'Chat Show Charlie' makes his TV soap acting debut in 'EastEnders'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Before he became the Liberal Democrat leader, he was known as "Chat Show Charlie" because of his regular appearances on television programmes such as Have I got News for You. But in the past five years, Charles Kennedy has shrugged off his fluffy media image to develop a more serious persona as a party leader capable of delivering bruising by-election victories at Tony Blair's expense.

Before he became the Liberal Democrat leader, he was known as "Chat Show Charlie" because of his regular appearances on television programmes such as Have I got News for You. But in the past five years, Charles Kennedy has shrugged off his fluffy media image to develop a more serious persona as a party leader capable of delivering bruising by-election victories at Tony Blair's expense.

Now, in a move that has raised many an eyebrow at Westminster, the Liberal Democrat leader has decided to take a cameo role in this year's EastEnders Christmas special. Mr Kennedy will appear alongside soap stars such as Shane Ritchie, who plays Alfie Moon the Queen Vic barman, in a comedy sketch based on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol which will be screened on 23 December.

The decision to appear in the soap opera's "Christmas Party" as the Ghost of Christmas Future was described by his office as "a bit of fun" but it has baffled political commentators who fear it could undermine his leadership role.

This will be the first acting role for Mr Kennedy who is said to have enjoyed delivering his four lines with the EastEnders actors. His friends insisted yesterday that the acceptance of the part showed that Mr Kennedy does not fit the usual mould of stuffy politicians and is "prepared to have a smile and a joke".

"This is a bit of fun ... He is not making a fool of himself or saying anything silly," said his spokesman yesterday.

"There is nothing incompatible with his political role. People can work out the difference between Charles Kennedy on EastEnders and Charles Kennedy as a politician. This is another way of people getting to know Charles as a person."

Opposition MPs ridiculed his decision to appear. Martin Slater, Labour MP for Reading West, said: "Given that the last Liberal government was around 100 years ago I can understand why Charles Kennedy is resorting to pretty desperate measures to shake off his party's reputation as the party of Christmas past."

Mr Kennedy is not the first high-profile politician to appear in a popular entertainment programme. Harold Wilson, when he was Prime Minster, appeared in Morecambe and Wise while Mr Blair appeared in an episode of the popular American cartoon show The Simpsons.

The BBC, which refused to say if the Liberal Democrat leader would be wearing a long white nightie and carrying a candle for the role, said Mr Kennedy "jumped at the chance" to appear in the special when he was approached. "Apparently Charles is a big fan of EastEnders," said a BBC spokesman.

Mr Kennedy will appear alongside other special guests including the band McFly and Lamar, the soul singer, from Fame Academy.

Although some commentators said they were "baffled" by the decision, others were more encouraging. Sarah Teather, who won the Brent East by-election last year for the Liberal Democrats, said it showed his versatility. "I really do think it's long overdue. We've not had a redhead in EastEnders since Bianca and Coronation Street has now got two," she said on Radio 4's Today programme. "I think it's cracking that the EastEnders team thought Charles was the kind of person their viewers would like to see in a Christmas special. It's a bit of fun and it's Christmas." Last year the Christmas special attracted almost 8 million viewers.

Leading article, page 44

POLITICAL THESPIANS

The London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, talks of the monotony of modern living on Blur's 1994 album "The Great Escape". And MC Daylight remixed his anti-war speech, given in Hyde Park in February 2003.

Tony Benn's speeches were set to an ambient beat in his "Greatest Hits" album in August 2003. They went down well at Glastonbury.

Margaret Thatcher so enjoyed "Yes, Minister" she wrote a sketch for it. The scene, involving the abolition of economists, was performed at an awards ceremony in 1984 with Mrs Thatcher playing the Prime Minister to rapturous applause.

The former Labour leader, Neil Kinnock is in the video for Tracey Ullman's debut "My Guy's Mad at Me". Mr Kinnock, sitting in a greasy spoon cafe as Ullman sings, is supposed to have made Tony Blair swear never to participate in such stunts.

Tony Blair appeared on "The Simpsons" in an episode called "The Regina Monologues", locking the family in the Tower.

Comments