ON a velvet sofa in a London restaurant, Angela Rippon sticks a thumb inside the waistband of her lilac satin pencil skirt, exposing at least an inch of fresh air.
“This was made for me, and it’s too big now,” says the legendary broadcaster, who fronts our Women of the Year issue and is, after 10 weeks of gruelling Strictly training, a whole stone lighter.
Angela Rippon looks amazing, with Strictly having changed the former presenterCredit: Mark Hayman
Few celebs have garnered as much attention as the dance show’s oldest-ever contestantCredit: Mark Hayman
Of course, physical transformations are ten a penny on Strictly as stars dance away the pounds, but over the BBC show’s 19-year history, few celebrities have garnered as much admiration as Angela, who, at 79, is the oldest-ever contestant.
With her boundless energy and dexterity, as well as the over-the-head kicks many 20-somethings would struggle to replicate, she inspired fans across the country.
And despite losing out in the dance-off in Blackpool last month, Angela insists she has finished on top, because of the positive influence she’s had on the nation.
“People are stopping me in the street, in the supermarket, and saying: ‘You’ve been inspirational.’
“I’m an advocate for keeping fit as you get older.
“By going on Strictly, I was putting my money where my mouth is.
“If people have enjoyed seeing me and it’s made them think: ‘If she can do it at 79, I can do it at whatever age,’ then that’s my Glitterball.”
‘I don’t want to die with the words “if only” on my lips’
Despite “knocking on 80”, Angela is juggling “a full working life in TV”, which includes filming segments for The One Show, recording Rip-Off Britain and preparing for Strictly’s 2024 nationwide tour, which she says she jumped at the chance to take part in.
“I thought: ‘Why not?’ Before I fall off my perch, I want to achieve as much as I possibly can.
She says that inspiring people who are older to stay fit is her own GlitterballCredit: BBC / Guy Levy
“I don’t want to die with the words ‘if only’ on my lips.”
Just like her relentless stamina and enthusiasm, Angela’s sky-high cheekbones and strong jawline belie her age.
“I had spots when I was younger, so I’ve taken care of my skin since I was 12 or so.
“I clean it, exfoliate with table salt every week and have never gone to bed with make-up on,” she says when asked about her beauty secrets.
And although she’s experimented with “all sorts of facial treatments”, Angela declares she’s only ever gone under the knife to have her nose rebuilt three times after a hat-trick of breakages.
“That’s enough plastic surgery, thank you very much!” she says.
She credits 10 minutes of stretching every morning, as well as tennis, Pilates and swimming, as the key to keeping her agile.
Plus, she’s been gluten- and dairy-free for more than 20 years, since a bout of severe food poisoning revealed she was intolerant.
She’s also teetotal, but “eats well and enjoys food”, preferably in the company of loved ones at her home in Kensington or the Devonshire bolt-hole she inherited from her late parents.
A trailblazer for more than half a century, Angela started out nearly 60 years ago in regional television, and was the newsroom’s only female reporter.
It was the same story after joining the BBC national news in 1973 – and two years later, she became the first female anchor at the Beeb to be appointed permanently.
Angela was a trailblazer, and started out as the only female reporter in newsrooms at the beginning of her careerCredit: Supplied
“I’ve had women say to me: ‘You made the first crack in the glass ceiling for us,’ and now when I walk into a newsroom or into a production office, I look at all the women making their way in broadcasting purely on merit, shoulder-to-shoulder with men – and sometimes better than men.”
Does she feel pride for instigating such monumental industry progress?
“That’s not for me to say, but I feel a real sense of achievement that women have come behind me and disproved John Birt,” she replies, alluding to the then BBC director-general telling her at 50 that she’d “had her day” and should “make way” for younger women.
“I thought it was insulting. In those 30 years, I’ve made I don’t know how many specials and documentaries, we’re in the 15th year of Rip-Off Britain and I’m still working full-time.
“I don’t know what he’s doing, but I’m having the time of my life!”
Although, as Angela says herself, “it hasn’t all been plain sailing”. In 1983, she was fired from TV-AM two months after launching the breakfast programme alongside her “Famous Five” colleagues – Michael Parkinson, Robert Kee, David Frost and Anna Ford.
It was, she can reflect now, a career blessing in disguise, because after a year at Capital Radio – to whom she is “forever grateful” – Angela relocated to Boston to become arts and entertainment correspondent for American broadcaster CBS.
With her own show, plus the freedom to do “whatever the heck I liked” on camera, she “loosened up” her on-screen persona.
‘I might go to Las Vegas for my 80th birthday’
Once back on British soil, with an Emmy under her belt, her career reignited and, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 2004, she was awarded an OBE in recognition of her services to broadcasting, charity and the arts.
There’s little chance of slowing down this Christmas, either.
Angela is hosting eight, including the family of her best friend of 62 years, Thelma, mum to one of Angela’s several grown-up godchildren.
She has never had children or remarried after divorcing her husband of 22 years, Christopher Dare, in 1989.
Is there room now in her life for romance?
“I don’t know,” she replies. “Right now, there isn’t anybody who is a lover, though there have been. But I’m very happy with my single status, because I have a lot of very lovely friends.”
After a big party for her 60th, Angela took herself off alone to Oman for her 70th, and is now contemplating how to celebrate her 80th, which falls next October.
“I might go to Las Vegas, as I’ve never been and it’s bonkers.
“I’ve travelled to Africa several times, but never on safari, so I might do that.
“It may come and go… I’m still thinking that one through.”
She adds: “I don’t think about my age. It’s just a date on a piece of paper.
“I don’t think of myself as getting older, I just think of myself as still being here. I’m just still around.”