The bubble of secrecy surrounding former EastEnder Gillian Taylforth and her professional dance partner Anton du Beke’s presence at the Apton Dance Studio was burst when the duo were spotted replenishing their energy with bacon sandwiches in a nearby cafe.
For the past three weeks the duo have spent hours in the main ballroom at the studio in the Millars complex off Southmill Road, honing their skills and routines for the hit BBC One show, which began its sixth series last Saturday.
Blonde mum-of-two Gillian, just turned 53, lives in Broxbourne. Anton, whose age is a closely-guarded secret, has had to travel from central London.
The former EastEnders, Footballers’ Wives and The Bill actress was spotted by an enthusiastic Strictly fan from her nearby office last week.
The accounts assistant, who asked not to be named, said: “She’d come out for a break and was on her mobile phone; I saw her twice.
“She was in joggers and T-shirt, no make-up, and her hair was tied back.
“I love Strictly Come Dancing. I watched her on TV at the weekend and I didn’t think she did too badly.”
Studio owner and co-founder Grahame Mizen confirmed that the couple had been using his main room for three weeks and was unsure if they would be returning.
“The BBC gave us a bell on the Monday [September 1]. They didn’t even tell us who it was before they arrived on the Tuesday, saying ‘You’ll recognise who they are’.”
Grahame added: “It’s good kudos for our studio and we’re featured in Radio Times.”
The pro-am team has put in 12-14 hours each week, turning up the first week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, every weekday except Thursday the second week and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week.
“The main ballroom is not used during the day so no regular classes were affected.
“Gillian’s fantastic and Anton is absolutely wonderful,” enthused Grahame, who is now rooting for the couple – who face the Strictly judges for the first time on Saturday.
“We had a class on last Monday and they came down the fire escape because it was 5pm so they wouldn’t get mobbed and I said to the half-dozen teenage girls, ‘You won’t believe me, but Anton du Beke is outside’.
“I asked him to come and meet them and he did. He gave them a kiss on the cheek and they were all mad about him.”
Their practice sessions have been behind closed doors, although BBC camera crews have dropped in.
The stars have been visiting the Bridge Café, just around the corner, for bacon sandwiches and cups of tea.
A member of staff said: “Sometimes they popped in. I’ve been told it’s confidential so I can’t really say anything.”
Gillian and Anton are not the only Strictly link with Stortford.
Anton’s professional partner, Erin Boag, is matched with former England rugby international Austin Healey, 34, who played a couple of games for Bishop’s Stortford in April.
Courtesy: Sandra Perry, Herts and Essex Observer