Sidelined Strictly judge Bruno Tonioli jokes Anton du Beke 'needs the money'

SIDELINED Strictly judge Bruno Tonioli has joked that his replacement Anton du Beke “needs the money”.

He also reveals none of his fellow judges have been in touch since he had to step aside for a second year.

Bruno admits he is sad at missing out again and will be back if the BBC will have him.

But he says they may not “need him” any more.

The flamboyant Italian, 65, is unable to appear on the panel for the next series due to uncertainty over Covid travel restrictions.

Instead, Bruno will again stay in the US as a judge on its version, Dancing with the Stars.

Professional dancer Anton du Beke, 54, who stood in for a number of shows last year while Bruno was stranded in Los Angeles, steps up again.

In his first interview since news broke he will not be appearing, Bruno told The Sun on Sunday: “I am so sad and frustrated, but there is nothing anyone can do.

“Anton was the obvious choice to replace me.

“I was never asked my opinion, but I wasn’t surprised. He was desperate to get that judging role, so I’m sure he is delighted.”

Poking fun at veteran hoofer Anton, Bruno added: “Good for him. He needs the money.”

Strictly judges earn around £200,000 per series compared with an estimated £65,000 paid to pro dancers.

Bruno says despite being bombarded by messages of support, none of his fellow judges — Craig Revel Horwood, 56, Shirley Ballas, 60, and Motsi Mabuse, 40 — have been in touch with him.

He added: “I haven’t heard from them. But I’m not going to cry, we all have very separate lives.

“And they have given very ­supportive messages in the Press.

“I will see Craig anyway because of our ITV project together. The girls are fine — we’re all professionals. Ultimately, they all know that the priority is to make the show work.”

But Bruno says that he will not watch the new series of Strictly when it airs later in the year.

He said: “Watching Anton would be not fair. It’d be weird, like watching an ex with someone new — you just get on with it honey.

“It’ll do me no good as people will ask me what I think and I don’t want to stick my nose in when I’m not part of it. I think it’s very naff."

If the want me I'll be back … they may just say we don't need you

But he does warn Anton about being too close to his fellow pros.

Bruno added: “On the US show, it is forbidden for judges to socialise with the pros during production.

“You have to be careful, I’m always aware it could be misconstrued. I don’t have favourites.

“I love and respect them but I’ve always kept my distance. Even backstage, it’s all very nice but I don’t socialise with any of them. It’s like, ‘Don’t go there’. Anton is the opposite of that — very sociable.”

Bruno is unsure whether he will return to Strictly next year.

He said: “It’s totally up to them. If there’s no Covid and they want me, I’ll be back. But they may say, ‘Anton was great, we don’t need you’.

“I’ll do something else. It’s like James Bond actors, I’ve done my stint. You cannot be desperate, if you start down that path you’ll go insane. I won’t be second best.

“I worked my butt off for a very long time and I wouldn’t do anything if I didn’t feel comfortable. I’m not one for compromise.”

Bruno — who has been on Strictly since 2004 — revealed that BBC bosses waited for months in the hope government guidelines would change, allowing him to fly back and forth from America.

The news was broken to Bruno’s agent by Strictly producers two days before it was officially announced by the BBC last month.

He added: “Up until the last moment, I thought we were going to work it out.

“I was hopeful I would get the role right up until last Tuesday, the conversation was still going up until then, we were still looking at possibilities. But what can you do?

“My assumption was, having had both vaccinations in America, I’d be able to go back and forth.

“But the quarantine at either end meant that it wasn’t possible.

I haven't heard from the other judges … I'm not going to cry we have separate lives

“There is a real concern of spreading Covid on set too, obviously I have to be tested and I am vaccinated, but there could be a risk of spreading Covid.

"You can’t say for sure that everyone on the plane is vaccinated, there isn’t a clear worldwide decision.

“It’s very difficult. I’m gutted not to do it as it’s been part of my life for 16 years.”

Up until last year, Bruno did the gruelling “commute” between LA and London to appear on both the UK and US shows.

Anton's desperate … he needs the money

He said: “I was actually prepared to do it because I didn’t want to let anyone down. But it’s up to them. I can’t hire myself. I’m not like Simon Cowell — putting on a show and paying myself millions

“My agent told me the news, as is usual with this sort of thing. The BBC is a big institution. I’m not going to lose sleep over not being called myself, you’ve got to be thick-skinned, it’s showbusiness.”

After 16 years of exhausting eight-hour flights every week, Bruno will make the most of his break.

He added: “Before, I was like a hamster in a wheel. Every cloud has a silver lining.

“If I don’t come back, you’ll see me on something else.

“Funnily enough, this decision has given me a bit more snap — I feel a bit more alive. I like change. It pumps me up a bit.”

Bruno credits his five decades in showbiz to his thick skin.

He reckons: “I’ve had so many knocks but I come out stronger, because it makes me more determined.

"I’ll miss the public, the kids, the performance, but that’s the way it plays out. Life is not just Strictly, but I will miss being a part of it this year.”

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