By the time you’ve reached a certain age, you’ve gathered a harvest of “where were you when” moments. “Where were you when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon”; “Where were you when John Lennon was shot”.
To these enormous, epoch-defining events we must add “Where were you when Ed Balls danced gangnam style in front of more than ten million people on national television?”
I’ve just spent 15 minutes watching it over and over again and it makes me laugh till my eyes sting, every time. Each viewing is a gift, prompting so many questions that I can’t answer.
What’s he mouthing to himself? Why am I not disturbed that a former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer pretends to ride a scantily clad young lady as if she’s a pony? How long can he get away with lugging said lady, Katya Jones, around the ballroom as if he’s a fireman who’s just rescued her from a flooded storm drain and he must dash with her to safety?
What I liked about Ed Balls on Strictly Come Dancing is that he took it seriously, though without being pompous and banging on about his “journey”.
If, week after week, he made no effort and being terrible was just his “thing”, then I wouldn’t be interested. He’d be a gimmick, like Ann Widdecombe or John Sergeant. The joke act wears thin.
But what I REALLY liked about Ed Balls on Strictly is that he was the acme of middle-aged reinvention. His political career was derailed after he lost his seat at the general election and it must be tough to gather yourself after such a public, personal humiliation.
Even if you don’t share a jot of his political ideas, it’s hard not to sympathise. Inevitably he went into academia, to Harvard University, researching financial stability. And we might never have heard from him again.
But I love Balls for finding himself at a huge crossroads and deciding, why not, let’s do the serious stuff (Central Bank Independence Revisited is his latest work. No, me neither), but let’s push in another direction. Let’s jump right out of the comfort zone and see what happens.
Amid all the bouncing, accomplished younger contestants, he was the plodder. But that’s fine, because Balls didn’t behave like a doofus or a buffoon. It’s obvious he wanted to improve and learn, which surely is what Strictly should be about.
It would be a different, not so thrilling, show if all the contestants were box-fresh-brilliant and awarded eights, nines and tens from the judges every week.
I’m going to say it: I wanted him to win, I really did, as an example to us all. I liked that Balls made no apology for being on a television talent show. He wasn’t remotely ashamed or embarrassed, and he continued doing the academic stuff.
I had arguments about this with colleagues who felt he couldn’t do both. But I thought he could; one doesn’t cancel out the other.
He’s embraced new opportunities, with gusto. He’s a lesson to us all. Most important of all, though, Balls is a beacon of hope for middle-aged people who feel restless, or think there’s something missing, or who desperately want to give something new and potentially difficult a try.
Balls isn’t having a midlife crisis; being lowered from the Blackpool Tower ballroom ceiling on a rope to do a jive surely is no one’s idea of a cry for help. No, it’s an affirmation.
So if you find yourself, fellow middle-lifers, wondering if you should embark on the road less travelled, I have some words of advice – go ahead, do an Ed!
Strictly Come Dancing continues 7pm this Saturday, BBC1