Marbella lost another of its ‘old style’ celebrities with death of Toni Dalli at the end of April.
While the Italian born singer might have exuded ‘showbiz glamour’, he worked incredibly hard to make it to the top, including stints in the Yorkshire coal mines and steel mills before being discovered singing in working men’s clubs. From then it was a meteoric rise in the 50s and 60s, performing in Las Vegas, Carnegie Hall, The Royal Albert Hall, as well as the Ed Sullivan show and even having his own show on national TV in the US at a time when you really did go live into every living room in the country
In a world where celebrity is perhaps a term that is too easily earned, where the weird, wonderful and frequently obviously wounded are paraded for entertainment in Reality TV shows, Toni, as well as other entertainers such as Bruce Forsyth, Ronnie Corbett and Jimmy Tarbuck – a close friend – were the real deal, having paid their dues on the entertainment circuit.
Relocating to Spain, Toni enjoyed success in his second career, as he opened a beautiful beachfront restaurant on Marbella’s Golden Mile. It quickly became a ‘must do’ destination and you were more likely to bump into any visiting celebrity at ‘Toni Dalli’s’. Even though he was now a successful restauranteur, there was always an excuse for a little showbiz, which could be anything from a water balancing a brandy glass on his bald head to Toni giving an impromptu concert. And if was your birthday, then Toni could not resist giving a rendition – in several languages.
The restaurant tradition was continued by sons Simon, Marco and Nicholas who set up the hugely popular Dalli’s Pasta Factory in Puerto Banus that quickly became another celebrity favourite; Sean Connery had a pasta dish named after him and the walls were adorned with motor racing memorabilia signed by visiting F1 drivers including Damon Hill and Martin Brundle. Toni’s passion for motorsport, and of course Ferrari, lead to him becoming a founding member of the Ferrari Owners Club of Andalucía.
Away from the international success and the showbiz friendships, Toni was a genuingly popular person, a fact reflected in the hundreds of tributes and messages that the family received from both the Spanish and international communities – including Marbella mayor Ángeles Muñoz– as well as The Variety Club of Great Britain.
‘Another of the old guard has left us’, a friend remarked when I told him the news. Marbella is a poorer place for his passing.
Arrivederci e grazie, Toni.