Strictly Come Dancing contestant Ann Widdecombe visits Bolton to launch book
NOT many politicians can vary a speech from pension equality to Strictly Come Dancing, but Ann Widdecombe can.
And the nation’s favourite Tory-turned-national-treasure shared her experiences of both in Bolton at an event organised by Bolton North East and Bury North Conservative associations.
About 170 people attended the evening at the Last Drop Village when the former Shadow Home Secretary entertained with tales of her life in the House of Commons and beyond as part of a book tour to promote her autobiography “Strictly Ann”.
Earlier, she had been to events at the Fusiliers’ headquarters in Bury and to Bury Hospice.
The hospice impressed its illustrious visitor who declared the modern venue as “certainly different — but, like any state-of-the-art place it will need regular funding to keep it that way”.
Ann, now aged 66, was back in the North West where she first stood for Parliament in Burnley in 1979 and was plainly among friends, judging by the warm reception wherever she visited.
She was educated at Oxford University and involved in the Union at the same time as Bolton’s Cllr Guy Harkin, although on opposite sides.
Today, she still recalls him as an “interesting opponent”.
Later, she had a long and successful career as an MP, becoming Minister of State for the Department of Employment, then the Home Office.
In opposition, she was Shadow Health Secretary and Shadow Home Secretary but decided to stand down before the 2010 General Election.
“I knew I didn’t want to do another eight years. Although I still felt I had things to achieve, I also felt the time was right to go,” she explained during a break in her hectic tour.
Ironically, she stepped out of Parliament and into celebrity status, along the way becoming a successful novelist with four books published and a fifth one currently under way.
“I never plan,” she said. “I just see what comes along.”
What came along was a large number of TV appearances, including various documentaries, and then Strictly Come Dancing.
“Several of my friends said ‘what do you want to do Strictly for?’ because they still saw me as a politician.
“I knew that I was no longer a politician,” she said.
“I’d turned down Big Brother because I hate that kind of intrusive programme, and I could never go on ‘I’m A Celebrity …. Get Me Out of Here!’ because I couldn’t eat any of those disgusting things.
“But I liked the idea of Strictly. Of course, I was very glad to get Anton du Beke as a partner. One of the earliest things he said to me was ‘Ann, it will be much better if we do our best to keep your feet off the floor’.
“So the routines he devised often had a comedy entertainment element.”
The couple certainly were not the judges’ favourite — but the public loved them and kept them in for nine weeks, including a notable appearance when Ann “flew” in on wires.
“I have height phobia,” she said. “So I kept my eyes closed during rehearsals but they had to be open for the broadcast.”
The appearance not only led to a live Strictly tour, but later panto with judge Craig Revel Horwood. She has also been involved in several more TV, including hosting Sky Atlantic’s “Cleverdicks.”
“I really regret that they didn’t re-commission that series because it was great,” she said. “People are always asking me about it — they did in Bolton — because they liked it.”
As for the future, Ann revealed there had been some discussions about a new sitcom with her and Anton du Beke “and it still seems to be out there although nothing has been decided”.
Then it was on with the book tour, another evening after-dinner speech and, in the early hours, back to her beloved Dartmoor home and the continuing active “retirement” of Ann Widdecombe.
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