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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Recruitment Genius: Call Centre Manager - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative online car purc...

Recruitment Genius: Subscriptions and Marketing Assistant

£12500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A subscriptions and marketing a...

Metail Ltd: Business Development Manager for Asia Pacific

£35,000 - £40,000 based on experience : Metail Ltd: As a Business Development ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Supervisor

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well establis...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate