Sarah Freeman: Who’d have thought? How Strictly made me fall in love with Ed Balls

The moment the former MP for Morley and Outwood was reborn as Glitter Balls.
The moment the former MP for Morley and Outwood was reborn as Glitter Balls.
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He was the political bruiser whose ousting was one of the highlights of the last General Election. So how come I have fallen in love with Ed Balls asks Sarah Freeman?

Election Night. May 7, 2015. The country is braced for a hung parliament. Then the result of the exit poll comes in. Labour are about to implode and over the following few hours as the party ejects itself into the political wilderness for at least five years, probably more, there is just one tiny nugget of comfort. Ed Balls has been ousted from his Morley and Outwood seat.

Ed as the mad scientist as he danced to Love Potion Number 9 during Halloween week.

Ed as the mad scientist as he danced to Love Potion Number 9 during Halloween week.

It was 2015’s Michael Portillo moment and it was lovely to watch. Labour’s big beast, the political bruiser who symbolised the arrogance which had come to define New Labour had been slain. Not only that. The man who believed he would one day be Chancellor had lost by 422 votes because he had underestimated former beauty queen turned Conservative candidate Andrea Jenkyns.

She had spent months pounding the constituency streets, she had shaken thousands of hands and visited every community group going. Ed had been too busy in Westminster.

Fast forward a few months. Ed is dressed as Jim Carrey from The Mask. He is doing a samba of sorts. It is neither dainty nor particularly polished. It is, however, mesmerisingly brilliant. The date to remember is October 8. It was film week on Strictly Come Dancing, but it was also the moment when Ed, who along with Charlie Wheelan and DamienMcBride was part of the Labour trio no one wanted to meet down a dark alley, was officially reborn as Glitter Balls. The studio audience gave him a standing ovation, his wife Yvette Copper welled up and I and a thousand others realised we had fallen just a little bit in love.

It’s all been quite unexpected. When Balls was announced as one of this year’s Strictly intake it looked certain that he was setting himself up for an even bigger humiliation than the one he endured that night in May. His first dance, a lack lustre waltz to Elvis’ Are You Lonesome Tonight? against a projection of Westminster, confirmed that he would be a contestant quickly forgotten. But then he slipped into that bright yellow suit and whole new Ed was unleashed.

Ed Balls with his dance partner  Katya Jones.

Ed Balls with his dance partner Katya Jones.

He later said that after week one he realised he couldn’t be himself, that he had to get into character. But behind the make-up and those suits, what has emerged, along with his shrinking waistline, is the real Ed Balls. Someone who is funny, game for a laugh, a self-confessed embarrassing dad. He has a personality, something that was sadly lacking in the final days of the Gordon Brown government

We’ve watched Ed murder the paso doble dressed as a knight and we’ve seen him channel his best mad scientist as he kicked and flicked is way through Love Potion Number 9. Each time we’ve cringed and loved with equal measure.

After one performance, judge Bruno Tonioli concluded: “Complete lunacy...but I like it.” Me too Bruno, me too. And we’re not alone. Michael Gove, parliament’s least likable MP, has also declared his love for the man David Cameron once described as “the most annoying person in modern politics”.

“The former cabinet minister and ex-shadow chancellor is now reborn as the People’s Ed, the star of Strictly, the nation’s favourite dad-dancer and the best vote-getter Labour has had since Clement Attlee,” wrote Gove in an article for The Times.

Ed Balls came through the Amercian smooth despite a disastrous lift.

Ed Balls came through the Amercian smooth despite a disastrous lift.

The morning after the night of Labour’s meltdown, Ed retired to drown his sorrows. Admitting that it felt like being at his own wake, he poured out 30 glasses of Harveys Bristol Cream and charged a toast the late Ed Balls. Now it seems the reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated. So go on, put party politics aside and vote for Ed. You know it makes sense.

Dancing the paso doble as a knight.

Dancing the paso doble as a knight.