One of the first speakers I saw at the Appledore Book Festival in late September was Ann Widdecombe, once a Minister in John Major's Conservative government of the 1990s.
Already an author - see the titles above - she retired from politics in 2010 and plunged into the national 'speaking circuit'. On holiday, I seemed to see posters all over the place, saying that Ann Widdecombe would be speaking at this or that local venue. She seemed assiduous in getting around the country and making her viewpoint known. It was certainly a good way to put her personality (and personal history) across to the general public. I have little doubt that despite holding some contentious beliefs - some of them rather cross-grained, and against what you might regard as the lax mainstream of modern British life - an awful lot of people wanted to listen to what she had to say, even if they felt opposed to her own way of looking at things. This had been how I felt too. I couldn't share her religiosity in any way, and found her over-dogmatic on several topics. But it didn't dampen my keenness to hear her if the opportunity came. Well, it did come. I wasn't disappointed.
The Church at Appledore was packed, mostly by women. A lot of people see Ann Widdecombe as the epitome of the no-nonsense, dauntless, outspoken woman, somebody who has plenty to say and says it well. I wasn't quite in the front row, but I had a good view of her throughout. Here she came:
She'd just written another book, of course, but concentrated on how she began to write, and the various problems that beset an author who was a former politician - for instance, how it took a very long time for politically-minded acquaintances to accept that she had retired from that kind of public life, and did not have to pay any heed to 'what voters might think'. Or how the subject-matter of the books themselves was derived.
She triumphed over portliness. I'm not sure I would myself have worn riding boots with that green dress, but nevertheless they looked very expensive, no-nonsense riding boots, and they definitely assisted her stage presence. As if it needed any assistance whatever! She was a clear, frank speaker, who did not mince her words. She gave quick, definite replies to questions. It was most refreshing to hear somebody who did not hedge or prevaricate. She spoke her mind - exactly what the audience wanted. I felt great admiration for her. Here are some shots, which radiate aspects of her forceful personality:
No, she wasn't looking directly at me! (Or at least I hope not!)
In the next shot, she was directing the lady with the roving cordless mike to some person in a back row, who wanted to ask a question. It was very much on the lines of 'That lady in blue three rows in front of the font, seven in, sitting next to the man with the green jacket and red hair!'
When she had had her hour (which I'm pretty sure over-ran) she left to lots of smiles and a great clapping:
I could have joined her in St Mary's Hall, where she was signing books. But I was waylaid by friends Jayne and Vicky, and walked away chatting to Jayne. But actually, I'm not sure whether the feeble Melford personality could have withstood the exposure of sitting close to this most formidable woman at the signing-table - or at least, I'd have been much more comfortable talking to her in a less formal kind of social situation. But it was not to be.
I'd certainly like to hear her speak again.