“If you continue to ask me that kind of question, I’m going to sound like the most frightful bore,” says Ann Widdecombe. “There is no one I fancy!” What, not even Norman Lamont? I thought. “No one!..” she repeated, as if she had read the cynical look on my face. Contrary to much that has been written about her during her ‘divisive’ political career, in the flesh She-Who-Will-Not-Be-Laid is a rather refreshing individual. Abrupt, but quite considerate. Opinionated but very self-aware, if anyone in Britain “doesn’t suffer fools gladly..” then it is Ann Widdecombe..
After gossiping our way through interviews with Kara Tointon and snoozing our way through Matt Baker, at last we had arrived at the good stuff. Ann Bloody Widdecombe, outspoken politician, devout Catholic and national treasure-in-waiting. This was the one everyone had been waiting for. “So Ann, do you think you can win?” I ask her. “I spent two decades believing that the voters decide things,” she replies. “It’s down to the viewers, whether it’s right or wrong is immaterial. The BBC have chosen unequally matched dancers, if this were purely a dancing competition then they wouldn’t have asked me to do it. I’m a novelty act and nothing more. If it was just a dance competition I wouldn’t still be here…”
Even if she doesn’t take the title on 18th December (and let’s face it, please God let her take the title..) she has gained some pretty influential fans over the last few weeks. She talks briefly about messages of support from David Cameron and the Duchess of Cornwall (that’s Camilla to you and me) and after some gentle probing she admits that an ‘American rapper’ has joined her fan-club. “He got it all wrong though, he said I was the dancing Susan Boyle, which of course makes no sense, because Susan Boyle can actually sing.” The name of this mysterious admirer escapes her though and she turns to ask the Beeb’s PR representative. “Do you remember that rapper’s name Stuart?” “50 Cent..” comes the response. As Will Ferrell said in Zoolander, she is so hot right now.
And so, to other business. Spray tan? “No thankyou! That’s just nonsense!”
Last week’s wardrobe malfunction? “Well the leggings prevented it becoming that serious. But from now on it’s going to be trousers all the way. That incident isn’t something I’d like to happen every week..”
This weekend’s rumba? “It’s the dance of love, not the dance of fornication! Love can be tender, endearing, gentle, it doesn’t have to be what it’s come to be on Strictly..”
Has the show become too sexy? “Bluntly yes, but that’s a matter for the people doing it, that’s not for me to decide. I just feel it’s a family programme and people need to remember that sometimes..”
And inevitably, does Ann Widdecombe regret not getting married? “No I don’t regret not getting married. You know, ever since time began there has been an uneven number of males and females on this earth and some people do not marry,” she says with exasperation. “Why you have to regard us as objects of wonder is beyond me..”
So don’t you get lonely when you’re walking in Dartmoor? “The precise opposite! My best days on Dartmoor are when I’m out on the moors and I don’t see another human being..” (Political rivals insert own joke here).
Would she settle down with someone if she met Mr Right? “Oh what a daft question! I want a peaceful uncomplicated old-age. Whatever else love is, it ain’t peaceful and uncomplicated!”
We can literally hear the hearts breaking around the country…
Despite a name that suggests quite the opposite, Strictly Come Dancing is clearly much more than just a dancing competition these days. Widdecombe has captured the public imagination like no other contestant before her. Indeed last week’s audience figures of 12.8 million are the kind of ratings the show could only expect for a live final in years gone by. So would Ann feel embarrassed to be crowned this year’s winner? “I’m never embarrassed by the voters..” she said, without a hint of irony in her voice.
There may still be four eliminations before next month’s final, but after watching Ann’s progress thus far, we are left with the feeling that if she was going to be voted off, it would have happened by now. And the resolve of her fan army will only be strengthened by the news that the old Tory plans a rather grandiose sequence should she and Anton make it to the final. “I don’t think I shall be giving away too much when I say that I shall fly. But there will be a very ambitious showdance if – and I emphasise if – we get to the final..” Any politician will tell you, the first rule of winning an election is getting your supporters out to vote.
You have to admire Ann Widdecombe. Her political and religious policies may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but she doesn’t shirk from relentlessly swimming against the tide. And that could be one of the main reasons for her staggering popularity among some sections of the Strictly viewership. “I have been surprised by the public reaction. As the pantomime act I expected to be moderately popular because ususally people love their panto acts.. but the extent of it has surprised me..”
“Do you like it?” asks one poor reporter rather foolishly. He regrets his question even before he can get his foot out of his mouth. “Of course I like it. I’m not going to complain about people liking me – I spent 23 years getting a very different reaction!”