Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, used to tell a joke about a finance minister addressing a Cabinet meeting in the middle of a full-blown economic crisis. “Colleagues,” the stressed politician said, “we have come to the edge of the abyss and it’s time for a bold step forward.”
As I stood with my nervous fellow contestants at the Strictly launch show, hidden by a giant red rocket from the red carpet, screaming crowd and massed cameras on the other side, I certainly felt I was teetering on the edge of an abyss.
Then the rocket shot up, smoke billowed out, the cameras flashed wildly and we were all off – over the edge – a bold step forward into the full-on Strictly experience.
I’ve never felt further outside my comfort zone as I have done in these past few weeks. Speaking in Parliament or at party conferences as shadow Chancellor was always a bit nerve-racking, but I have been writing, speaking or debating about economic policy for 35 years.
Now I’m having to get used to performing a choreographed jive, or wearing a shirt with the boxer shorts sewn in so it feels like pulling on a romper suit. How on earth did I end up doing this? Well, I said yes to Strictly because I wanted to learn to dance and get fit, and everyone said it was great fun. But goodness it’s tough.
My dance professional, Katya Jones, is hugely talented and a lovely, fun person, but last week, working on one particular sequence, she told me we could only move on once I had done it properly five times. Half an hour and 38 attempts later, she finally said, “Right, that’s five, well done.” I collapsed in a heap.
I knew it would be physically tiring, but it’s the mental tiredness that overwhelms me. Trying to remember all the different aspects of the dance – steps, rhythm, posture, mood, all at the same time – is totally draining.
I know that no one is really expecting much from me, certainly after my debut dance, which was even more dad-like than I was expecting. But I’m not in this for the laughs. I’m determined to work hard, do my best and try to improve.
If there’s even one or two moves I can pull off and look like a proper dancer for a few moments, it will all be worth it, and I’ll have Katya to thank.
With the first live show approaching, I’m once more teetering on the edge. But I know there’s nothing to be done except take a bold step forward. I can’t wait to get going.
Wish me luck! – I’m going to need it!
Strictly Come Dancing continues tonight, BBC1, 9pm