The name Ann Widdecombe means different things to different people, depending largely on how old you are and, to a lesser extent, your Saturday evening TV viewing habits.
The 71-year-old former Conservative is in the news today after winning a seat for the Brexit Party in the South West in the European elections.
She said the result “reaffirms the vote of 2016, because there was only one reason for voting for the Brexit Party and that was if you wanted a Brexit.”
Widdecombe added that the result sends “a very clear message to Westminster - again - that if they don’t sort out leave, at the next general election both the big parties are going to face carnage.”
Her name means different things to different people, depending largely on how old you are and, to a lesser extent, your Saturday evening TV viewing habits.
She made headlines anew last month after it was announced she quit the Tories to join Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, a move which prompted a polarised response on social media.
On one side, people like Damien who praised her “no nonsense approach”...
And on the other, people like Helen who described her as a “vicious far-right horrorbag”.
So who is the real Ann Widdecombe? Well, here’s the veteran politician explained, depending on how old you are.
If You’re Aged 16-25...
... then Widdecombe is a reality TV star, famed for her appearances on Strictly Come Dancing and Celebrity Big Brother (CBB).
She performed remarkably well in both considering her lack of dancing is offset by her talent for making controversial remarks.
Widdecombe’s 2010 appearance on Strictly saw her voted through nine rounds by the public, despite consistently low marks from the judges. Who was right? Well, have a look for yourself.
But even at the height of her Strictly fame, there were those who were warning the jovial person on your screens wasn’t quite who you thought she was.
The episode was largely glossed over by the show’s producers and Widdecombe went on to finish as runner-up in the final public vote.
If You’re Aged 25-34...
.. then you’re old enough to remember her opposition to gay marriage, climate change scepticism and support for the death penalty, gay conversion therapy and homeopathy.
OK, a lot to get through here so let’s break it down.
Commenting on David Cameron’s decision to legalise gay marriage in a 2014 interview with the Guardian, Widdecombe said:
What I do say is that the state must have a preferred model, and the model that has served us throughout the millennia is marriage – a man and a woman in a union that is generally open to procreation. Marriage isn't about two people; it is the basis for the family.
Widdecombe’s views on climate change have shifted slightly over the years but speaking to the Express in 2009 on the EU’s plan to phase out inefficient TVs, she said:
There is no climate change, hasn’t anybody looked out of their window recently?
The Death Penalty
In 2002 in the wake of the Soham murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, Widdecombe said the death penalty should be “available” for use in the most heinous of crimes. She said:
If it can be shown that it is a real deterrent and its availability, not its regular use, is enough to deter murderers and save innocent lives, then I think that is a case that can be made.
Gay Conversion Therapy
Continuing on the theme of “anti-gay” remarks, in 2012 Widdecombe promoted the idea that gay people can be made straight using completely discredited “gay conversion therapy”.
Writing in her Daily Express column, she said:
Anybody can get help for anything from psychotherapists in this country except apparently gays who do not want to be gay.
Homeopathy, the use of highly diluted substances that perform no better than placebos, was banned by the NHS in 2017. But in 2010, Widdecombe signed an early day motion supporting the NHS’ use of the discredited practice.
If You’re Aged 35-45...
... then you’re old enough to remember her controversial views on women’s rights.
Widdecombe is now a practising Roman Catholic, having left the Church of England in 1993 for, among other things, her objection to women priests.
In a 2012 interview with the New Statesmen, she said:
I left the Church of England because there was a huge bundle of straw. The ordination of women was the last straw, but it was only one of many. For years I had been disillusioned by the Church of England's compromising on everything. The Catholic Church doesn't care if something is unpopular.
In 1996, Widdecombe was serving as the Tory minister for prisons, and defended the government’s policy of shackling pregnant prisoners when receiving care. She said:
Some MPs may like to think that a pregnant woman would not or could not escape. Unfortunately this is not true.
Widdecombe has been long opposed to abortion, a stance she insists has nothing to do with her religion as it is “not moral issue - if I come up and kill you, you do not say it’s a moral, individual issue”.
If You’re 45+...
... then she’s forged a career as a life-long Conservative politician.
Widdecombe first became an MP in 1987 and served as minister of state for prisons, shadow secretary of health and shadow home secretary before retiring from politics in 2010.
She now joins a small but possibly growing list of political veterans who are now expressing their support for Farage’s Brexit Party.
Whatever you do, don’t say Widdecombe is not a virgin.
During a BBC Radio 4 interview in 2007, a reporter had produced a profile of her that assumed she had had at least “one sexual relationship”. She replied:
Be careful, that's the way you get sued.
The subject of Widdecombe’s virginity was even the subject of a segment of a Louis Theroux documentary in 2002.