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We got through Dunkirk, we should be able to get through blinking Brexit says Ann Widdecombe

PUBLISHED: 12:30 03 December 2017 | UPDATED: 15:20 03 December 2017

Former MP Ann Widdecombe. Photo: Poppy Berry

Former MP Ann Widdecombe. Photo: Poppy Berry

©Poppy Berry

Ex-MP Ann Widdecombe has much to say, as ever, about the state of the nation, but she also showed a softer side as she talked about her Christmas panto turn in the region.

Ann Widdecombe and the rest of the cast of Aladdin, at Lowestoft's Marina Theatre. Photo: Mick Howes Ann Widdecombe and the rest of the cast of Aladdin, at Lowestoft's Marina Theatre. Photo: Mick Howes

Dubbed Doris Karloff during her, at times controversial, 23 years as an MP; Ann wasn’t thinking about herself or changing people’s perceptions when she agreed to play the Empress of China in Aladdin. It’s all about the kids.

“For four solid weeks all you hear is them laughing and there’s no better sound in the world. That’s the main attraction. You don’t need a great deal of subtlety and cleverness to make them laugh. It’s just wonderful. We get families in the evening and you tend to get pensioners’ outings and such like, so it’s great fun, that’s what it’s about.”

She doesn’t miss politics, believing she went at exactly the right time. If she’d left earlier, she would have. If she’d left later, she would’ve been very jaded.

As you’d expect, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t got plenty to say about current goings on at Westminster. Her recent appearance on Good Morning Britain made headlines when she discussed Brexit dressed in her Empress of China costume.

“I might have liked to have been there for Brexit if we’d had a majority, but I mean the shenanigans that are going on at the moment without it is different,” says Ann, once tipped as a future Conservative party leader.

“When William Hague stood down and I was the shadow home secretary, it was going to be that year I was going to do it if any. I had masses of support in the country but not at Westminster so that was it. If I had been party leader it would’ve been an entirely different set up altogether. I always said that and I think that’s why they were always very wary.”

She would’ve challenged the way we’re running the health service.

“Which is somehow with the illusion that we can carry on as we are and it will turn out alright on the night. In fact it’s getting worse, the rationing’s intensifying. We can’t manage it. We would never have designed it if we knew what was going to happen.”

Ann Widdecombe as the Empress of China in Aladdin, at Lowestoft's Marina Theatre. Photo: Paul Holman Associates Ann Widdecombe as the Empress of China in Aladdin, at Lowestoft's Marina Theatre. Photo: Paul Holman Associates

She says if we can get through Dunkirk, we should be able to get through “blinking Brexit”.

“There’s always uncertainty in politics, that’s part of the game; never knowing exactly what is going to happen. If you did you would always be prepared and you would never make a mistake but politics is not like that. The nation can’t be childish... you can’t expect that you know everything is going to be alright.

“You’ve got to make decisions, judgements. Some will be right, some will be wrong, some will be neutral and that is what people do. It’s no good sitting there going ‘oh please make it alright mummy’.”

The show is, I’m surprised to learn, her fifth panto outing. Having played wicked queens and fairy godmothers, she’s looking forward to her first time in Old Peking.

“Very much so. It’s going to be a new experience,” says Ann, who started rehearsals at Lowestoft’s Marina Theatre yesterday. She’s no stranger to the spotlight of course, swapping Westminster for the Strictly dance floor with Anton du Beke when she retired from Parliament.

“I haven’t been watching Strictly because Anton’s gone out so that’s it,” she laughs, admitting she’s never yet watched the show all the way through since. “It’s too great a thief of time quite honestly.”

She’s been to most big places across the UK during her time as an MP, but is very wary of pointing to any particular time she’s visited Lowestoft before. “If I say no, somebody will say ‘ooh you were here 15 years ago at such and such village hall’, it happens every time so forget it.”

Ann, who’s planning another detective novel as well as finally finishing the trilogy that began with An Act of Treachery and then An Act of Peace, enjoyed working with the same company in Bridlington last year. She was always going to say yes if they called again. Lowestoft, indeed Suffolk, is very pleasant - if a bit nippy right now.

Ann Widdecombe, right, appearing as the Empress of China in Aladdin, at Lowestoft's Marina Theatre. Photo: Mick Howes Ann Widdecombe, right, appearing as the Empress of China in Aladdin, at Lowestoft's Marina Theatre. Photo: Mick Howes

“Once you go to a seaside town in the winter you expect nippyness. The theatre itself, you’re usually warm because you’re rushing from dressing room to stage and you’ve got all the stage lighting glaring down on you - and I won’t be parading around Lowestoft in costume,” she laughs.

Last time we spoke topics included the IRA, re-introducing the death penalty, shackling pregnant prisoners and her alleged hand in Michael Howard’s infamous brush with Jeremy Paxman. It’s a bit odd hearing the fearsome former MP debating how to approach her role as the Empress of China.

She’s a baddie in as much as she’s trying to prevent Aladdin marrying Jasmine, but she’s not evil-hearted or murderous like Snow White’s Wicked Queen. “She’s more snobby so I’m going to play her as a very haughty person, a bit of a Lady Bracknell I think... ‘a haandbaag?’,” she laughs.

Ann is looking forward to the comic bits, although is cautious to say too much.

“The script gets changed... I might say I’m looking forward to the ghost scene, which I am; but for all I know the producer might suddenly decide to do another thing, so I’m always fairly wary. They always put in a bit about Strictly, Brexit, all that sort of stuff. I get an input into my role, if I want to do something. I don’t get an input into other roles, I’m not a busy body.”

Could we be seeing the birth of Ann Widdecombe, serious actor?

“I look at anything I’m asked to do and decide on its merits at the time I’m asked. If anybody ever asked me to consider that I would. I just respond to things as they come in. When the telephone rings I never know who’s going to be on the other end, which I enjoy.”

See Ann in Aladdin, from December 13-January 1, at Lowestoft’s Marina Theatre. She’ll also be staging An Evening with Ann Widdecombe on December 4.

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