Hit-and-miss history of the makeover merchants

THEY WERE subtle touches: blink and you would miss them. A hint of varnish on the fingernails, a small brooch pinned to the jacket, a shorter and discernably less-severe haircut.

Small changes, but there was no doubting their import. Ann Widdecombe, the scourge and despair of the image-makers, the woman with a disarming disregard for her own reflection, had finally subjected herself to a makeover.

The fundamentals have not been altered. The views of Miss Widdecombe, the Tory home affairs spokeswoman who is at the helm of the party while William Hague is on holiday, are as uncompromising as ever and her voice could still stop a ship running aground on a stormy night. But the politician who has come to be recognised as one of the Conservative Party's main assets has a new softness to her.

The discreet tweaks to her appearance have been accompanied by a series of sympathetic newspaper articles, one of which disclosed that she had been secretly helping homeless people near the House of Commons. "It's a private and personal thing - I don't really want to talk about it," she declared, a trifle disingenuously.

Her makeover, however minor, has worked. But those tempted to follow suit should think twice. History is littered with politicians whose attempts to revamp themselves fell flat.

Some, probably wisely, never tried. Michael Foot, the former Labour leader, springs to mind. The image of him turning up at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday in a donkey-jacket proved indelible.

Neil Kinnock, his successor, did try, engaging the image consultant Barbara Follett, now a Labour MP, to give him and his shadow cabinet a make-over for the 1992 general election.

On Mrs Follett's advice Mr Kinnock had his hair cropped and adopted double- breasted suits. Notoriously long-winded, he attempted a punchier style of delivery for his television appearances. It never rang true, and did not translate into electoral success.

Tony Blair had more natural gifts in the image department, although he could not resist consulting the style gurus, who advised him to get a new haircut and wear darker suits.

His predecessor, John Major, switched to charcoal during a short-lived attempt to remodel himself, adopting double-breasted suits and (relatively) snazzy ties in an attempt to cast off his bank-manager image.

When she saw his new look, the image consultant Mary Spillane nearly swooned. "When I saw him, my pulse raced," she said at the time. "He was just short of edible." Sadly, few people agreed.

The most successful makeover of recent history has been that of Baroness Thatcher. At the behest of Sir Gordon Reece, her image consultant, she replaced her fussy look - all bows and ruffled collars - with smart suits. She had her teeth capped, got a glamorous blonde hairdo and lowered her naturally shrill tones by an octave.

The pitch of her voice is now said to be the perfect balance between male and female, and her facial exercises so pronounced that videotapes of her speeches are used to teach lip-reading to the deaf.

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?