The year is 1936 and inside the Buckingham Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, the party is in full swing. But it’s more than dancing partners and waiters armed with fresh champagne doing the rounds here. With Britain keeping one eye firmly on the rising European fascists, the business of buying and selling secrets is booming – and where better to stock up than here, where the rich and powerful are so eager to let their guard down?
Raymond De Guise, the Buckingham’s principal dancer, has secrets of his own, and would rather not have them spilling onto his esteemed dancefloor. But when Vivienne Edgerton, stepdaughter of the hotel’s chairman, begins to cause trouble for him and his dancing troupe, and as new chambermaid Nancy Nettleton catches his eye with her lack of pomp and love of dance, De Guise finds himself drawn deeper into the Buckingham’s web of intrigue. Can he keep his secrets – and those of his nearest and dearest – or will he lose his position and his beautiful ballroom for good?
It’s fair to say that one might go into a celebrity written book with a touch of trepidation, but while Strictly Come Dancing legend Anton Du Beke’s name looms large on the cover, I’m happy to report that One Enchanted Evening is not one of those infamous tales of eager celeb, indulgent publisher, and forgotten (and probably woefully underpaid) ghost writer.
No, One Enchanted Evening is a simply sumptuous affair, rich in aesthetics and historical research alike. It’s clearly a labour of love for Strictly’s longest serving pro, who has built his career on a charmingly cheeky persona that harkens back to the grand ballrooms and dance halls he writes about with such wistful affection here.
But it’s not all fancy dresses and fancier footwork. There’s darker tales to be told here too, with the story moving through the London slums, increasing hostility towards the Jewish population, and the contemporary taboo of inter-racial relationships. This is where One Enchanted Evening really finds its feet, with historical reality providing a strong remedy for the toothache all that champagne sweet glamour might have caused.
Du Beke’s characters are wonderfully formed, from the suave yet tormented De Guise and the hardworking Nancy, to errand boy Billy, with his nose in everything, and the growing threat that is Vivienne Edgerton. Everyone gets a chance to shine as Du Beke nimbly moves between his cast, and there are some surprisingly emotional scenes waiting in the wings. This is particularly true of Vivienne, who shifts from an infuriatingly vapid hellcat, to a truly sympathetic figure. As De Guise says before the story’s one real villain gets his comeuppance: “She might be a spoilt little rich girl, but she’s our spoilt little rich girl,”
One Enchanted Evening falls – perhaps not unexpectedly – into cliché here and there, but there’s such heart to it that it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with this fast paced and beautifully descriptive novel. The characters, clothes, and scenery just come to life on the page, and they’re all bound together by a well-researched story that is just the right amount of extra.
Anton Du Beke’s One Enchanted Evening is out now, available through Allen & Unwin