As the feathers and foxtrots of Strictly Come Dancing roll into town on BBC One on Friday, September 30, flamboyant judge Bruno Tonioli talks to Lisa Williams about why this series is set to be more fabulous than ever, and why he’s so pleased he decided not to be a bank manager.
If Bruno Tonioli were to describe himself in the same way he rates the celebrities on Strictly Come Dancing, he would probably say he’s a ‘simmering ball of energy, bursting with Latin fire and brimming with promise’.
The Italian dancer, who looks remarkably young for his 55 years, is as flamboyant as they come.
“It’s my Latin Italian nature darling,” he purrs down the phone, pronouncing ‘darling’ as if it had several thousand ‘r’s.
“When I talk, my hands go everywhere, it’s a way of communicating. My energy builds up so much, it’s how I express myself.”
Bruno is bracing himself for the ninth series of the dance competition, hosted by Tess Daly and the newly knighted Bruce Forsyth, which sees stars of varying backgrounds and abilities compete with professional partners for the coveted Glitterball Trophy.
“It will be too fabulous,” he exclaims.
“It’s going to be the golden season. Last year was the best we ever had. But we’re really keen to build on that achievement and make it even more exciting and more glamorous and more sexy, and finally there’ll be Sir Bruce - we’ll be almost royal!”
Last year former EastEnders actress Kara Tointon clinched victory over Countryfile presenter Matt Baker and therapist Pamela Stephenson in a series which was partly dominated by the comedy performances of former MP Ann Widdecombe and her professional partner Anton Du Beke.
With a new line-up including Lulu, Nancy Dell’Olio and Jason Donovan, this year is bound to be as exciting as the last, and Bruno is looking forward to the comedy acts just as much as the competitive ones.
“I don’t think the comedy contestants undermine the competition at all. The point of it is that the show should be open to everyone. Some people that you think would be brilliant are not, and people you think are going to be terrible are brilliant. I think the charm is having a great variety of characters and seeing what happens once we’ve put them all together,” he says.
And although discussions among judges Alisha Dixon, Len Goodman and Craig Revel Horwood can get heated, Tonioli is proud that cross words don’t spill out of the studio.
“We all get on very well you know,” he says.
“We say what we want to say on television, we have our own opinions, we get fired up, but once the show is over, it’s over. There isn’t any backstabbing or bitchiness.”
One thing they had to contend with was the backlash against Dixon, who in 2008 was brought in to replace former judge Arlene Phillips in what was perceived as an ageist decision.
Singer Dixon was recruited to the panel on the strength of her having won the show in 2007 so, as a former contestant, she knows what it’s like to learn all the dances from scratch. But her judging style was slated by critics when she first started.
“It was unfair,” says Bruno. “She won the show, what more do you want? She has an insight. But once you’re in the public eye you will take flack - it’s part of the profession.”
Brunoi is similarly stoical about his autumn/winter work regime, which sees him judge both Strictly Come Dancing in the UK, and Dancing With The Stars in the US.
Asked how often he has to make that transatlantic flight, he replies in a matter-of-fact way: “Every week.”
He puts his youthful energy down to the much-lauded Mediterranean diet and his fierce dedication to the gym.
“I could spend hours talking about staying in shape! I train, I go to the gym at least five times a week for an hour and a half, if I can, I eat very well, I cook. There are no secrets - if you’re fat, it’s because you’re eating too much of the wrong thing.”
Bruno was born in a small town in northern Italy called Ferrara, where he says he was “the only gay in the village”. His pursuit of a career in dancing brought him to England where he found work in music videos and toured with artists including Elton John and Tina Turner.
Although he spends a lot of time in Los Angeles, he still considers the UK his home: “I love it here. In spite of the weather, I always come back. My career and all the opportunities I’ve had originated in London, it’s my home,” he says, with a passion only Italians can get away with.
Maybe he’s grateful because if he hadn’t moved to England, he may have ended up in Italy, working as a bank manager.
“My parents wanted me to go into banking. Can you imagine? We would have been bankrupt. ‘How much do you want? Take it all, I’ll give it to you’,” he says, chuckling.
Who’s dancing with who?
One Show presenter Alex Jones is in a twosome with James Jordan.
Tennis ace Dan Lobb is in a mixed double with Katya Virshilas.
Former EastEnders actress Anita Dobson Squares up to Robin Windsor.
Waterloo Road actress Chelsee Healey takes centre stage with Pasha Kovalev.
Former Tory MP Edwina Currie gets Strictly political with Vincent Simone.
McFly drummer Harry Judd will groove with Aliona Vilani.
Boxer Audley Harrison takes to the ring with Natalie Lowe.
Aussie singer Holly Valance will find her rhythm with Artem Chigvintsev.
Former Neighbours star Jason Donovan moves in with Kristina Rihanoff.
Lulu can shout about pairing up with Brendan Cole.
Former footballer Robbie Savage tries out his footwork with Ola Jordan.
Nancy Dell’Olio is a bella partner for Anton Du Beke.
Rory Bremner makes an impression on Erin Boag.
Russell Grant takes a star turn with Flavia Cacace.