What was your biggest fashion mistake?
Lots of outfits I’ve worn on Strictly Come Dancing for a start! I remember having a pair of tight drainpipe jeans back in the day when people weren’t wearing tight jeans and a pair of high tops trying to looking cool. I looked like a complete eijit. It was absolutely ridiculous, so they didn’t last more than about five minutes.
I tend to go for style over fashion. I am a classicist when it comes to clothes. And I love a Panama hat. It’s my signature item. I always wear one on holiday and I have quite a collection of them now. I invariably forget to take one in the rush of going away and so I buy a new one locally wherever I am. I have so many variations of straw Panamas!
What was your childhood ambition?
When a youngster I wanted to be a footballer. But we all did in the 1970s. When I was a child at school everyone played soccer. It sounds a bit cliched, but back then, football wasn’t like it was now, with players driving expensive supercars at 20 years old.
In the old days, it was a different game. I wanted to play football for England, and be a cricketer too. Then I started dancing at 13 and that was that. That became my dream.
World Cup memories
How do you feel about getting older?
The year I turned 50 (2017) was quite something. It was an incredible time. I wasn’t looking forward to my birthday, I can’t deny it, but I tried to embrace it. These milestones always arrive so much quicker than you expect.
Then we had the babies (Anton has twins, George and Henrietta, aged two-and-a-half). I must admit I wasn’t massively into children before I had my own but now, I think I must be the most besotted Dad of all time. Then my wife Hannah (Summers) and I got married at the same time too.
So you could say it was actually the best year of my life and the best things that had ever happened to me. Then straight after that I wrote my first novel so it was pretty amazing turning 50.
What was your worst telling-off for?
As a child, as you can imagine, I was naughty and I used to get scolded all the time but I remember getting my first ever grown up telling off, when I first started work. I was about 16 and got a job in a components factory in Sevenoaks in Kent where I lived, and I got a ticking off for being a bit of a useless kid. It wasn’t my mum and dad or a teacher and I no longer felt protected.So it was my first taste of the real world in a male environment.
Everyone at the factory knew and I was humiliated. I think I went into a corner somewhere and burst into tears and got mocked for that too. The guys would say, Here he comes, he’s going to rust the components. Today, it would considered workplace bullying! I did learn from it and I bucked up but not that much, I only lasted nine months in the job and then I got fired and then went to work in a bakery for four years. I still remember those feelings now though. That telling off was quite a shock to the system!
Train or car?
A car definitely. I drive a lot and I prefer to do it myself rather than have a driver, funnily enough. I’ve just got a four-door Mercedes CLK at the moment. Most of the cars I had in my life lasted until the MOT ran out and they had to go for scrap because they would never have passed the MOT, they were so old. There was always a can of WD40 in the boot and spark plugs, they were always breaking down.
This one has a big boot which is good for all my gear - I am always doing shows - and going from one place to another so it’s good to have a decent motor, and one that I can rely on. Having a car is part of my business and being me, and what I do. And it’s important that it’s something I don’t need to worry about.
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When and where were you happiest?
Being at home with Hannah and the babies is the best time for me. I am away a lot touring a lot and so precious time in west Buckinghamshire, playing in the garden with them, is really special. We moved house about 18 months ago and we have a beautiful garden. We go on lovely holidays, of course, but when it is just the four of us, that’s what I love that more than anything else.
My favourite times of the day is when we wake up in the morning, the twins are always so excited, and then bathtime, when we have running around, playing around, nappy off time. Then we read a book or three, and then we go to bed. It is just the most perfect time. Family is everything.
When did you last cry?
When I rang my mum and told her that George and Henrietta had been born. That is the last time I really cried. And then, when I got married. When they said, Do you take this woman? And you have to repeat the vows. I found it a bit difficult and I had a few tears then.
Since I became a Dad, I am much more emotional than I used to be. I well up at the drop of a hat. Anything that makes me think of them, even listening to a song. I was driving home in the car the other day, and Perry Como came on the radio singing And I Love You So, and it made me blub. It’s ridiculous isn’t it?
What/who makes you laugh?
Kenneth Williams makes me laugh out loud. I’ve been watching some of his old interviews recently. He was just so funny and such a brilliant raconteur as was Peter Ustinov, I love those great wits.
And I am a huge Sir Billy Connolly fan. I met him a few times when his wife Pamela Stephenson was a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing (2010) and he is joyous. He is the most brilliant, funny man ever. He doesn’t do gags, he is just hilarious about life with his observations. When my dance partner Erin Boag met Billy at the show, her opening line to him was, I have seen your ****, and he roared with laughter. She meant that she had seen his documentary when he went to the North Pole and he was running around with a pair of boots on and not wearing any clothes. He loved it!
And another man who is naturally funny is Lee Mack. Both Hannah and I love watching him and David Mitchell on BBC’s Would I Lie To You?
How laughter benefits blood pressure, memory & your brain
Who is your best friend?
A pal of mine I’ve known since I was young. We grew up together in Sevenoaks; we lived around the corner from each other. We started dancing at the same dance school at the same time as well. He danced for a few years, and then he stopped and got a proper job as an underwriter in the insurance industry while I carried onto the amateur circuit.
We are still great friends now. We play golf when we get together, and have played golf all over the world in different places, always to around the same score! He got married a few weeks ago, and he and his new wife are godparents to our twins. He often comes to see me perform on Strictly and to my live shows as well. He’s been a wonderful supporter of all the things I’ve been doing over the years which is lovely.
Ten rules of successful friendship
What’s your best tip for a happy marriage?
Have fun! Enjoy yourself. Spoil your partner. You don’t want the relationship to become functional. Your favourite person in the world, you had the great good fortunate of marrying and you get to spend all your time with - what more could you want? Hannah is terrific. We met at a golf course seven-and-a-half years ago. I am so lucky - she is a wonderful combination of being very beautiful, very clever and very funny. I like to spoil her - she likes a cup of tea in the morning, and a glass of champagne at the beginning of the evening, around 5 o’ clock!
I try and take her to lovely things if I can. We had a great day at Ascot this year around her birthday, and at Wimbledon Tennis. Everything is more fun with her.
What did your parents teach you?
To work hard. My mum was a great advocate of it. I never remember her having a day off. She worked as an auxiliary nurse at an old people’s home, my dad worked in a factory, and as a waiter. They were both working class, and came from foreign countries of course; my mum came from Franco’s Spain in the 1950s, and my dad’s Hungarian and escaped from the uprising, and they met in the UK.
There was not much work and so my mum was a nanny for a family, and when that job fell through, she had to find something else to do and she did. She grafted and made a life for herself.
Advice from mums: mother knows best
What piece of advice would you give?
Try and have a positive mindset. Your future is not set, your past is your past, and you are where you are because of what you decided to do previously. But what you end up doing in the future is determined by what you do now. You are your own master.
I understand that life gets in the way, but if you don’t like your job - get another one! If you want to go somewhere, make a decision now about how you are going to get there! You will find you are on a better path than if you do nothing and stay as you are. I have always been the sort of person that thinks that you can eventually do what you like. You can achieve whatever you want to achieve, you just have to focus on it, and have a determination for it, and plough on. I get my determination from my mum.
What makes your heart sink?
Being voted off Strictly! It’s the worst. I get so disappointed. Even if you’ve got a partner who is not very good, and there is a certain inevitability about it, you still hope that somehow you will stay in. If the moment came that I wasn’t bothered about being voted off, then I would know that I didn’t want to do the show anymore. Last year I got booted off (with partner Susannah Constantine) in the first show. That was the worst ever. I spend a long time preparing for Strictly physically and then you get one week. Thank you very much.
But that’s competition. No one has a God given right to go through to the next round. This year (with partner, EastEnders star Emma Barton) is my year. I might have said that before though... Strictly was life-changing for me. I’d been a competitive dancer previously, and the show took my life in a completely different direction which is incredible. I am the last original professional dancer. I love it so much and have an enthusiasm for it which hopefully comes across. I am still great friends with some of my old partners, I play tennis with Judy Murray, and I was at Wimbledon with her this year which is gorgeous. That is a lovely by-product of being on the show - meeting all these great women.
Shirley Ballas - strictly speaking
What’s the book that changed your life?
My debut novel One Enchanted Evening which came out last year and was a bestseller on the Sunday Times list - it was a massive, life-changing thing. It has enabled me to move into writing novels and my second one, the sequel, Moonlight over Mayfair, is set in 1938, and is a continuation of the story around our intrepid hero Raymond du Guise, the ballroom dancer and his troupe of dancers at the glamorous Buckingham Hotel. The feedback has been wonderfully positive. When people love it, that is the big one. People have been asking me when the next one is coming out. I am going to carry on doing them.
Growing up, I read a lot of dance books. One stand out was The Art of Making Dances by Doris Humphrey which I read when I was a young competitor, plying my trade. It was written just before her death in 1958. It's her autobiography in art, a gathering together of her experiences in performance and a practical source book on choreography. Although she was a contemporary dancer on stage, and I was a ballroom dancer, it changed my thinking about the way dance worked. I had been stuck in a rut and she gave me an outside influence and a different perspective from a different world.
Her book was so insightful and made a big difference to me. I still want to learn and I continue to have dance lessons regularly, I will go into the studio because I love working on it. It is important to always improve and grow as a performer.
Who would you invite to a dinner party, alive or dead?
Fred Astaire is my all-time hero; I’d love to pick his brains on dance. I think he’d be a fabulous and also, I’d imagine, quite an unassuming guest. I have always idolised him and thought he was incredible but I liked him even more after I read his memoir Steps in Time. You get the sense that he’s just does what he does, and there is no great science behind it. He simply dances.
Some people, in all walks of life, have this wonderful way of making what they do more complicated than it actually is. They use very elaborate language to describe it, and are slightly more impressed with themselves than they ought to be. And yet Fred Astaire was the polar opposite. Everyone else uses superlative language to describe what he did. He just performed. I love that.
What do you never leave home without?
My reading glasses. Which is slightly irritating. I can’t see anything without them. They have started to deteriorate in the last couple of years. I will get my eyes lasered when they calm down.
Moonlight Over Mayfair by Anton Du Beke is avaible to buy from the Saga Bookshop at a discount