TO BBC TV Centre in west London late last Friday afternoon for a round table interview with Bruno Tonioli.
Walking past several of this year’s Strictly Come Dancing celebrities and their professional partners as they prepared for that night’s first competitive show.
Dressed in a green V-neck top, blue jeans and brown boots, Bruno gave us over half an hour of his time.
Some of my copy was used in today’s Sunday Express.
But I know dedicated Strictly fans will want to know more.
Because I’m one myself.
So below is a fuller version, followed by Bruno’s rundown on all 14 celebs and then some edited extras from the interview.
Including his views on Strictly romances, Kara Tointon, Gavin Henson, the Dancing With The Stars Michael Bolton row, moving the show to the Albert Hall and a Coronation Street v EastEnders special.
Not forgetting that Claudia Winkleman is back for a new BBC2 series of It Takes Two at 6:30pm tomorrow (Monday) night.
As @bbcstrictly pointed out on Twitter:
“Hope you’ve all realised that from Monday 4th, you’ll see Strictly on your TV every single day, right through until Sat 18th December!”
STRICTLY Come Dancing judge Bruno Tonioli is tipping former MP Ann Widdecombe to quickstep into a new stage career.
“She could be in the West End doing Chicago. She’s very courageous because dance is hard work,” he said.
Ex-Home Office minister Ann, who turns 63 tomorrow, made her Strictly competitive debut with Anton Du Beke last night after admitting she is a little short of a dance disaster.
Winning a standing ovation from the studio audience before taking on the judges.
Bruno told her: “It was like watching the Ark Royal taking on the stormiest of sea. The ride was bumpy but you made it into port.”
The Right Hon contestant is unlikely to take up Bruno’s suggestion to audition for the musical role of Mama Morton, the matron of Cook County Jail, who sings “When You’re Good To Mama.”
But Ann has made clear she will not leave the BBC1 series until voted off, saying former political correspondent John Sergeant was wrong to step down in 2008.
Choreographer Bruno, 54, denied it would be bad for the show if she won, as bookmakers shortened her odds in anticipation of a repeat of Sergeant’s public support.
“We as the judges will score as we see but the public decides. She’s not going to get extra points because she’s Ann Widdecombe. But I’m sure she will embrace the situation.
“I don’t think Ann is a quitter. I don’t think she will walk away. She’ll stay to the bitter end. Maybe she’s going to shut up the judges. She’s very brave.”
Former judge Arlene Phillips described her inclusion as “a joke too far”.
Asked if his ex-colleague should keep quiet about the show, the Italian replied: “I cannot stop people saying what they want to say. It’s up to her. Personally, I wouldn’t, if I left. You have to draw your own conclusion.”
He added: “Could I be replaced? Anything can happen. This is showbusiness. It has happened before, it may happen again. There’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing is guaranteed. This is not a job for life.”
All 14 celebrities perform again next Saturday. The star with the lowest vote will leave in the Sunday results show when the judges’ scores and public phone poll are combined.
Bruno backed the decision to scrap the dance-off and is not worried that he and fellow judges Len Goodman, Alesha Dixon and Craig Revel Horwood no longer have the power to save one of the bottom two.
“Whoever you save, you’re going to upset someone. I personally found it all a bit uncomfortable and I think it’s clearer now.”
Over one million fans applied for audience tickets for the new series with TV bosses changing the set to increase the number of seats available. Strictly will also return to Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom for one show next month.
Flamboyant Bruno thinks an even bigger London home would help meet the demand. “The Albert Hall would be ideal. It represents the nation and there is so much history there. But it’s all to do with budgets.”
While refusing to say if the judges had taken another pay cut this year, he added: “The money goes on the screen. It doesn’t come to us. This year the set looks fabulous. Money has gone into it and it works.
“I’m not under contract with the BBC. I’m not forced to do it. I can always say no. I do it because I like to do it. We all understand that the BBC have limitations and you take it or leave it. We are not doing it for the money.”
TV soap fan Bruno is keeping an eye on Tina O’Brien, who played Weatherfield’s Sarah Platt. She dances with newcomer Jared Murillo.
“I love Coronation Street. I got into it when I first got here, in spite of not being British. The characters are so brilliantly drawn that it makes you understand the country.
“They should do a Coronation Street versus EastEnders special as two teams for charity. Then they can have slanging matches, ‘Get out of my dance floor!’ Can you imagine? It would be really hysterical. Or I’d love to pair Vera Duckworth (Liz Dawn) with Anton next year.”
There is speculation of romance between former EastEnders actress Kara Tointon, 27, and her dance partner Artem Chigvintsev, who Bruno knows from his role as judge on Dancing With The Stars, America’s version of Strictly.
“There’s a thing about the two of them. There is kind of something going on already. I know nothing but they really make a good looking couple. If that kind of spark ignited during the dance, it could be good. It’s like putting two explosives together.”
Both Bruno and head judge Len continue their punishing weekly regime of flying to Los Angeles for the Tuesday night show and then jetting straight back for their Strictly duties.
But the former dancer said he plans to stay under the London glitterball for as long as he is wanted.
“You always say, ‘Why am I doing it?’ If I didn’t do Strictly I would feel guilty. It’s because of this show that I got America. So I would feel very bad and I would hate seeing anybody sitting in my seat.”
Ann Widdecombe: “A big personality. Something that everybody wants to see.”
Gavin Henson: “He’s fit, he’s young, he’s good looking. He hogs that make-up room.”
Felicity Kendal: “If she can apply her knowledge as an actress to the dancing, it would be incredible to watch.”
Goldie: “He’s a musician, so he should have musicality. It should work.”
Pamela Stephenson: “She’s a very hard working lady, very smart. Could be a surprise.”
Peter Shilton: “Question mark. We don’t have a good track record with goalkeepers.”
Kara Tointon: “If Artem’s Russian flair can be translated into her, it could be quite good.”
Michelle Williams: “You expect her to be good. She’s a strong performer. A bit of a tigress.”
Paul Daniels: “Oh dear. Hopefully he’s going to get in touch with his inner magic.”
Scott Maslen: Feisty. Nice EastEnder guy. No messing about. Punch Craig in the face.”
Patsy Kensit: “Sexy girl, good actress. Has to overcome her nerves.”
Tina O’Brien: “She’s a nice girl. Young, fit, good looking. She should be good, in theory.”
Jimi Mistry: “A great performer. He should be very entertaining.”
Matt Baker: “He could be the dark horse. The quiet ones always surprise you.”
1. Was Bruno feeling stressed ahead of Friday night’s show, now just a few hours away?
“No, never. You do a show in front of millions of people and there’s always this sense of butterflies in your stomach. But if I didn’t have it, I would be worried. You can’t take it for granted. We have a responsibility to entertain. To inform and entertain.” (laughs)
“I flew back from America. I got on the plane after the show, which was late on Tuesday night. I landed yesterday and my central heating packed up. It’s always the same, isn’t it? You go away and something happens. Then I had to get my head around this. We’ve got two shows this week, so it’s a big thing. Back to a plane on Sunday and it will continue for the next eight weeks.”
2. Which one does he prefer doing?
“It’s the same, really. It’s actually the same show. The slight difference is the ballroom dances in America are American Smooth, so it’s a bit looser and more creative and more glitzy. While here we’re stricter. We’re doing it on hold all the way through except for, obviously, the American Smooth, which is actually harder. So you pitch it slightly towards the audiences you’re playing to. So the American show is much more Hollywood and here we tend to be stricter. ‘Strictly’ Come Dancing.”
3. Who’s going to be your Michael Bolton in this show? (After controversy in the USA earlier in the week):
“I’m the same with everybody. They know what they’re getting. I have to speak frankly. He’s a great guy. They all are. It’s not a personal thing. I just treat everybody exactly the same. I think that’s the way it plays. If you turn up and do something tragic, you’re going to get it. That’s the nature of the show. If we didn’t do that, it wouldn’t work.”
4. His role in Elton John’s classic I’m Still Standing video, highlighted again in the media earlier in the week:
“Dancing with Elton in the black leotard and the jock strap. I still wear it all the time! No, I’ve always been very comfortable with myself. The thing is, you realise how long ago that was. My God, 1983 and now we are 2010. But I look after myself, I train. Having been a dancer, in my days, when I was a dancer, we used to do company work. You used to do years and years of theatre and you had to go to class every day. So there is this kind of discipline that is within you. So even yesterday, I was exhausted but I forced myself to do a workout. Just because it’s something that is part of who I am. But it is shocking when you see things that are such a long time ago. And thank God we’re still standing, touch wood. But he’s a great guy. Elton is a legend. Such an artist.
5. Is Elton a friend?
“I worked with him again later on as a choreographer. He’s not a pal but he’s somebody who’s always very polite. We always say hello but he’s not like a friend that I see all the time. When you work with people of that calibre, you learn so much from the way you see them doing what they do, working at the top of the profession. I’ve been very lucky in the past to work with other people like that. I’m honoured. Maybe in the future again, who knows?”
6. The new series of Strictly?
“It’s absolutely brilliant. The cast is absolutely brilliant. Great characters, people that could be amazing dancers. We don’t know until we see them. But the line-up is splendid. You couldn’t ask for better. The adrenaline is pumping.”
7. Did he tip Gavin Henson?
“No I didn’t. I didn’t tip anybody. On paper, they all look great as personalities. I can’t really tip anybody until I actually see them do a round of ballroom and Latin. Only then you can say, ‘OK, oh I thought she was good…oh no, she’s not. I thought he was going to be…’ It’s very difficult until you actually see a couple of shows, everybody will get into the feel of it. Even the training, until you actually do it live in front of an audience, you really don’t know how people are going to react. Some people surprise you, some people just don’t live up to expectations, some people collapse into smithereens, some just embrace it. But we have some great performers, that have been around for a long time. Felicity is a great actress. We’ve got some young, fit boys that we really expect a lot from. Some gorgeous girls, plenty to look at. And we all would like that. But you can’t really tell until you see them. I always keep my mind very open.”
8. Athletes always done quite well – a good sign for Gavin Henson?
“They have. But we had Joe Calzaghe last year – terrible. You always say – is he going to be the next Darren Gough? I don’t know. We’ll have to see. But physically he’s fit, he’s young, he’s good looking. Is he going to use it? We’ll have to wait and see?”
9. Could end up being the next Joe Calzaghe?
“Probably. You don’t know. We’ll be waiting. The knives will be there.” (laughs) “He’s fit, he’s competitive, he should do good.”
10. Gavin is not shy of displaying his chest?
“No. He’s more naked than me. But he’s a very good looking young lad, looks after himself. He’s good for the girls. So if he applies the kind of perfectionism that he applies to his image, to the dance, he could be brilliant.”
11. Ann Widdecombe the new John Sergeant?
“But I love that. The thing is, you have to embrace the situation. Obviously some people, you know that they’re not going to be Alesha Dixon, are they? But I think you can make the most of it. I found John incredibly entertaining but you still have to comment on what you see. She’s not going to get extra points because she’s Ann Widdecombe. She will get points for what she does and the comments will reflect what she’s doing. But I’m sure she will embrace the situation. If she has something to say back, she will, which we welcome. It will be interesting. But brave. Very brave.”
12. Would it be bad for the show if she won?
“No, I don’t think so. We as judges will score as we can see. But I’ve always said that this is a show that we do for the public and if the public decides that person is the favourite, that’s why we’re doing it. We’re not doing it for ourselves. We’re just guiding, we’re just giving our impression. And what happens, you engage them, ‘Oh, the judges, they don’t know…’ It’s great. I don’t mind it. It’s absolutely fine.”
13. Judges have lost the power to ultimately save someone:
“We can’t do that. Because they put them in the bottom two, then we have to save one. Whoever we save, ‘Oh, the judges, the judges.’ You can never win in that situation because the bottom two, in a way, are chosen by the public. So whoever you save, you’re going to upset somebody. So I think it’s better like this. We’ve done our job, the public do what they want to do, at the end of the day we’ll see who’s going to get kicked out.”
14. Is he worried about not being able to save a “better” dancer early on when they fall into the bottom two because the public think they are safe and don’t bother to vote for them?
“No I’m not. I think it’s clearer. It’s very clear. It’s as it started. That kind of rule was introduced a few years ago. But if you remember the first few series, it was always you combined the two and whoever’s at the bottom goes. And I think that’s, in a way, simpler. It avoids a lot of controversy. Because there’s always been people complaining, ‘You should have save this and you should have saved the other. Why didn’t you do this?’ And the way it used to be, they used to come back and repeat. And we had to really basically save them on that situation. Not on what they did during the show but on that particular dance off. But when you’re put against the wall, sometimes you react badly. If you’re more relaxed, you would have danced better. I personally found it all a bit uncomfortable and I think it’s better like this. It’s clearer.”
15. Strictly v The X Factor?
“They’re very different shows. This is a dance show, the other is a singing show. I would think they complement each other. It’s great that this year the public will be able to watch them both. They’re so different. We’re not discovering a new act. We are seeing people that are not used to doing something in a different light.”
“But that’s what’s good about this show, you see aspects of celebrities that you didn’t know before. Some reveal themselves to have hidden talents, some are complete disasters. But it’s the fun of the situation as well. It is a big variety show as well. There’s a bit of drama, there’s a bit of panto, there’s a bit of everything. Love stories, oh here we go again!
“They’re pretty funky boys and funky girls, so all the elements are there. It’s like putting two explosives together. You need to ignite the Rumba. I know it sounds a bit naughty but I hope Ann stays to the Rumba. I said it on the first show. Because I’m telling you, II’m going to cry. The Rumba is quite late on. Hopefully she stays in until then. Ann and Anton in the Rumba! He’s got his hands full. He’s picked a good one this time. It’s going to be brilliant.”
16. Are romances away from the dance floor a good thing – can bring chemistry to show?
“If that kind of spark ignites during the dance, it could be good, because there’s lots of dances that are very romantic, very sexy. And if there’s a chemistry there that is tangible, it always works. But sometimes not always. It can make you feel self-conscious because you feel people are watching into something that is very private. A lot of time husbands and wives on film don’t work as well the other person that you’ve never met before because you let yourself go. But we shall wait and see.”
17. Head judge Len:
“We spend so much time together, it’s like the odd couple. The good thing about is that we are both very direct people. Both of us will say, ‘I’ve had enough. I don’t want to hear you speak.’ We’re friends enough and we’ve been working together for such a long time that we really understand that there’s a point where you have to say, ‘OK, no talk for the next 12 hours.’ Like in the planes, zip it. Craig as well. We do what we have to do on screen but once it’s over you have to draw a line. You have to say, ‘OK, job done. Bye mate.”
18. Does he think Arlene should stop commenting on Strictly now she’s not a part of it?
“I think that is a personal choice. When you’re in the public eye, you always have the opportunity to comment about things. I tend to keep my mouth shut as long as I can because when I open it, it’s going to be interpreted in the wrong way. So my thing is, if you’re not directly involved, I tend not to comment. But that’s a personal choice. I cannot stop people saying what they want to say. But it’s none of my business. It’s up to her.
“Personally I wouldn’t. If I leave – anything can happen – I would carry on with whatever I do next. That’s what I would do. But we’re all different and I can’t really comment on other people. You have to draw your own conclusion.”
19. His favourites from previous series and who who should never have taken part?
“My favourite competitor? There have been so many. I’ve done 11 in American and this is the eighth here. The first ones are always the ones that stick in your mind. There’s Jill Halfpenny because of that fantastic jive – I’m Still Standing – that still to this day gives me goosebumps. It’s brilliant. You know when you get the dance and the song that suits the person. It’s absolutely stunning.
“Darren Gough because he started like a little barrel and he ended up like a God. Seeing somebody growing during the competition. He just was brilliant. Alesha did incredibly well. There are so many.
“And then there’s the bad. John Sergeant was fabulous. And obviously the lovely GMTV team, Fiona Phillips and Kate Garraway. Absolutely brilliant tragedy on the dancefloor. It’s part of the fun of the show. And they took it in the right spirit. They went for it. They did it badly but they embraced the situation for what they could do. it was great fun.I loved it.
“It’s Daybreak now. You never know. There’ll be some Daybreakers maybe one day. Christine (Bleakley) was good.”
20. Is he familiar with Coronation Street and former cast member Tina O’Brien?
“I love Coronation Street. It’s absolutely brilliant. They’re brilliant actors. And Helen Worth who plays Gail, that woman is brilliant. The way she plays that character, she makes me cry. It’s a brilliant, brilliant show. I got into when I first got here, in spite of not being British. The characters are so brilliantly drawn that it makes you, in a way, understand the country. They’re just fantastic. It’s a fantastic show.”
“Tina looks wonderful. The girl is hot. She’s a nice, nice girl. The dancing…with the new hot guy Jared Murillo. That could be really good. She should be good, in theory, young, fit, good looking. You have to give them a chance. Until I see them, I can’t say anything. They’re both young, they’re both very attractive. She’s a nice little actress, she could be incredibly sexy. The guy is a good hunk.”
If he had his pick of other Corrie stars, who would he like on Strictly?
“Oh, Vera Duckworth! Vera Duckworth with Anton next year. It would be brilliant. He’s going to hate me. Actually I used to love Ena Sharples. But there’s loads of great characters there.
21. Kara Tointon and Artem Chigvintsev?
“There’s a thing about the two of them. There is kind of something going on already. I know nothing but they really make a good looking company. I know Artem because he dances for us in the American show and he’s brilliant. He’s a very good dancer and these Russians are pushing it, aren’t they. So if that kind of Russian flair can be translated into her, it could be quite good.”
22. Does he ever worry about being replaced on the show?
“Anything can happen. This is showbusiness. It has happened before, it may happen again. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s part of this industry. Obviously I’d be hacked off, but I would have to accept it because I’ve done it as a choreographer. Everybody’s done it. Sometimes things happen and people decide to make changes. Nothing is guaranteed. This is not a job for life. If they want me, I’m happy to be here. But none of us are under contract. We don’t sign like a three, five years, we are invited every year, all of us, and this happened from the beginning. And it’s up to us to accept. The moment you accept, you’re a professional and you just enjoy it.
“Everybody in this business knows. Movie stars get rejected because that’s the way this business works. It gives fuel to the production. It’s nothing new.”
23. Working with Alesha?
“We have such a giggle. You can never compare anyone with somebody else. She’s her own person. She’s somebody who’s done the show, she knows what it’s like to compete. She is a very nice girl, very natural. I have a good laugh with her. She’s lovely.”
Strictly Come Dancing continues on BBC1 at 5:45pm on Saturday.
The damp queue to get in to see shows at BBC TV Centre in west London on Friday night. The Strictly queue is inside the outer one (for Not Going Out):