Changing Direction, Why Not?

Wednesday 18th May 2016 - Posted in Buy Yorkshire
By Lindsey Davies, Director at Open Communications UK

It is on to one of the headline speakers and it’s only 11.30am. Delegates are queuing up ready and waiting to hear from former MP, RT Hon Ann Widdecombe. We’re sure that there will be some interesting questions, and so it begins…

Firstly, it’s worth noting that Ann took the time to congratulate us on the exhibition and the variety of people and businesses that are attracted to the event from around the country. It’s great to hear that she had spoken to the exhibitors and delegates to learn more about what we do at Buy Yorkshire.

With a political career that spans an impressive 23 years behind her, Ann is now an author and broadcaster. The talk begins with a chuckle from the assembled audience as Ann takes to the stage and announces that she would not be standing behind the lectern as she wouldn’t be seen!

We were told that we were about to hear a round-up of everything from the Brexit to the dresses on Strictly Come Dancing… this was going to be an interesting one.

It becomes quickly apparent that Ann has a sense of humour. She says that people will be given the opportunity to ‘ask her almost anything’. She then goes on to explain that 6 years ago someone asked her at a non-political lunch why on earth you would ever choose to have an affair with John Prescott? Since then she has used the caveat of ‘almost anything’. More laughs around the room and everyone is put at ease and intrigued by what could possibly come next.

With the tone set, whatever your political views, Ann is obviously a woman on a mission and will clearly speak her mind.

She goes on to say that she’s not sure if blondes have more fun, but whatever the answer, she’s clearly having ‘a ball’ (no pun intended – oh maybe just a little one!) now that she takes life less seriously and has chosen to shut the door on her political obligations.

Straight on to Strictly Come Dancing, Ann shares the fact that everyone told her not to do the programme saying that it would tarnish her gravitas. As her immediate concern was that it would actually challenge her ‘gravity’, she defended her decision and decided to use this as a platform to raise her profile outside of politics.

It’s not likely that many of us would consider what happens to a retired MP? How do they continue to be active without the political arena or platform that they are so used to? As far as Ann is concerned it’s about the importance of profile. What she felt that she needed to do was to attract the attention and interest of a society that thrives on reality shows.

The first thing she says is that you need to consider that TV producers are looking for presenters that already have a profile. The truth is that even though people are not interested in the subject that a presenter is discussing or debating, they will still watch and therefore that show will attract an audience, explained Ann.

What many of us didn’t appreciate about Ann is that she said yes to Graham Norton but no to Jonathan Ross. No to Big Brother and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here but yes to Basil Brush (boom, boom). After featuring on TV on a number of occasions two things then happened to her; she retired and was asked (again) to be the first Politician to ever feature on Strictly Come Dancing.

Ann felt that she no longer owed people a duty of time or the dignity to have to do things a particular way, and so she signed on the dotted line and waltzed, quite literally, onto our TV screens.

Quickly realising that her feet would not do what she wanted them to do, in the right way and at the right time, she turned the competition on its head. She wouldn’t compete with the best, she would become the entertainment, and so the show went on.

Despite her performance, or perhaps because of it, Ann was clearly an entertainer, and as a result was invited to do the live tour. In addition, as someone who was referred to as a ‘very rude, aristocratic old lady’, she was asked to appear at the Royal Opera House.

Ann would go from the House of Commons to the homes of the British public; more than 4m people suddenly recognised who she was thanks to a dancing competition. It wasn’t chance, it was a strategic decision.

But the question remained, why did someone go from being an MP, someone who was well respected and had been involved in such important and life changing decisions for much of her career, to a personality that would appeal to a Saturday night audience?

Ann is very honest as she says that unlike others, she didn’t want to be an honorary MP, instead she wanted to take the opportunity to be her own person. Strictly Come Dancing was one of the first steps to achieving this and propelled her profile from simply politics to house hold name.

The assumption was that she cared that life wouldn’t go on in the same way, but Ann explained that the ability to know when you have to change direction can be a huge blessing.

She realised when she was in opposition that you don’t have to do anything today, you have time to plan and to think about how you can change things for tomorrow. She also realised that when something it is over, it is over.

That is why in 2010 she changed direction so completely and took her first steps into a world in which she had no experience. Despite making TV documentaries, doing reality was a completely different experience.

What Ann learnt from doing Strictly Come Dancing was that even if you aren’t any good at something you need to find out what you might be able to do with it and take it from there. She advised that rather than dismiss the opportunity altogether, because you’re focusing too much on what you cannot do, turn it on its head.

As far as Ann is concerned change is vital and it can lead to evolution.

She commented: “It’s not good enough to say that we have always done something the same way. Nothing stays the same and nor should it. Go with it, embrace it and if you have the chance to get a pager (or today’s alternative) do it.”

We had all been waiting for it, and there was no doubt that someone would ask the question, but with all this talk of change what did Ann really think about the Brexit?

Taking the opportunity to share her thoughts – with no hesitation – she says she want out! Supporting this decision with the fact that she regrets voting for it in 1975, she says she would like Britain to set its own laws, control its own borders and for Britain to run every aspect of Britain. She wants Britain to be its own democratically elected government.

Whatever you think of Ann she has her mind made up on this topic.

So from ballroom dancing to Brexit and everything in between, those coming out of the theatre were all taking the time to share their thoughts and comments.

People clearly took a lot away from what Ann had to say and we thank her for taking the time to come along, to be so honest, to share her thoughts and most importantly to raise a smile.

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