Tory shadow home secretary, Ann Widdecombe was renowned for her hardline zero-tolerance policies on issues such as drugs. She has since reinvented herself as a reality TV star, appearing in Celebrity Fit Club and her own short-lived series Ann Widdecombe To The Rescue. She's also the author of three novels. Ann can be seen on Channel 5's show Don't Get Me Started tonight at 7.15pm, attacking our obsession with looks.
So why does vanity ‘get you started’?
The current over-emphasis on physical perfection and how it is pushed at women from every direction annoys me greatly, so I did my programme about that. It’s impossible to pick up a women’s magazine without seeing an article on how you can lose 8 stone and the contents are all looks and body-dominated. The result is girls as young as nine getting anorexia - it’s a sign of a society that’s got nothing else to worry about.
When did you notice this trend?
I’ve been banging on about it for years. It gets worse by the year, though. The sheer obsession with exercise, for example. Exercise in moderation is very good for you but people don’t keep it to moderation - we look at someone who is obsessed with going to the gym in the programme. Women get up at 5am to go to the gym before they go to work. It’s nonsense.
Were you shocked by anything in the programme?
The willingness of women to undergo surgery for very minor imperfections despite the obvious risks involved. There have been tremendous disasters resulting from cosmetic surgery which wasn’t even necessary in the first place. If you’ve been in a serious accident then everyone understands why you’d want cosmetic surgery but if it’s reducing the size of a nose or bust then, in my view, that’s out of proportion to the risks involved.
How can you change the situation?
You can’t. It’s not a matter for Government. You just need to say to people: ‘Look what you’re doing. Haven’t you got other things to think about?’
But you lost weight and dyed your hair blonde. Is that the thin end of the wedge?
That’s nonsense. I dyed my hair blonde because it is was going white and it’s easier to keep white hair blonde than dark. As for the weight, I don’t look like Twiggy. For heaven’s sake, I’m not saying it’s wrong to exercise or lose weight; it’s wrong to become unhealthily obsessed with those things. I’ve never said ‘don’t lose weight, don’t put make-up on, don’t tidy your hair’. It’s ridiculous.
There comes a time when doing shows such as Countdown is more enjoyable than Question Time
As a Conservative, aren’t you in favour of entrepreneurs starting businesses to exploit people’s insecurities?
The key word there is ‘exploit’. I’m in favour of entrepreneurship. There’s nothing wrong with setting up a gym. The issue is when you take it to extremes. Do you think Posh is the right size? She’s a role model, though, and girls look to her and think that’s what they should look like. I’d prefer young girls looked up to Charlotte Church but, wherever you look, the magazines push people like Posh at you. It’s a matter of moderation. Going to the gym is fine but going for three hours before and after work every day means you have a problem.
If you were Home Secretary, how would you have responded to the recent airport security scare?
I’d have been ultra-pleased with the security services and police for doing a brilliant job. There wasn’t a logical approach to what was allowed on planes, though, which caused confusion. They let people take mobile phones onboard but banned lipstick. Where was the logic?
How would you address the issue of British-born Muslims becoming terrorists?
These kids aren’t getting this stuff out of the air - they’re getting it from somebody. You need to identify who the extremists are and where they’re teaching their beliefs and prevent them doing so. If they have no right to be in this country then turn them out. If they do have a right to be here, charge them with inciting violence. You have to tell the Muslim community that it’s tough but they have terrorists in their midst and they must co-operate with the forces of law and order. The quicker they do, the quicker we get back to having an integrated community.
But then Muslims complain they’re being targeted.
If I phoned the police and told them I’d been burgled by a white man in jeans, they wouldn’t go out looking for a black man in a suit. The threat is coming from extremists within the Muslim community, so we have to look at people who match that description. Some will be targeted more than others but, in a national emergency, you must accept that.
There’s a picture of you adopting goats on your website. What’s that about?
A goat sanctuary has opened in my constituency. They’ve got about 60 goats who have been abandoned. I thought it was a jolly good initiative and adopted a couple of goats; I send the odd cheque to support them.
Do you plan to retire?
If this parliament is a normal length then it’s quite likely I’ll go at the end of it. If I do, I’ll concentrate on writing.
Won’t you miss it?
You can’t do something you enjoy for 20 years, leave and then not miss it. I’ve done nearly everything I wanted to do as an MP. There comes a time when the metropolis seems less attractive than the countryside - and doing whimsical shows such as Countdown is more enjoyable than the bash, bash, bash of Question Time. It’s a gradual process but, when you feel it happening, you have to ask yourself if it’s time to leave.
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