HE may have spent the past five months relaxing in sunny Los Angeles, but Bruno Tonioli has come out of lockdown totally grey.
The Italian, who confirmed last Friday he will be resuming his role as judge on the upcoming series of Strictly Come Dancing, has ditched hair dye after two decades, claiming he felt “liberated” going au naturel while in isolation.
Speaking exclusively to The Sun, Bruno, 64, says: “Covid-19 has given me the opportunity to reinvent myself.
“I’ve been meaning to do this for years as I’m completely silver and dying it is so much hassle.
“I couldn’t go to the hairdressers so I grew out the roots and I looked demented so then I shaved it off, grade one all over, which made me look even worse, like a murderer or a nasty guy off EastEnders.
“But now it’s a little bit longer it looks nice and I’m keeping the grey. I feel liberated and I’ve had a lot of compliments.”
He jokes: “Myself and George Clooney are now practically twins.”
Bruno is looking forward to debuting his new silver fox image on Strictly this October.
Due to international travel restrictions put in place to combat the spread of Covid-19, Bruno faced an anxious wait to discover whether he would be able to resume his roles on both Strictly and the US version of the show, Dancing With The Stars, which he has filmed simultaneously for the past 14 years.
And now it’s been confirmed he will feature virtually for the first five episodes of Strictly before returning to the panel in person for the remaining four shows once his commitments in the US are over.
‘I’ll still find a way to wind Craig up’
On his new Strictly role, Bruno says: “I won’t be part of the main show giving scores as I’m not in the studio.
“That would be unfair and also it’s a bit naff, as I wouldn’t be able to see the overall picture of the dances. You have to be there to do that.
“So they are sending me a link featuring all the dances which I’ll watch and then give my tips and opinions that will be shown in the results show later on.
“I’ll leave the scores for the three other judges. They know what they’re doing.”
Asked if a guest judge will fill in for him as The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air star Alfonso Ribeiro has done in the States for the past two years while Bruno has his “commuting break”, he adds: “That’s up to them, it’s not my call.
“On Dancing With The Stars we only have three judges and that works fine.”
When he does return to Elstree Studios, Herts, to resume his role on the panel, Bruno will have to adhere to strict social distancing rules.
And the eccentric star — famous for his wild hand gestures — says this will be welcomed by head judge Shirley Ballas, who sits next to him.
He jokes: “Shirley will be very relieved because, for the first time, she won’t be in danger of major bruising.
“If ducking and diving and avoiding being slapped was an Olympic sport, she would win a gold medal.”
And on being further away from Craig Revel Horwood, he adds: “We’ll still find a way to wind each other up.”
The 2020 series will be like no other in Strictly’s 16-year history.
To ensure the safety of judges, hosts and competitors, it’s highly likely there will be no studio audience and the series has been cut from 13 weeks to nine, starting later in the year than normal with the first live programme kicking off on Saturday, October 24.
It’s been suggested some celebs may have been put off entering this year, preferring to wait until 2021 when hopefully Strictly will be back to normal.
But Bruno is adamant this series will not be a turn-off, especially for talented dancers.
Indeed, he says the 2020 season is “quite the opposite” and claims some big names will be competing for the Glitterball trophy. He explains: “This year will favour the better dancers because the focus is entirely on them as there won’t be the same level of big production and 25 people dancing alongside them.
“You can tart up a fake as much as you want but the centre stone has to catch the light and has to be the real thing.
“If you have that quality it will be enhanced even more, so it will be even better for you.
“Plus, the run is much shorter so nobody can complain, ‘Oh, I’m not doing it because it’s long and such hard work. I’m exhausted.’
“I mean, try flying from LA to London and back every week and I’ll tell you what exhaustion is.
“But I know already they have a pretty good line-up.”
The lack of audience and the increased scrutiny of the actual dancing does, however, signal some bad news for potential novelty acts who hope to recreate the cult successes of dancefloor flops including Ann Widdecombe and Russell Grant.
He says: “Having no audience means that you have to dig much deeper to create that sense of excitement and drama and comedy because you don’t have the instant reaction if you crack a joke.”
Bruno starts Dancing With The Stars rehearsals this week and the show will provide a template for what British TV audiences can expect the post-Covid-19 Strictly to look like in nearly two months’ time.
‘Nobody will be wearing masks’
He says there will be “barely anyone” in the studio, just presenters, dance couples and socially distanced judges, plus a camera crew which will stand “miles away”.
The telly veteran has to do his own make-up, which he claims only takes him ten minutes especially as covering grey patches is no longer involved, and all his outfits have already been chosen for every week he appears on the show to keep crew numbers down on filming days. He had his fitting day over the weekend.
Every judge and dancer will be tested frequently and nobody will be allowed to mix with anyone who has not been Covid-19 checked. So that means no wild nights out.
Bruno explains: “You must follow the guidelines. You can only see people that you know are clear.
“You can’t go to a party with 25,000 people — if you do that you are stupid.
“We have to take responsibility ourselves for our own actions.”
He also played down suggestions that dance couples will have to wear masks and refrain from touching each other.
Bruno adds: “How can you do a quickstep or a foxtrot or a waltz without touching?
“I mean, the hold is a huge part of the routine. Nobody will wear masks as everyone is being tested regularly.”
The other major difference in this year’s Strictly is Kevin Clifton will not be taking part.
The show favourite quit in March after seven years to focus on a theatre role, a new take on the musical Strictly Ballroom, being directed by Aussie judge Craig.
The production has now been delayed until 2021 because of Covid-19 but Bruno says that he doesn’t blame the 2018 champ for leaving.
He says: “It’s a great gig for him. I do understand why he wanted to expand his horizons — he’s a young man. Why not?
“As a performer you have to stretch yourself.
“Strictly brought him into the limelight and when an occasion arises, you should take it.
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