Sherbet lemons: ‘punishing yourself is what it’s all about’ – Ann Widdecombe at Swindon Festival of Literature

6 May
Ann Widdecombe speaking at the Swindon Festival of Literature ©Calyx Pictures

Ann Widdecombe speaking at the Swindon Festival of Literature ©Calyx Pictures

Last night I was held spellbound by the contradictory tale of a tenacious, ferocious, grey creature with a mixed public reputation, today Swindon Festival of Literature presented Ann Widdecome in all of her similar guises.

Ostensibly in town to talk about her book Sackcloth and Ashes, the former MP made it clear right from the start that she was happy to talk and take questions about any aspect of present day politics or her often controversial stance on religious issues.

This was one intimidating, charming performer with no need for protection as she slickly moved from one topic to another. At the centre of her 28 minutes (exactly) presentation was the idea of penance and where does it fit into our modern ‘me, me, me’ society.

Widdecome spoke about the concept of lent being lost to ideas of ‘losing weight’ or ‘giving up alcohol for six weeks’, when the truth of the matter is to have an opportunity to make a demonstration to God about what you have done wrong.

In a sentence begging to be delivered on the steps of the Palace of Westminster she continued, ‘We are all bad, we are all sinners’ and the penance of lent is the opportunity to make amends, our sacrifice is designed to be hard.

Lent is us imitating the pain of Christ, she continued to a full Arts Centre. While steering clear of theology, there is no doubt that Widdecome knows what she believes and how to express it just as easily in a religious arena as a political one.

In fact she says that she can wreck any dinner party by talking about politics and religion which I will try to remember as a boil my kettle ready for a Pot Noodle and Tizer banquet with her in the future. So what could we talk about? Of course, dancing! Strictly Come Dancing, which she says she enjoyed and also expressed some of her freedom about no longer having to adhere to the strict media profile of an MP.

She says that she doesn’t miss politics at all and realised that her time was up when she started enjoying ‘Countdown’ more than Prime Minister’s Questions. If you’ve listened to PMQ’s lately I would say it’s probably more enjoyable to receive painkiller free root canal surgery from Miley Cyrus than endure the ‘Punch and Judy politics’ that David Cameron once promised to rid us of.

But Ann Widdecome sees it all as part of a political pantomime she does not miss one bit, politics no longer has heavyweights, potential candidates are too scared of the press prying into their private lives in her opinion. Her opinions will never be discovered under a bushel.

The final Q&A was a clear example of this, not for her the hand wringing and dodging of the career MP’s, her replies were straight, forthright and clear and as her last answer left her lips she unpinned her microphone and exited stage left, job done.

For me, an hour with Ann Widdecome was like sucking on a sherbet lemon. It was familiar, sweet at the start, before gradually becoming more acidic and finally inducing an irritating cough. But as she said very clearly, ‘punishing yourself is what it’s all about.’

Words by Michael Scott. Photos by Calyx Pictures.

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