Brits Riveted By A Tory On The Dance Floor
LYNN NEARY, host:
All Western nations seem to have their own TV talent shows. The British are addicted to them. NPR's London correspondent Philip Reeves spent this weekend watching the tele and he found the British are breaking some surprising boundaries.
PHILIP REEVES: Allow me to introduce you to a woman called Ann Widdecombe. Widdecombe's a former British government minister. She's known across this kingdom for her stridently conservative views: abortion, gay rights, the ordination of women priests, cannabis - Widdecombe's against them all. I should say - the Right Honorable Ann Widdecombe.
She qualifies for that title as a member of the Privy Council, a traditional body that's supposed to advise the Queen. For years, Widdecombe's been widely viewed here as a noisy busybody, the sort of finger-wagger most liberals would seek to avoid. Her fortunes have changed.
Last night, millions of Britons sat down eagerly to watch the Right Honorable Widdecombe carving a clumsy path across a ballroom floor. Many of them were actually rooting for her. Widdecombe's the unlikely star of Britain's hugely popular talent show "Strictly Come Dancing." "Dancing With the Stars" was modeled on it. Celebrities get paired up with professional dancers. They do the cha-cha-cha, they tango and jive. Their fate's determined by a mixture of the judges' scores and an audience phone vote.
The Right Honorable Widdecombe - or Widders, as the British tabloid papers now affectionately call her - is a terrible dancer. She looks like one of those awkward British patricians who, like the Queen, just find it very difficult to strut along to erotic Latin rhythms. Oh, and she's also 63, rotund, and very short.
The judges and critics have unkindly called her a hippo, a heffalump and, last night, a dancing disaster. Widdecombe's compared herself to an elephant.
She usually gets dismal scores from the judges, yet every week, the British public has come to her rescue, voting to keep her on the show. On one show, swaddled in pink and sequins, Widdecombe flew in from the rafters on a wire into the arms of her tall, lean partner Anton.
ANN WIDDECOMBE (TV game show contestant): But if you saw Anton on the dance floor, wouldnt you fly down?
REEVES: On another, the Right Honorable Widders appeared in a billowing gold frock, laid down on the floor and was whirled around by Anton to the tune of "Wild Thing." How the crowd roared.
(Soundbite of cheering)
REEVES: When Widdecombe first appeared on the show, the bookies had her at 100-to-one to win. They've revised that to seven-to-one.
I find all this very strange. I know the British love an underdog and a good sport, and, hey, Widdecombe recently retired from politics so she can do what she likes. But she is a Right Honorable and a former government minister. This behavior would be unusual anywhere, even in America.
Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.