It might appear on the face of it a rather scatter gun approach to ‘doing’ television, but former MP Ann Widdecombe assures the decision to do each one is not taken lightly.

Since leaving the House of Commons, she’s been on Strictly Come Dancing, become a quasi agony aunt, hosted a television quiz and even went on Celebrity Big Brother earlier this year with a good degree of success.

Her latest outing on the box was appearing as one of four celebrities who took to the wards of an NHS hospital to mark its 70th anniversary.

“Whenever my agent tells me about these things,” she begins. “I always think long and hard about them. For the NHS programme I was a little worried it might be some dubious semi-reality kind of programme rather than a worthy documentary but it turned out pretty well I think.

“You never really know when you begin these things whether your views are going to be born out but they were a hundred fold, certainly in terms of the difficulties the NHS is currently under. In the end I think we got that message across.”

Surely the same can’t be said for Celebrity Big Brother?

“I’ve been asked many times before,” she reveals, “and I’ve always turned them down but this time my agent told me it would be different. First of all it would be an all female house in celebration of a hundred years of Women’s Suffrage and over all it would be a lot more serious.

“My agent told me ‘if you think they’re not delivering on any of what they’ve promised, you just walk’ and I thought it’s not the jungle, it’s Elstree, I can just leave whenever I want.”

Fortunately she didn’t.

“The worst thing was no contact with the outside world,” Ann continues. “No books, no pens, not knowing what was happening in the world but the best thing for me was using it as a platform to promote free speech. After all I came runner-up in the end so there must have been a few people out there who agreed with what I was saying.”

Born in Bath, the daughter of a Whitehall civil servant, Ann tells me she went into politics to fight socialism.

“We were still in the years of the Cold War,” she explains, “so it was a very real threat at the time.”

Gazette: Ann Widdecombe

From 1976 to 1978, she was a councillor on Runnymede District Council in Surrey before contesting her first seat in Burnley in the 1979 general election and then, against David Owen, the Plymouth Devonport seat in the 1983 general election.

Ann was eventually elected to the House of Commons at the third time of asking in the 1987 general election as member for the constituency of Maidstone, which then became Maidstone and The Weald in 1997.

After stints as Shadow Home Secretary and Shadow Secretary of State for Health as well as Minster of State for Prisons in John Major’s last Cabinet, she retired from politics in 2010.

But that didn’t mean Ann stepping out from the limelight. Far from it.

Her inimitable performances on Strictly Come Dancing and in the Big Brother house have made her a popular and familiar face on stage and TV.

She has fronted her own series, Ann Widdecombe to the Rescue, acting as an agony aunt, and also served as question master on the Sky quiz show, Cleverdicks.

And as you might expect from someone who has fervently been outspoken all her life, theatres and festivals absolutely love hearing her talk about her life, which still involves serious debate and regular TV documentaries.

Later this month, she opens the Mercury Theatre’s new Autumn season with An Audience With event.

She says: “I do these evenings every now and again, and each time it’s different. In the first half I’m talking to the audience and in the second half they’re asking me questions, sometimes it gets political and other times they can ask me about anything.

“I always get plenty of questions about Strictly, my books and an awful lot of questions about Europe too, but that is part of the fun of it. The whole thing is off the cuff. It’s my life. It’s what I have been involved in. People also want to know what I’ve done since retirement.”

So tell us about Strictly then.

“Like the others I had my doubts,” she says, “but it was when John Sergeant went on I thought perhaps I could do that.

“I have to say it far exceeded my expectations and was pure unadulterated fun.”

Ann Widdecombe is at the Mercury Theatre, Balkerne Gate, Colchester, on July 31. For tickets, priced £24, either call the box office on 01206 573948 or go on-line at