Miss Widdecombe, 'third-age fatty', takes to the floor

Former minister waltzes her way into the audience's affections on her 'Strictly' debut

Ann Widdecombe took to the Strictly Come Dancing floor last night amid a sea of sequins and dazzling veneers to "fly the flag for third-age fatties".

The strident former Conservative minister was one of the more unlikely contestants lined up to give ballroom a bash on live television, but did it, she said, for all those "pigeonholed" for being overweight, unfit or prudish. And she's tipped to be the main draw in the eighth series of the BBC celebrity dance show, which on Friday saw 9.3 million viewers tuning in for the first live performance, starring half of the 14 contestants.

"I suppose I am flying the flag for third-age, modest fatties," she said. "I'm 63 on Monday, so it'll be a very happy birthday for me, especially if the performance has gone well."

Sparkling on stage in a fuchsia dress and shimmering silver jacket, in the arms of Anton Du Beke, is some considerable distance from her former role as minister of state for prisons, a role that led her to describe her boss Michael Howard as having "something of the night about him".

But, as she admits, she's "up for anything" – as long as it's not risqué. "I refuse to do anything immodest," said the devout Roman Catholic, who has appeared in an episode of Doctor Who and ITV's Celebrity Fit Club. "I will not wear anything revealing. I am staying away from the fake tan."

She may not be in great shape, but said she'd been "surprised" by how well she had adapted to the intensive training – up to five hours a day in a studio in Newton Abbot, Devon, close to her home in Dartmoor. "It's not been that bad at all. It was always going to be difficult; but that's why Anton is so fantastic. He's let me go at my own pace. The training sounds horrendous, but I accepted right from the start that I was going to have the lowest technical performance and that's why I could forget about it and have fun. After all, it's not a world war. Nobody's going to die, nobody's getting hurt. I've spent 23 years getting negative reactions – I'm not afraid of negative reactions. This isn't politics."

Nor was she worried about her partner's slightly tarnished reputation. The professional ballroom dancer sparked controversy last year when he was revealed to have described the actress Laila Rouass as a "Paki" during rehearsals after she'd used a spray tan. He later admitted it was "offensive" and issued an unconditional apology.

"That was last year," Ms Widdecombe said. "This is this year's competition. They're completely different. I said no every year for six years when they asked me to appear on it," she added. "But then I retired, and I saw John Sergeant doing it and I thought, 'why not?' If you fall over on the dance floor, then who cares? I feel extremely sprightly. If I didn't, there's no way I'd be doing anything like this."

Place your bets: Matt and Kara step out as bookies' favourites

Here are the odds from William Hill for this year's winners of 'Strictly'...

Countryfile's Matt Baker & Aliona Vilani – 9/4

EastEnders' Kara Tointon & Artem Chigvintsev – 9/2

Actor Jimi Mistry & Flavia Cacace – 6/1 Destiny's Child singer Michelle Williams & Brendan Cole – 7/1

EastEnders actor Scott Maslen & Natalie Lowe – 7/1

Corrie's Tina O'Brien & Jared Murillo – 10/1

Felicity Kendal & Vincent Simone – 12/1

Gavin Henson & Katya Virshilas – 20/1

Pamela Stephenson & James Jordan – 20/1

Patsy Kensit & Robin Windsor – 33/1 Ann Widdecombe & Anton Du Beke – 50/1

Goldie & Kristina Rihanoff – 50/1 Former goalie Peter Shilton & Erin Boag – 66/1

Paul Daniels & Ola Jordan – 66/1

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas
footballChelsea vs West Ham live kicks off coverage of all 10 of Boxing Day matches
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
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 Media

Ashdown Group: Brand Marketing Manager - Essex - £45,000 + £5000 car allowance

£40000 - £45000 per annum + car allowance: Ashdown Group: Senior Brand Manager...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer /.NET Software Developer

£26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer /.NET Software ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

Guru Careers: Technical Operations Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical Ope...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all