ED BALLS AND STRICTLY



Edwina Currie for the Sunday Telegraph



You have to hand it to the producers of BBC TV's Strictly Come Dancing. They know how to grab the headlines as they announce the celebs. One of these days, we'll have George Osborne strutting his stuff, and I've no doubt that, had he not been included in the new government, Boris Johnson would currently have been negotiating terms. But since, for the moment, both are otherwise engaged, we'll have to make do with Ed Balls, former Labour Shadow Chancellor.

There is no truth in the Twitter rumour that he has been renamed Glitterballs. It is to be hoped he makes a better fist of the foxtrot than he did of fiscal policy.

He's not the first ex-MP to twirl in sequins (actually, Swarovski crystal; those dresses weigh a ton). Vince Cable's done the Christmas Special. Anne Widdecombe preceded me, and was, to everyone's surprise, terrific. The public voted for her for ten weeks. Anne may have been the Florence Foster Jenkins of the dance floor, but the routines were hilarious and she entered into the fun with aplomb and a heaving bosom. Who could ask for more?

In my case, the request was a bit unexpected (much of what's happened since leaving Parliament almost 20 years ago could be so described). Along with a couple of other grandes dames I'd been to protest to Danny Cohen, then the 37-year-old head of BBC1, about the lack of positive older female roles on TV, when so many of the audience at home were over 55. Perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise to receive a call from my agent a couple of weeks later, that I was being booked for Strictly. It'd have been churlish to refuse. Since, however, I'm better on a bicycle than in a ballroom gown, we (me and partner Vincent Simone) were voted out first. He was genuinely upset. We wuz robbed.

Back to Mr Balls. Poor man, even his name makes me giggle. So does that photo of him at the 2013 Labour Party Conference, twirling his wife Yvette Cooper. We can be pretty sure that had she won the Labour Party leadership, hubby would have been banned from any such tomfoolery. But since the tomfoolery is taking place inside the massed ranks of our socialist comrades, he's free to do what he likes.

It's tough being an ex-MP. Cue violins, perhaps? Tony Blair may have landed a basic pension of 80,000 a year, but Mr Balls still has to earn a living. Last year he lectured at Harvard but perhaps that palled, or they didn't want him back. He hasn't settled down to write his memoirs or some steamy novels - yet. But he has been lured by the hope of praise from Craig Revel Horwood. In which case, I am seriously worried.

I fear that Ed Balls doesn't get what the show is about. "You're taking it too seriously, man!" I want to shout at him. Strictly is not a dance competition, not now, if it ever was; that changed some years back, with the popularity of Anne and John Sargent. It's an entertainment programme.

That means he will almost certainly have to wear some outlandish outfits. Cue a mental image of him in a silver mesh singlet, pecs on display, with trousers that are a tad too tight. Never mind, he will soon lose that weight. He will discover that the men's tops and shirts are sewn onto their underpants to prevent them parting company during the paso doble, making calls of nature a bit of a challenge.

There's nothing trivial about the effort required. He's signed up for a minimum 12 hours' practice a week. But with rehearsals Fridays, the show on Saturdays, and a state of collapse on Sundays, that means dancing Monday to Thursday without a break, with wardrobe fittings and interviews and VT clips to fit in too. If he gets away with fewer than 10 hours a day, he's shirking, and his partner will get very cross with him. She may be gorgeous, but she's made of steel. There will be no debate about who's in charge.

So here's some advice. Firstly, before rehearsals start, get as fit as you can. "Stand on tiptoe," Vincent ordered. "When you brush your teeth! When you comb your hair! Run up stairs, on tiptoe!" I'd add, do it with your arms like the Dying Swan; that way you won't die of pain from your shoulders four weeks in.

But mostly, just enjoy it. Strictly is a fabulous experience. Don't be afraid of making a fool of yourself. The public will warm to you if you seem genuine, and perhaps under the New Labour bonhomie, you are.

Go for it, Mr Balls, have a ball. And I might even vote for you.