Ann Widdecombe, who has been strongly tipped to be named the next British ambassador to the Vatican, has signed up to star in the new series of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, according to the Daily Mail.
Francis Campbell, the current ambassador, announced last year that he would step down after the Pope’s visit to Britain in mid-September.
Although there has been no official announcment of Widdecombe’s appointment, she has been seen as the likely front-runner, because her candidacy was endorsed by William Hague last month.
It has been suggested that this strong support from the Tories is prompted by political expediency, as a move to the Vatican would remove an outspoken critic of David Cameron from the Westminster scene. She is, however, a long-time ally of Hague, who appointed her shadow home secretary during his tenure as Tory leader.
If appointed, she would be the first Roman Catholic woman to hold the post, following her conversion in 1993 after the Church of England began the ordination of women priests. She had a private audience with the previous pope after her conversion.
However, the schedule of the BBC reality show, which will run for 12 weeks starting in September, could interfere with any potential appointment, especially if Widdecombe were to progress to the latter stages of the competition, suggesting that she plans to drop out closer to the time if appointed. As ambassador, she would likely have some role during the Pope’s visit, as the incumbent, Francis Campbell, has announced that the Pope’s visit will be his final duty.
So far, the BBC has announced only four of the 12 celebrity contestants for the show. Widdecombe’s signing at this early stage sends a confused message about any potential association with the Vatican post. Is she seeking to raise her profile so as to garner greater publicity for her eventual appointment, or does she know she has been dropped from consideration and could thus commit to the whole run of the show? Either way, joining the programme so early on is a baffling move.
In this week’s special secularism issue of the New Statesman, she speaks to Alyssa McDonald about rumours that she will be Britain’s new envoy to the Vatican, saying:
That is pure speculation from the press. Your profession loves speculation.
Later on in the interview, when asked about her future plans, she remains stubbornly noncommittal, telling Alyssa: “Good try, but I’m not being drawn.”
Given her refusal to comment on her candidacy, the decision to join Strictly Come Dancing is decidedly odd, as it seems to be her first real positive statement on the subject. What exactly it shows, though, is a matter for speculation.