Strictly Newsroom: What turns female newsreaders into strutting divas?

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

Kate Silverton sizzled as Jessica Rabbit in a foxtrot with pro partner Aljaz Skorjanec in the current series of Strictly. Image: Guy Levy/BBC

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.

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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.

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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.’

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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.