- A feature from the October 2017 issue of Suffolk Norfolk Life magazine
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Stephanie Mackentyre meets Author, Columnist, Actor, Privy Councillor and former MP and Strictly Contestant Ann Widdecombe
The retired MP finds herself in Suffolk for the first time this December in what some might regard as juxtaposition for a woman with a reputation for no nonsense.
She’ll be appearing in panto at the Marina Theatre in Lowestoft. Her role as the Empress of China in the spectacular family pantomime Aladdin will see her playing alongside A1 boy band singer Mark Read and the theatre’s resident funny man Terry Gleed. It was her Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood who first tempted her to try her hand performing in Panto. “I did the Strictly live tour with Craig (Anton was her Strictly partner in 2010); he just loved the reception we got when we toured together.” They joined forces again in December 2011 at The Orchard Theatre in Dartford in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Since then she’s performed a part in Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera La Fille Du Regiment, playing the Duchesse de Crackentorp. She reprised per panto performance again with Craig this time at the Swan Theatre in High Wycombe in December 2012. “I’ll do panto whenever I’m asked, but not the smutty sort – it has to be a decent, family, traditional one.”
Talking of decent family shows, Ann was in the news last month for lambasting Amanda Holden for wearing unsuitable evening dresses for her appearances in Britain’s Got Talent. “Her dresses are totally inappropriate. I’ve had no feedback from her and I don’t expect it. What I thought was worse was the way that Ofcom brushed it off; her dresses are just not suitable for a much enjoyed family show which is watched by a younger audience.”
Dresses of a far more refined cut were the order of the day for her appearances partnering with Anton Du Beke when she danced with him, lasting for 10 weeks, in Strictly Come Dancing.
“I was asked every year from 2004 – 2009 and I said no, as I was an MP and I felt it wasn’t appropriate. However, in 2009 I announced my retirement. The BBC feared there might be a General Election and didn’t want a Politician in that series so instead we exchanged letters of intent for the 2010 series. I was very lucky, as between thee and me I hadn’t ever watched any of the Strictly shows all the way through. As it happens that was just as well, as I probably wouldn’t have consented to do it if I had. I thought I’d probably last for three weeks and therefore didn’t see it as a huge commitment.” Although physically demanding week after week, it was the mental strain which Ann found the most tiring. “I can remember a speech of any length with no notes without any problem at all. Felicity Kendall couldn’t understand it either. She said she could learn thousands of lines of scripts without batting an eyelid. But both of us found 90 seconds of a dance sequence completely impossible to memorise.” I asked Ann if she watched fellow politician Ed Balls when he appeared in Strictly last year. “I saw bits and bobs of him and I thought after the second show he’d completely loosened up. When I did Strictly the newspapers were full of headlines saying it was undignified and inappropriate but no one said that about Ed Balls. I’d normalised politicians by then.”