Strictly Come Dancing bumps up ratings with older women
The BBC's Strictly Come Dancing launch has drawn one of its highest ever ratings, and more than 40 per cent of the television audience, by bringing "women of a certain age" into the competition after accusations of ageism.
In what is set to be a vintage year, 9m tuned in on Saturday night to catch a glimpse of the celebrity dancers, up from 8.3m last year.
Heading up one of the oldest line ups in the show's nine-series history is former MP Edwina Currie, who will be celebrating her 65th birthday next month, closely followed by 62-year-old Sixties icon Lulu.
The former model was swept off her feet after her dance partner Brendan Cole gave her a fireman's lift as the celebrity pairings were announced.
The 5'1 star said: “I was completely stunned to get Brendan because he’s the tallest dancer and I’m the smallest celebrity. We didn’t think we’d be paired together in a million years.”
But New Zealander Brendan, 35, revealed how he was bowled over by the decision, saying: “When I saw her in rehearsal I thought, 'This woman’s amazing, she’s hitting all her shapes, she’s a firecracker.'
“The things I’m going to be able to do with her will be incredible.”
Other contestants include legendary EastEnder star Anita Dobson, who looked much younger than her 62 years in a dress daringly split up to her thigh, former Neighbours actor Jason Donovan, boyband McFly's Harry Judd and The One Show host Alex Jones.
The popularity of past golden oldies such as Ann Widdecombe, who delighted audiences last year with her comically awfully performances, has caused BBC producers to think on the wisdom of age before beauty.
A BBC spokesman for the show said: "We are getting on more and more women of a certain age. I don't think this is a conscious decision, but the older contestants, lke Ann Widdecome, do prove to be very popular with viewers.
"We've tried to get a balance, so we've got lots of older women and then a few very young ones as we have lots of different ages tuning in," he said.
"We think Lulu will go very far and Edwina and Anita will be great entertainment."
The decision to include more mature contestants comes after the BBC faced widespread criticism for its perceived discrimination against older female presenters.
Last year the BBC denied accusations of ageism after replacing Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips, 66, with former winner Alesha Dixon, 30.
While earlier this year ex-Countryfile host Miriam O'Reilly, 53, won an employment tribunal against the corpation after she says she was unfairly dropped from the primetime show because of her age.