TV presenter RUTH LANGSFORD on being this year’s unlikely star of Strictly Come Dancing, why she’s proud to be 57 – and the secret of her happy marriage to Eamonn Holmes.
We meet an hour or so before Ruth, who is married to award-winning presenter Eamonn Holmes, is due at a nearby dance studio for an afternoon of stretches, lunges and twists for an upcoming attempt at a ‘terrifying tango’ (which subsequently turns out to be her best dance on the show).
She is not, she happily admits, the best dancer in Strictly 2017, which includes the dazzlingly talented pop star Aston Merrygold and equally fleet-footed singer Alexandra Burke, as well as the surprisingly limber Debbie McGee, widow of magician Paul Daniels. In fact, so stunned was Ruth by her triumphant tango that she ended up in hot water after she tweeted, ‘We’re through to next week’ before the results show was broadcast, thereby spoiling the outcome for viewers.
‘I work in live TV – I have absolutely no excuse,’ she says. ‘I was just overexcited. I did manage to delete it from my Twitter account but forgot it was also on Facebook.’ But the blunder has done nothing to dent her popularity.
Strictly viewers love seeing a celebrity who has genuinely never had a dance lesson in their life giving it a go. ‘I’ve always loved the show and always wanted to be asked to do it,’ says Ruth. ‘I just wanted to learn to dance. And I wanted to do it for a whole generation of menopausal women who haven’t given up on themselves just because they are in their 50s. For me, this was about hot moves, not hot flushes, and throwing myself into the glamour, sequins and drama of this incredible show. I’m not a trained dancer but I still put myself out there and try because I want to have fun and see how far I can go.’
It can’t be much fun facing the judges’ criticism though. Craig Revel Horwood described her debut waltz as a ‘stumble and grab’ and head judge Shirley Ballas pointed out issues with timing, while Bruno Tonioli lambasted her frozen hips in the rumba. Rather surprisingly to her fans, the Ruth who won’t take any nonsense on This Morning has meekly accepted their rebukes.
She shrugs. ‘I’m usually such a mix of nerves and relief once the dance is over that I hear barely half of what they are saying; it goes in one big blur. And they are always right – I can’t argue. I was upset about my hips, though, because I really do try to move them.’
However, it hasn’t been Ruth’s footwork that has made her a Strictly star; it’s her popularity – as evidenced by the almost million followers she has across Instagram and Twitter. What women love about her – largely thanks to more than 20 years of sitting in for better-known TV presenters – is that she has never crossed the bridge between us and them.
Days after dressing up in a blonde wig to perform the rumba on Strictly, she was in workout gear alongside her sister Julia, 60, and 3,000 members of the public in a Memory Walk to raise money for Alzheimer’s; her father Dennis died of complications arising from the disease in 2012.
In person, Ruth is as authentic and warm as she is on screen. She is close to the Strictly cast, especially Sunday Brunch chef Simon Rimmer (with whom she has worked often over the years) and Brian Conley (both of whom have been voted off the show), but she has a special bond with Debbie. ‘That woman is incredible. She’s giving all the young ones a run for their money. I just watch her with my mouth open, thinking: “How can her body do that?”’ Meanwhile, This Morning viewers can’t get enough of Ruth’s bickering with co-host Eamonn over the sort of issues that all couples argue about: ‘The other day he kept saying, “So you haven’t ever seen Blade Runner? I can’t believe it.” After he said it for the third time I snapped because he was driving me up the wall.’
She’s similarly down-to-earth about her latest project, Ruth Langsford Fashion, a clothing line for QVC. ‘My biggest mission was to create a pair of jeans for a woman who doesn’t have a perfectly flat stomach and who doesn’t want a waistband that digs in. I also wanted four-way stretch denim because it is more flattering. I didn’t do the designs because I’m not a designer but I spent hours in changing rooms and weeks saying, “women my age want a dress with sleeves” or, “we need lace that stretches and longer hemlines”. If someone is buying into something that I am saying will make them look good, they have to be able to trust that I’ve put the work in to make sure it does.’
There is something reassuringly head girl-like about Ruth, who grew up with Julia in an army family. Born in Singapore, she lived in five different countries before the age of ten and was sent to boarding school in London aged eight. Ruth has no complaints about moving around or being packed off for school at such a young age. After leaving at 16, following O-levels, she began working as a TV journalist in the Southwest. She remains incredibly close to Julia, a landscape gardener, and her 87-year-old mum Joan, who lives in Cornwall.
‘I loved school,’ she says. ‘My background set me up for life because it forced me to become independent and organised. I’ve never played the helpless female. Eamonn says, “Ruth, you don’t need me for anything.” And I’ll say, “But that’s the point, I want you around.” The biggest attraction for me with Eamonn is that he makes me laugh so much. And he is incredibly emotionally sensitive.’
Ruth moved to London in the mid-90s, winning a variety of presenting roles on the burgeoning satellite TV networks and trying to break into mainstream TV. In 1997 she met Eamonn. He had split from his first wife Gabrielle so their relationship was slow to start and very low profile. They never held hands in public and rarely went to events together because Eamonn, who had three children – Declan, Rebecca and Niall, now grown up – felt it would be insensitive.
Rather than take it as a slight, Ruth says, ‘I thought it spoke volumes about the sort of man he was, the sort of father he was and the integrity he had. It made me love him more, not less.’ At the Cheltenham races in 2010 he asked her to marry him and she later discovered he had already asked her mother for her hand in marriage, as her father, by then, had advanced Alzheimer’s.
Their bond is still rock solid. ‘Eamonn will be the first to take the mick out of me but he will also be the first to floor me with his thoughtfulness. When I get home after rehearsing he’ll have a bowl of ice out for my feet and a gin and tonic on the side. He will pause one of his Second World War documentaries and listen to me rambling on about my toes, my back, what Anton said and how I can’t remember a step. I’m giving him zero attention but I know he won’t be thinking that. He just gets it. He gets me. That’s why we work.’
Marriage – like success in her career and motherhood – came late to Ruth. She was 41 when they had their son, Jack, now 15, and 50 when she and Eamonn finally tied the knot atThe Elvetham hotel in Hampshire. ‘Things have happened for me late,’ she says. ‘In my early 30s I heard someone describing me as “a career girl”, which was their explanation for why I was single. That wasn’t the case. I wanted to be a mother but I didn’t want to settle for someone I almost loved.
I didn’t meet Eamonn until I was 37. I would have liked to have had more children but everything in life is about timing and my timing has always been later rather than sooner.’
Yet her career sucess is not because of her relationship with Eamonn. Her following has sprung from social media, Loose Women and an all-round feeling that this is a woman who represents a generation of 50-somethings who still feel vital and relevant in an increasingly youth-obsessed world. ‘There’s never been a more interesting time for women because our voices are being heard.’
Ruth pauses and smiles. ‘And now we are allowed to talk about things openly, such as the menopause. I’m not going to pretend I’m not 57 and not in menopause – that’s a big part of me doing Strictly. It’s for all those women who are going through it and who don’t want to go and hide in a corner and never be noticed again.
‘I’m getting older and I want to embrace that and feel proud. There are times I look in the mirror and think, “I wonder if I’d look better with a bit of Botox?” Or I’ll say to Eamonn, “Oh my God, I have no waist. I’ve thickened up,” like my mum used to say. He tells me not to be ridiculous and that I look great. I’m also lucky to work with talented make-up artists who can still make me look glamorous. And then I think. “Well, this is who I am.” I’m still going to resist that urge to have a big old squirt of Botox in my face.’
Ruth admits that she would never have had the energy to even contemplate doing Strictly when her menopause kicked in two years ago. ‘Some women talk about it happening overnight but it crept up on me. I noticed my body changing, my waist going, my hair thinning and my skin on my face and neck getting less firm.
A few years ago I stopped being able to sleep. I would wake up in the night boiling hot, I’d throw off the covers and then wake up freezing. It would happen so often that after a few months I was completely exhausted. I felt I was losing my energy, losing a bit of who I was. But I am always pragmatic, so I made an appointment to see my GP.’
On his advice, Ruth decided to avoid conventional HRT medication and opt for bioidentical hormone therapy, which involves having your hormone levels tested and taking oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, derived from plants, accordingly. ‘They have worked really well for me,’ she says. ‘My hot flushes disappeared practically overnight. Once that happened I could sleep, and then my energy levels came back. Different things work for different people, but it’s something we should be talking about. I’m very happy to stand up and break the silence.’
The time is ticking for her session with Anton. I ask if she is worried about the so-called curse of Strictly. She hoots with laughter. ‘Everyone is asking me if Eamonn is OK and offering to drop off lasagnes and shepherd’s pies for him as if he can’t possibly manage because his wife is away rehearsing for hours. We both laugh our heads off about it.
I’m not worried about a curse. If anything, it’s been the opposite – Eamonn loves me looking so glamorous. On a Saturday night, before I go into make-up, he’ll ask who he’s going home with that night. The blonde hair was a very big hit. And with all the dancing I’ve finally got my waist back. So if any woman my age is feeling they are losing their body to the menopause, my advice would be to get dancing.’
Strictly Come Dancing is on BBC One on Saturday and Sunday evenings. Ruth and Eamonn present This Morning on ITV on Fridays at 10.30am. Loose Women is on ITV on weekdays at 12.30pm. For more information on Ruth Langsford Fashion, visit qvcuk.com
– By Louise Gannon