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Nairn Book & Arts Festival: Ann Widdecombe
Nairn Community & Arts Centre (Monday, August 31)
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by Margaret Chrystall
THE shocking image of Syrian youngster Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach, reminded you of former Tory politician Ann Widdecombe’s words on Government at Nairn Book & Arts Festival.
"Government does – Government is about today," she had said.
Some tough political questions had come Miss Widdecombe’s way from the audience on Tuesday.
But in the face of developments since, you wonder whether her almost forensic clarity on the distinction between migrants and refugees as a means to decide how best to cope with the current immigration issues might have held in the face of the dead boy’s impact on public thinking.
But Miss Widdecombe got a round of applause for her opinion on how the House of Lords should be organised – a smaller size, but retaining their check and balancing role to the House Of Commons, 90 per cent by appointment with plenty of experts in their own field.
And on the EU, the former Shadow Home Secretary explained it was hard to know whether our future was better in or out until it was revealed what being out would mean in practical terms.
Ann’s childhood experience played its part in helping her move forward into a life without politics on her retiral, she revealed.
"I wasn’t going to be some ‘honorary MP’," she said.
With her father working for the Admiralty, a young Ann had learned that with the family on the move every two or three years, one day you could be living in one place and the next that life was over as you moved on to the next.
"I hadn’t the slightest obligation to think, act or take decisions as an MP any more."
That was when her chance to embrace the other life she had wanted all along – to be a writer – could kick in. And also to try some new adventures, including a walk-on part in a Donizetti opera, panto with Strictly judge Craig Revell-Horwood – "and I can truthfully say I’ve played Wembley!", Ann laughed, having joined the Strictly Come Dancing national tour after her exit from the competition.
She told us that she had turned down I’m A Celeb and Big Brother a few times before agreeing to take part in Strictly in 2010 against the advice of friends and family.
"When I asked people about doing Strictly they said "Don’t! – you’ll lose your gravitas’.
"Actually, it was my gravity!" she joked, describing to the Nairn audience the lengths her partner Anton du Beke had gone to choreograph "flying, spinning, dragging" to keep her feet off the floor during the competition where the two – against all the odds – made it to the last episode before the finals.
The second part of the night was all about the questions which Ann had encouraged the audience to fire at her – "serious or frivolous". An example, she said, might be what they do with the Strictly dresses after the series ends (though no-one asked that one so we still don’t know the answer!)
So she was asked which was her favourite Doctor Who (Patrick Troughton) and reminded the audience of herappeareance on the series herself, why Anton du Beke’s love of Victoria sponge cake had put paid to any hope of added fitness for Ann during Strictly, that to relax she writes and walks on Dartmoor near her home – and that if it weren’t for midges she might have considered making that the North West Highlands after retiring. She was asked about one of her first reality TV challenges – training budgies, her family’s links with the West Country, the funniest moment – and most embarrassing – in political life (her bad memory for faces providing the most embarrassing) and whether being a Brownie had proved any useful skills for future life (reef knots and a taste for fun).
A gifted natural storyteller, Ann proved a hugely entertaining guest with which to open a festival, blending an insight into political life and the firmly-held held beliefs of a veteran in the field with the adventures that have come from her renewedc hunger for fresh experiences in retirement.