Strictly Come Dancing judge Bruno Tonioli broke down in tears as he remembered losing a string of close friends and relatives, including his mother, earlier in his career.
The Italian television star, 62, dedicated Rod Stewart’s version of In My Life to loved ones who died in the 1990s as he appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Christmas episode of Desert Island Discs.
He described the song as “one of the best poems ever written” for lyrics including: “All these places had their moments/With lovers and friends I still can recall/Some are dead and some are living/In my life I’ve loved them all.”
His voice cracked and he was forced to pause as he said: “This song is dedicated to all the people that have passed away. “In spite of what has happened in my life, I might have moved away – hopefully I will keep moving – but they are still part of me, they are still… I’m getting emotional.”
Tonioli told presenter Kirsty Young about the significant moments in his life – from his distant relationship with his mechanic and ballroom dancer father, to his first break in theatre with a touring Parisian company, to working in London in the 1980s as a choreographer for stars such as Bananarama, and to the sudden and devastating death of his mother in 1994.
He also spoke for the first time about avoiding military service by proving his sexuality to the Italian armed forces. Tonioli explained: “At the time, if you were gay you were exempt from serving in the military and so, by the 1970s, everybody was turning up in full make-up because they would have done anything to get out of that.
“I had a wonderful fur coat at the time and all these press clippings from the show (with the French company). I was very meek and just went along as I am, with this coat and clippings, for the appointment with the top guy. “He was actually very nice, and said he understood I was not pretending.
“What happened, and I have never told anybody, was that somebody got a whiff and said they would call my parents’ house and tell them I’m a queen. So I said, ‘Well, do it, who cares?’.” Since rising through the ranks of stardom, Tonioli has become best known on the hit BBC One dance contest for his flamboyant critiques and witty one-liners, which he said are all his own creations.
“I wouldn’t have the energy to sustain that 24 hours a day,” he admitted. “The show is so glitzy, so glamorous, so larger than life, that the only way to approach it is as an entertainment. You want to pop out of the screen and draw them in.”
But the star confessed that the show, which he films at the same time as Dancing With The Stars in the US, has taken its toll on his health.
His gruelling schedule, which requires him to fly to Los Angeles and back every week from September to November, forced him to miss a weekend of this year’s Strictly.