Strictly's Bruno Tonioli in tears on Desert Island Discs

Bruno Tonioli

Strictly Come Dancing judge Bruno Tonioli has broken down in tears as he recalled losing his mother, as well as friends and relatives, as a young man.

Speaking on the Christmas edition of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, he dedicated Rod Stewart’s version of the Beatles’ In My Life to his loved ones.

He said: “They are still part of me… I’m getting emotional”.

The star also told how he avoided Italian military service by telling a top official he was gay.

Tonioli joined the BBC TV dance contest show when it first aired in 2004 and has become one of its best-known faces.

His first break was in theatre with a touring Parisian company and he then went on to work in London in the 1980s as a choreographer for stars including Bananarama, the Rolling Stones and Elton John. His mother died in 1994.

‘I’m a pro’

He told presenter Kirsty Young that In My Life was “one of the best poems ever written” – citing its lyrics “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.”

Tonioli 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 said filming Strictly at the same time as the US version of the show, Dancing With The Stars, in Los Angeles, had taken its toll on his health.

The schedule forced him to miss a weekend of this year’s Strictly, but he defended himself against reports that the absence was connected to his personal relationship.

“It was a total overlap all the way through,” Tonioli said.

“I said, ‘You have to give me a week off because I don’t have time for my body to re-energise,’ and it was agreed. I didn’t just say I didn’t want to do it. I would never do that, I’m a pro.”

Tonioli also talked about avoiding military service after telling a top official he was gay, which was not permitted in the Italian armed forces at the time.

He said: “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?’.”

Desert Island Discs is on BBC Radio 4 at 11.15 GMT on Sunday, or listen later on iPlayer

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