Les Dennis: Strictly’s all-round entertainer bringing to the dancefloor

Buckle up, dance fans – Strictly Come Dancing is back, providing the nation with a steady supply of glitz all the way until Christmas.

For series 21, 15 familiar faces have signed up to impress the judging panel and the audience at home alike with their hard work on the dancefloor.

This year, you’ll find soap actors (Bobby Brazier, Adam Thomas), presenters (Nikita Kanda), stage stars (Layton Williams) and comedians (Eddie Kadi) taking part.

However, 69-year-old Les Dennis can do it all.

The entertainer was born Leslie Dennis Heseltine in 1953 in Garston, a suburb of Liverpool.

After leaving school in 1972 with one A-Level in art, Dennis set about starting his comedy career on the local circuit, performing in social and working men’s clubs across England’s north-west.

He steadily built a name for himself and had his first taste of wider success when he won the ITV talent show New Faces in 1974. In the early Eighties, Dennis teamed up with impressionist Dustin Gee and hosted the BBC comedy series The Laughter Show. After Gee’s sudden death in 1986, Dennis led the show alone for an additional series.

However, it wasn’t until the following year that Dennis bagged the gig that many still associate him with fondly: Family Fortunes. He was the third host of the survey-based game show and fronted it for 15 years until leaving in 2002.

Les Dennis (Getty Images for eONE)
Les Dennis (Getty Images for eONE)

In a July 2023 edition of Kate Thornton’s White Wine Question Time podcast, Dennis admitted that his departure was due to a disagreement over pay when the programme was slated to move from an evening schedule slot to a daytime position.

“I’d decided to leave it because it had gone to a daytime slot and I left it because of money, to be honest,” he claimed. “They offered an insultingly 98 per cent pay cut – time to go at the right time while it’s still a great show.”

Outside of Family Fortunes, Dennis has enjoyed an illustrious TV career, with roles in Coronation Street, Extras, Brookside, Death in Paradise and Midsomer Murders. On stage, he’s starred in a wide range of pantomimes and musicals, including Hairspray, Legally Blonde: The Musical, 42nd Street, Only Fools and Horses: The Musical and Spamalot.

Away from the screen, Dennis has been married three times and has three children. He married his first wife Lynne Webster in 1974, and the pair had one son together before their split in 1990.

Five years later, Dennis married fellow performer and TV personality Amanda Holden. Their relationship took a temporary break in 2000, when Holden had an affair with actor Neil Morrissey, before her and Dennis split permanently in 2002 and divorced the following year.

Les Dennis (BBC/Ray Burmiston)
Les Dennis (BBC/Ray Burmiston)

When Dennis met his third wife, Claire Heseltine, in 2005, he admittedly wasn’t looking for a long-term romance. In June 2023, he told The Times that his invitation to have dinner together was initially “nothing more than me being polite”.

“Love catches you out when you’re not looking,” he continued. “Although Claire and I went on several dates, I couldn’t bring myself to commit. I convinced myself it wasn’t going to work. Then, after about four months, we were planning our first Christmas together and, out of nowhere, I found myself saying, ‘I love you.’ The L word! Where did that come from?”

They married in 2009 and are still together, and now have a 15-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son.

Dennis was revealed as the final star for Strictly 2023 on 11 August on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, and admitted he “jumped in the air” with excitement when he got the call.

Asked to describe the show in three words, Dennis chose “fantastic, tan-tastic and lycra-tastic” – and named Debbie McGee as his favourite past contestant.

“She’s a friend of mine, and I thought she was fantastic,” he said in a video before the launch show. “When she did the Argentine Tango, it was amazing.”

Strictly Come Dancing returns Saturday 16 September at 6.35pm on BBC One.