Television personality Angela Rippon performing on Strictly Come Dancing, wearing a silver dress Credit: BBC

Angela Rippon on Strictly: “If I can prove that even at 79 you can still dance a cha-cha-cha, that’d be fantastic.”

Angela Rippon, 79, tells us why it felt daunting to be the oldest person ever to take part in Strictly… until handsome dance partner Kai helped her find her feet.

Angela Rippon sits behind a table in the neat book-lined dining room of her west London home looking calm and composed, as she has for the past five decades presenting top TV shows and reading the news. Except this time it’s the 79-year-old who is making headlines – as the oldest contestant ever on Strictly Come Dancing.

Angela jokes how she’s been ‘Strictlyfied’ but, let’s face it – fake tans and glitter aside – she is no stranger to glamour, as 27 million viewers discovered watching the 1976 Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show.

The moment she stepped out from behind her newsreading desk – her long, shapely legs on display – to entertain us with her high-kicking dance routine has gone down in history and she still gets asked about it to this day.

“Barely a day goes by when someone doesn’t stop me in the street and ask me what it was like working with them,” she says.


Rippon’s ‘jaw-dropping’ high kick

These days Angela is just as flexible. She can still do an impressive high kick, as she proved on the first Strictly live show in a performance judge Craig Revel Horwood called ‘jaw-dropping’.

She can even still do the splits but nonetheless wishes she’d been asked to compete in Strictly when she was a bit younger.

“It’s the first time the BBC has asked me to do it and I must admit my reaction was, ‘why didn’t you ask me ten years ago when I was younger?’,” she says.

Her daily stretching routine

But thanks to a daily fitness regime that keeps her in fine fettle, she’s giving the younger contestants a run for their money.

“Every single morning, I do stretching exercises for ten minutes, then I’m out of the door at 7am for a 45-minute power walk,” she says.

“I play tennis with friends, do Pilates, cycle on a Sunday, and take a ballet class at the Royal Academy of Dance when I can. I am an ambassador for the Silver Swans, who run ballet classes for over-55s.”

Despite following such a healthy regime, Angela was cautious about agreeing to be in the show, as she knew it’d be a huge challenge.

“I did take a long time to think about it,” she says. “I didn’t give them an answer immediately, because I am aware of the fact that I’m 79.”

On finding her dancing feet

Three-and-a-half years ago, she had surgery to replace a shoulder riddled with arthritis. She demonstrates how mobile it is now, but adds, “it’s not quite as strong as the other one. I’m taking on quite a challenge, but I believe I’m fit and strong enough to do it.”

Angela currently presents the BBC’s Rip-Off Britain, although her career has seen her host shows including Antiques Roadshow and Top Gear, as well as six royal weddings.

“Covering the Queen’s funeral for Australian TV didn’t faze me, but Strictly is something quite, quite different.”

But, even with her reputation for being unflappable, she’s still understandably nervous about performing live to the nation every Saturday night. However, her strapping dance partner, Kai Widdrington, 28, has helped her find her dancing feet.

“I had huge anxieties until the point when I met him because I was really worried about doing something which is in many ways out of my comfort zone,” she says.

“Covering the Queen’s funeral for Australian TV didn’t faze me, but Strictly is something quite, quite different.”

On ‘hanging on’ to her Strictly partner

When she talks about Kai, her eyes light up.

“He is just adorable, I love him,” she says. “I have met his partner [fellow Strictly dancer Nadiya Bychkova] and we have all gelled.”

“I said I wanted someone who is strong because I’m going to be hanging on to him rather a lot, and someone with a great sense of humour and patience.”

“Kai has all of those in bucket-loads. I have enormous trust in him. He said to me, ‘Don’t worry, whatever happens I’ll catch you’. Once someone as gorgeous as him says that, you don’t worry about the little things.”

Although she’s very happy with Kai, she laughs at the idea of romances blossoming with any of the dancers on the show.

“The Strictly curse!” she says. “I’m old enough to be their grandmother, not their lover!”


On fighting sexism at work

Not that she hasn’t had her fill of dreamy men, she says.

“My career has not taken the place of romance. I was married [to Christopher Dare from 1967- 1992] and I’ve had lovers and men in my life subsequently. I’m very happy being single and have a lovely group of friends.”

Although still in demand, Angela’s career hasn’t always run smoothly. In 1996, she had a run-in with the then BBC director-general John Birt.

“He said, ‘Angela, you have to accept you’ve had your day and it’s time to make way for younger women coming up behind you’. I remember saying to him, ‘Are you having the same conversation with Michael Parkinson and Terry Wogan?’ who were both older than me.”

“‘And what do you mean, make way for the younger ones coming up behind me? Why would you want to lose all that ability and knowledge? There’s room for everybody.’ The thing is, I’m still here, he is not.”

Looking back fondly at her time hosting Strictly forerunner, Come Dancing, for three years from 1988, she says: “It was live music and glamorous. There’s a great similarity between the two. It’s lovely now to be part of it.”

Will she win Strictly?

Despite being named a ‘dark horse’ to win Strictly and still being in the contest as we went to press, Angela is keen to manage expectations: “Do not overestimate what I am going to be able to do. I won’t win – the competition is tough.”

“I won’t win – the competition is tough.”

“In a way, doing Strictly is putting my money where my mouth is by saying it doesn’t matter what age you are, what level of dance you do or what kind, whether it’s ballet, line dancing or ballroom. If I can prove that even at 79 you can still dance a cha-cha-cha, that’d be fantastic.’


Written by Pam Francis