forsyth, but do his ambitions lie in that direction?
"They don't lie in any direction," he says. "The worst question is where do you see yourself in five years? I don't know. Variety is the spice of life. That's the best way to describe it. I want to do lots of exciting, varied, interesting things. That's what I want to do."
And that's what he's done before. Du Beke grew up in Sevenoaks in Kent, the son of a Spanish mother and a Hungarian father. He started dancing when he was 14. His parents, neither of whom danced, weren't surprised; he says they were just glad he was doing something. Was he the only boy in the class? "Pretty much," he shrugs. "There were only one or two and a whole class full of girls. Thank you very much."
So du Beke trained and competed, learned his craft and travelled all over the country to take part in dance contests. And then what happened?
"Nothing happened," he says instantly. "Then Strictly happened." But – sorry I don't mean to harp on about age – but there must have been quite a gap between beginning to dance competitively at 18 and the reinvention of ballroom heralded by the arrival of Bruce and Tess down their sparkly staircases?
"You spend your life having lessons, practising and competing as an amateur and working during the day. As you get to the top end of the amateur field you try not to work anymore, you earn your living through dancing, maybe by doing a bit of teaching. It's an ongoing life's work."
Here's a funny thing about Anton. As well as everything else, he's really quite earnest. As fast as he traverses a dancefloor, seriousness can sweep over him. At one point, on the back of one of his silly jokes, I ask him if he's always been happy.
"No. Not really," he says and I feel like I've just misstepped, stomping on one of his shiny, patent dancing shoes. "It's been difficult. I've had tough times. You're never sure whether you're doing the right thing – you've not got any money, no proper job. I'd invested everything in being a dancer and I was doing s***e. I'd be travelling around the country, competing and not winning. Eventually you get better, eventually it gets easier but it's been tricky."
I wait for the smirk, but it doesn't come. He's completely serious. Strictly Come Dancing may seem to have been around forever but of course it hasn't. And du Beke, like all the other professional dancers on the programme, has been dancing since he was a child; and while he was taking classes in ballet, modern and jazz dancing, he was bringing in the cash, working in jobs that were, well, hardly where his heart lay.
"I worked as an interior designer. I worked as a furniture salesman. I worked as a financial adviser," he says. "I worked as a painter and decorator – that wasn't for very long. I was a baker for about four-and-a-half years."
What was your favourite, I hear myself ask as though I'm channeling Mr Forsyth. "Dancing," he deadpans straight back at me. "The problem with painting and decorating is that you'd think it could be quite a glamorous job – you start off with the room, you decorate it then you stand back and look at your wonderful work, your skill. But people do all that themselves. What they want you to do is paint the outside toilet. Or paint their cellar or their windows. S*** jobs. I didn't want to do those. I wanted a bit of gold-leafing. Would you paint the fence round my garden? No. How about I do some stippling in your living room?"
So Strictly Come Dancing has changed your life?
"It's a wonderful thing," he says. "I enjoy the whole experience. You've got to understand that you can get as much or as little from Strictly as you want – as a celebrity or as a professional. It's up to you. I guess you could say that about life really. For me it's a really wonderful experience.
"You find a lot out about yourself during the programme. You find yourself dealing with a lot of different scenarios and situations, unfamiliar ones. And the professionals have to deal with those – we have to help our partners."
In his Strictly career, du Beke has danced with Lesley Garrett, Esther Rantzen, Patsy Palmer, Jan Ravens, Kate Garraway and last year Gillian Taylforth. To be fair, none of them has exactly torn up the floor, but that's not done Anton any harm and his partners have certainly loved him. Lesley Garrett said that "every woman should have half an hour with Anton" and Esther Rantzen seemed to completely transform during the weeks she danced with him. You changed Esther Rantzen's life I tell him.
"Oh I don't know about that," he says. With the dancing, I mean. "Oh I don't know about that either. Did you see her dance? Changed my life," he hams.
"I've had a lovely run of girls," he adds, with the charm of a light entertainment superstar in the making. "Esther is clever and funny. She was struggling a bit before we got together and hopefully she came out of it feeling happier or a bit more positive. Wonderful."
More positive, yes, but no spot in the final was waiting. In fact, for a man who loved dancing from the moment he got serious about it because of the competition ("It spurs you on to be better") he's not exactly got an illustrious record. Are you too nice, I ask. I mean, would a bit more bad boy Brendan-style behaviour help Anton and his partner last longer?
"I do drive them," he says munching his panetone with menace. "Driving them is not about shouting though or being unpleasant. Driving is about knowing what you've got in front of you and knowing how far you can push. I always think you get more from people if they're having a lovely time because then they want to be there. I don't want anyone to dread coming into the studio.
"It's very important to know what you're dealing with and I think that's my skill actually. Find a better way, that's my motto. Actually I've got a lot of mottos, so I'd better say it's one of my mottos. Find a better way," he says.
So how did he feel about going out of Strictly in the first week? "Completely gutted," he says. "After that, I would just turn up, do a dance and leave. You could do that in your sleep. That's not the special bit of Strictly for me. It's the experience of going through it with somebody."
Away from learner celebrities, du Beke has danced with Erin Boag (who partnered Austin Healey in the last series of the BBC1 show) for more than 11 years. "Erin's a different character to me, which is good," he says. "That makes us good partners. She's more organised than me. She gets stuff done. She makes decisions. She's better at all that than me."
Du Beke and Boag no longer compete but they're about to tour with a live show called Anton and Erin: Cheek to Cheek. "It's going to be a proper old lush show," he says. "There'll be nothing about it that's Strictly – no judges, no celebrities doing their best. It's going to be Erin and I doing what we do. We're going to have a wonderful orchestra, a wonderful singer and there's the world champion salsa dancers, Chris Marques and Jackie Spencer. They'll do a couple of latin numbers and we'll do a couple of group dances. I'll be doing a bit of chat. It's going to be lovely."
Then his phone rings – it's his agent. They talk a little then he hangs up. I tell him that was his get out clause – if he wanted to get away from me, to end the interview, that was his excuse.
"I went out with a girl who did that once," he says smiling. "We went out for dinner and at about half past nine her phone went. She did a little bit of chat and that was the end of it. When she hung up, I said to her 'everything alright? Shall I call you a cab?' "
As it happens she was quite happy, so she stayed. Anton must be too, because his blazer stays neatly folded on the sofa.
As well as his age, Anton usually refuses to talk about whether he's in a relationship or not. For some people that means he must be gay. "I loved all the musicals," he says helpfully. "I should've been gay really, shouldn't I? I loved Barbra Streisand. Shirley Bassey. Seven Brides, Calamity Jane. I'm a gay man trapped in a straight man's body." For others it gave them an excuse to print libelous stories about him and one of his dance partners. For plenty more women, it allows them to pin their fantasies on him. He does have a girlfriend, he says. She's lovely, he says. He doesn't dance with her, but she's taken up social dancing. You're popular with the ladies, I tell him.
"Oh that's nice of you to say. I don't really notice it," he says with a raised eyebrow. "I'm popular with the ladies' mums, I'll give you that much. 'My mum really loves you.' Really?" He feigns disappointment.
Later as we walk outside into the drizzle a blonde woman in her early thirties walks over to us. "Anton," she says as he kisses her on both cheeks, beaming. "This is my mum," she says, "she's a fan." And I can tell by the huge smile on her face, she really is.
"Hello mum," Anton says, giving her a kiss.
"I think you should win, Anton," she says. "Every year I think it'll be your year."
"Oh well, fingers crossed. Lovely to meet you," he says and we walk away, Anton swinging his umbrella as if he's Gene Kelly. We're barely out of ear shot when he says, "I f***ing told you." sm
• Anton and Erin: Cheek to Cheek is at Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall on 11 January at 3pm and 7:30pm. Tickets, 25-35, tel: 0141-353 8000, www.glasgowconcerthalls.com