What is it about the dance show that turns fe­male news­read­ers into strut­ting di­vas the sec­ond they hit the floor? Laura Craik in­ves­ti­gates

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Kate Sil­ver­ton and the Strictly news­reader phe­nom­e­non.

If there’s one thing Strictly can be re­lied upon to do, it’s de­liver a fris­son of fam­ily-friendly, pre-wa­ter­shed-ap­pro­pri­ate sex ap­peal. Although in the case of some con­tes­tants, per­haps ‘fris­son’ is too mea­gre a mea­sure. For who was this slink­ing on to the stage in a lip­stick-red fish­tail gown, lan­guorous pur­ple evening gloves and a tum­ble of red curls? Could it be… Kate Sil­ver­ton? Her off the news? With the glasses and the short, prac­ti­cal hair?

When even Craig Revel Hor­wood casts his usual harsh crit­i­cisms aside to call you ‘sul­try, sexy, se­duc­tive’, you know you’ve made an im­pact. But if Kate, 48, was shocked and sur­prised at his ver­dict, she re­ally shouldn’t have been. Ever since se­ries one back in 2004, fe­male news­read­ers have been daz­zling on the dance­floor, strut­ting their stuff in a man­ner more sugges­tive of them hav­ing been for­mer mem­bers of The Pussy­cat Dolls as op­posed to som­bre read­ers of News at Ten. Who can fail to re­call Natasha Kaplin­sky, whose chem­istry with part­ner Bren­dan Cole led to per­sis­tent ru­mours of an af­fair? Few would ever have bet that Natasha would waltz off with the show’s in­au­gu­ral tro­phy. But she did.

Kate is the lat­est in a long line of news­read­ers who have taken to ball­room danc­ing with a pas­sion that would put the pro­fes­sion­als to shame. Kate Gar­raway shone in se­ries five, Katie Der­ham sparkled in se­ries 13 and Su­sanna Reid nar­rowly missed win­ning se­ries 11, pipped at the post by Abbey Clancy.

Less suc­cess­ful was ITV’s Good Morn­ing Bri­tain an­chor Char­lotte Hawkins. Last year she was paired with Bren­dan Cole; they were elim­i­nated in the fourth week of the com­pe­ti­tion. And a year be­fore that, BBC Break­fast’s Naga Munchetty didn’t make it past week three – pos­si­bly be­cause of her reser­va­tions about how the show might af­fect her rep­u­ta­tion as a cred­i­ble news­reader. ‘I’ve got a se­ri­ous per­sona on air and it’s im­por­tant the pub­lic trust and re­spect me,’ she said. ‘I was con­cerned they’d see me spin­ning around in se­quins then not take what I’m say­ing as se­ri­ously.’ Hard to re­lax into a rumba with such mis­giv­ings.

Naga needn’t have wor­ried. Af­ter all, she and her ilk were only fol­low­ing in the twinkly-heeled foot­steps of An­gela Rip­pon, the first fe­male news­reader to dance into the na­tion’s hearts back in 1976. Watched by an au­di­ence of 26 mil­lion, it’s hard to con­vey the cul­tural im­pact of An­gela high-kick­ing her way on to The More­cambe & Wise Show Christ­mas spe­cial in a di­aphanous cream tulle gown. Rather than dent­ing An­gela’s cred­i­bil­ity, how­ever, it en­hanced it, en­abling her to shed the news­reader’s staid, one- di­men­sional im­age and em­brace a more mul­ti­fac­eted ca­reer. In 2011, aged 67, An­gela re-en­acted this most fa­mous of TV mo­ments for Chil­dren In Need, de­light­ing au­di­ences anew by prov­ing that she could still do the splits.

So why do fe­male news­read­ers morph into such sul­try sex­pots the mo­ment a se­quined ball­gown looms near? Dance psy­chol­o­gist Dr Peter Lo­vatt has a the­ory: ‘Read­ing the news is based on clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion, a metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to de­tail and an abil­ity to re­tain self- con­trol – skills that are also es­sen­tial for danc­ing a fox­trot, the vi­en­nese waltz or a tango,’ he ex­plains. ‘But whereas read­ing the news re­quires the pre­sen­ter to com­mu­ni­cate facts and in­for­ma­tion while sit­ting or stand­ing still, danc­ing is dy­namic rather than static. And it’s wrapped in vi­brant colour and se­quins. These dif­fer­ences give us the op­por­tu­nity to see a very ob­vi­ous transformation. A news­read­ing cater­pil­lar be­comes a danc­ing but­ter­fly.’

Per­haps it’s this meta­mor­pho­sis which so en­dears news­read­ers to the Strictly au­di­ence. Whether your favourite is Cin­derella, My Fair Lady or Grease, ev­ery­body loves a transformation story; that, ‘why, Miss Jones!’ mo­ment when the sub­ject takes off her glasses, shakes out her hair and em­braces her in­ner sex god­dess. To the viewer, this com­bi­na­tion of fa­mil­iar­ity and nov­elty is cathar­tic, se­duc­tive. ‘Danc­ing news­read­ers give us hope,’ says Lo­vatt. ‘They show us that change is pos­si­ble, that we too have the po­ten­tial to trans­form.’

Alas, male news­read­ers don’t quite have the same ‘danc­ing but­ter­fly’ ap­peal as their fe­male coun­ter­parts. In se­ries 13, Jeremy Vine looked more like a danc­ing grasshop­per; Ni­cholas Owen was elim­i­nated in week one of se­ries four, and John Sergeant was so dire that he chose to bow out of se­ries six, de­spite be­ing part­nered with the for­mi­da­ble Kristina Ri­hanoff. No won­der there are no male news­read­ers in the cur­rent se­ries: they were all prob­a­bly too afraid to say yes.

So this year Kate Sil­ver­ton will just have to rep­re­sent news­read­ers of both sexes – long may she keeeeeep danc­ing.

FROM LEFT: Natasha Kaplin­sky, Naga Munchetty, Kate Sil­ver­ton, Su­sanna Reid, Kate Gar­raway and Katie Der­ham

An­gela Rip­pon, right, set the tone for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of news­read­ers when she came out from be­hind the desk to dance with More­cambe & Wise for their 1976 Christ­mas spe­cial. Kate Sil­ver­ton (below) siz­zled as Jes­sica Rab­bit in a fox­trot with pro part­ner Al­jaz Sko­r­janec in the cur­rent se­ries of Strictly

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