AS Strictly’s oldest ever contestant, telly veteran Angela Rippon stunned viewers with her sensational footwork and eye-watering leg raise on Saturday’s show.
The 78-year-old’s spectacular routine may have surprised those watching the BBC1 dance contest, yet she has always blazed a trail during her six-decade career.
After landing a string of jobs that were previously the preserve of men or the upper classes, she is now proving that mature women can compete with rivals a quarter of their age.
Angela, who turns 79month, said: “I look at the younger people and I know I’m not as fit or strong, that’s just a medical fact.
“But I play tennis, I go to Pilates and ballet classes, so I’m pretty fit for someone of my age.
“I’ve told my pro partner, Kai Widdrington, there are things I can do and things I can’t. I just want to do everything properly. I’ve told him, ‘Challenge me’.”
Kai certainly did that when he helped Angela deliver a cha-cha to dance anthem Get The Party Started, by Shirley Bassey, during Strictly’s first live show.
She received a standing ovation from the studio audience, judge Motsi Mabuse and head judge Shirley Ballas.
‘The whole nine yards’
Angela finished joint third on the scoreboard, just one point behind 20-year-old EastEnders actor Bobby Brazier, and four adrift of top-placed actor Nigel Harman, 28 years her junior.
The reaction on social media was explosive, with sports presenter and fellow former Strictly performer Dan Walker saying: “Give her the glitterball now.”
And Angela’s pro partner Kai seemed to speak for the nation when he took to Instagram to call her performance “iconic”.
For many, the decision to sign up for Strictly would be a bold one, but for Angela — who hosted the show’s more sedate precursor Come Dancing from 1988 to 1991 — it was a question of “Why not?”
She told Radio Times: “I love to dance.
“I’ve been associated with dancing for a very long time, and this will be the opportunity to do what so many people say to me, ‘God, I’d love to go on that programme’.
“Dancing with one of those professionals, learning to do it properly in the hands of an expert, the frocks, the glamour, the whole nine yards. Why would you not?”
It’s the question that Plymouth-born Angela has asked herself at every point in her career in media — and why she has never worried about so-called “glass ceilings” blocking her rise.
In 1975, aged 30, she became Britain’s first permanent female national newsreader.
It was no mean feat, given that the Beeb’s screens were still full of Oxbridge-educated, middle-class, middle-aged men.
In contrast she had been born to Edna, a seamstress, and John, a Royal Marine, and had left school at 17 before working her way up through local newspapers and regional TV.
But after landing the job of fronting BBC One’s main evening bulletin The Nine O’Clock News, her star rose so quickly that the following year she starred in Morecambe and Wise’s Christmas show — revealing a whole new side.
In a sketch that began with her reading some grim news headlines, she then stood up and began a high-kicking dance routine with Eric and Ernie to Let’s Face The Music And Dance.
In 1977 she became the first host of Top Gear, then in 1983 she co-hosted the first ever Good Morning Britain breakfast show for TV-am on ITV, some 31 years beforedid the same on the modern incarnation.
From 1988 to 1991 she was also the first female presenter of Come Dancing — which gave her some surprising connections to Strictly.
Angela said: “I feel like a grandmother! When I met one of the senior choreographers for Strictly, he said, ‘You won’t remember, but I was a contestant on Come Dancing’.
“One of the professionals told me, ‘I’m a dancer because of you. I stayed up late to watch Come Dancing and you were the presenter’.
“And three of the other pros told me their teachers were contestants as well.
“It has come full circle, from the late Eighties to now. It’s super that they all said that.”
Despite being showered with admiration and praise, she remains humble about the fact that she is still working in TV as co-host of BBC One consumer show Rip Off Britain, as well as doing Strictly.
And Angela — who was married to engineer Christopher Dare for 22 years until 1989 — is still determined to continue breaking those glass ceilings.
She said: “I want to be allowed to go on working in a profession that I adore for as long as I’m able and for as long as people will employ me.
“People told me, ‘They’ll never employ anyone over 50’.
“Well, there’s me, Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville, and we’re in year 15 of Rip Off Britain — we’re still hanging in there.”
- Strictly Come Dancing continues on Saturday at 6.20pm.
MY SEVEN STEPS TO FITNESS
By Emma Pietras
Read more on the Scottish Sun
ANGELA yesterday said she was in the competition because she had a “message to get across” that dance can help keep older people healthy, happy and fit. Here are her fitness tips . . .
- Sit to rise test: Stand barefoot, cross one leg in front of the other then lower yourself to sit cross-legged on the ground. Then stand up the same way. Repeat often.
- Eat purple: From red cabbage to aubergines, blackcurrants and blueberries, the foods can help prevent clogged arteries.
- Cook from scratch: Avoid tinned or packet foods and use organic and local produce.
- Try supplements: I take bacteria-balancing acidophilus after food poisoning, cod liver oil capsules for the joints and ginseng for general vitality.
- Exercise: I do tennis, cycling and Pilates.
- Scrub your face: Avoid tea and coffee and drink water to keep skin hydrated. Cleanse and exfoliate regularly.
- Forget age: It’s just a number. Forget your age and do something to distract yourself . . . such as dancing.
FORMER tennis champ Annabel Croft is hoping her talent with a racket will help her with this weekend’s quick-step.
After taking straight sevens for her debut cha-cha-cha on Saturday, she will now need to learn a whole new style for the next dance.
Annabel, 57, inset, said: “In tennis you are up on your toes and leaning forward, which helps, but there are a lot of steps. To start with I thought, ‘This is terrifying’, but now it feels beautiful.”
On spin-off show Strictly: It Takes Two, Annabel and her dance partner Johannes Radebe spoke to new co-host Fleur East, who has replaced Rylan Clark.
Johannes said of Annabel: “When I saw her first steps, I thought, ‘I am in for a treat as a teacher’.
TV PRESENTER Angela Scanlon has revealed that her body is already feeling the heat of Strictly training.
The 39-year-old mum of two, inset, partnered with pro dancer Carlos Gu, said: “It’s very full on. My pelvic floor is under pressure.
“But from an energy perspective this weekend’s jive probably matches me and Carlos a bit more. Last weekend’s tango in a way was trying to contain that.
“I just felt relief when we did that final spin that I didn’t snot myself.”
Meanwhile, actor Layton Williams – partnered with Nikita Kuzmin – has had to forget his sassy samba moves entirely to prepare for a quickstep on Saturday.
He said: “I asked, ‘What transferable skills can I take into this week?’ and Nikita said, ‘Nothing’.”
It has also been revealed that Kevin Clifton is to return to host a choreography slot with his sister Karen.