Bruno Tonioli has confirmed he has left Strictly Come Dancing because his travel commitments have made it "impossible" to continue but praised his replacement, Anton Du Beke, for doing a "fantastic job" on the judging panel.
The 66-year-old Italian dancer and choreographer has been a judge since the popular BBC One show launched in 2004.
He announced his departure on The One Show on Thursday night, saying he will instead be concentrating on his other role as a judge on Dancing With The Stars, which films around the same time of year in the US.
Tonioli said: "What's happened with Covid, the travelling situation is so unpredictable. I used to leave on a Sunday and fly back on Thursday to do the show in London.
"It was impossible because the rules changed, getting through the airport was not like it used to be, it created a situation that was unsustainable. I miss it so much.
"Unfortunately, Dancing With The Stars has moved to Disney+ which is a big deal. Because of the travel situation I will be there."
In 2020, pandemic travel uncertainty meant Tonioli could only appear via video-link to give his verdict on the performances during the Sunday night results show.
And last year he was replaced by long-standing professional dancer Du Beke, who joined the panel alongside Craig Revel Horwood, Motsi Mabuse and Shirley Ballas.
"I think Anton has done a fantastic job, he deserves to be on that seat… it's a 10 from me, carry on, do me proud," Tonioli said.
In a message to the other judges, Tonioli added: "Shirley, my love, you will be much safer with Anton.
"Motsi don’t worry about Craig, he is just jealous because he cannot wear your clothes, Craig is just Craig and behind the scenes he is more fun than me, he is so cool and laid back."
Tonioli said Strictly fans may still see him in related events such as the post-show arena tour, in which he was a judge earlier this year.
"I may do the tour, I am not gone forever, don’t count me out, I will always be part of the family. We created the show.
"I am not going anywhere, it is impossible I cannot do it. The panel were so good last year, they were brilliant they have all my support, so hopefully we will do something else."
Tonioli joined Strictly during its debut series in 2004 alongside the original judges Dame Arlene Phillips, Len Goodman and Revel Horwood.
Du Beke said he was glad to be returning to the judging side of the show: "Woohooo! This is BRILLIANT news. Everyone knows how much I absolutely love the show and I’m utterly delighted to be continuing as a regular judge. And I get to make the final again – now I know how Giovanni feels!"
Revel Horwood, who now becomes the only remaining original member of the Strictly judging line-up, said he was "thrilled" to be returning and added: "It’s going to be fab-u-lous!".
Head judge Ballas said: "Being a judge on Strictly is such a joy and honour for me, and I can’t wait to be back at the studio waving my paddle.
"Every year the wonderful production team surpass themselves and I know they have some brilliant plans in store for 2022. I’m so excited to get started."
Mabuse took over from Dame Darcey Bussell in 2019, having previously been a judge on the German version of Strictly, Let’s Dance.
She said: "Last year’s series of Strictly was one of the highlights of my career, it has had such a real impact which has been incredible to witness. I am so proud to be a part of this show and I am so looking forward to returning for my fourth series!"
Source: Press Association