Finally! Proof you can be chunky and funky: As Lisa Riley stuns Strictly, a fellow plus-size dancing queen gives three cha-cha cheers
BY ANNA MAY MANGAN
00:37 GMT, 9 October 2012
00:38 GMT, 9 October 2012
Giving us a lift: Lisa Riley (left) and Robin Windsor (right) perform on Strictly Come Dancing
When Lisa Riley went off like a firework on Saturday night’s Strictly, she proved to the nation not just that big hips can move, but that fat women can be elegant — and sexy.
The scales might tell her she’s heavy, but the girl is definitely light on her feet. Even Plasticine-faced judge Craig Revel Horwood had to swallow his obvious disgust at her size, force a smile and tell Lisa through gritted teeth: ‘Three words darling: you can dance!’
I jumped off the sofa and cheered when she and her partner Robin Windsor’s score pinged them to the top of the leader board. Her dancing was joyously brilliant, and her smile had the wattage to light up a city.
The former Emmerdale actress said she was ‘joining the competition for chubbers everywhere’ – and she certainly delighted this overweight woman. As the Mail’s Claudia Connell wrote yesterday, Lisa proved you can be chunky and funky.
The best thing Lisa’s dancing made viewers forget her weight. For it was the moves that mattered, not her dress size. Call me mean, but I even rejoiced when Olympic golden girl Victoria Pendleton wept in frustration — because while she has the svelte shape, she just doesn’t have the rhythm.
She has a collection of gold medals and was tipped as a hot favourite to win Strictly, yet she was danced off the stage by a 36-year-old actress who was unkindly nicknamed ‘Emmerwhale’ and who was clearly lined up by producers to fill the ‘fat and funny’ slot. What joy!
Victoria was yanked around by Brendan Cole — whose rictus grin couldn’t hide the fact that he knows he’s got this year’s beautiful booby-prize. It’s clear that Victoria is missing what Lisa Riley has plenty of. Not poundage, but chutzpah.
Lisa’s weight (all 18 st of it) isn’t slowing her down at all, and she seemed wonderfully free of inhibitions when she saw off all the Strictly lightweights with her dazzling cha cha cha.
(Jerry Hall might go in-and-out in all the right places — she reminded me of Jessica Rabbit’s grandma — but she was more interested in posing and pouting than dancing.)
Weight loss: Dancing helped Anna May Mangan to lose 50 lb in the past year, taking her from 19st to 15st 7lb and a size 18
This series marks a shift in Strictly line-ups. This is the year when the token fatty isn’t the joke contestant.
In the past few years, other hefty contestants have been made to play the joker — from Ann Widdecombe being trussed-up and hoisted into the air like Henry VIII, to roly-poly Russell Grant jumping into a cannon and being fired over the studio audience, and big-bellied John Sergeant’s sack-of-spuds performances in 2009.
That trio were heavyweight entertainers — and they were funny because they couldn’t dance.
I hope that this series, viewers will be laughing along with Lisa, not at her, as she has the time of her life and puts all the other contestants to shame.
Lisa clearly doesn’t believe her weight is a handicap, so neither do I. She’s my hefty heroine, and I hope she goes all the way — and stays exactly as she is while she does it.
While most performers who take part in Strictly lose weight, I do hope that Lisa doesn’t shrink to a size 10 and release a fitness DVD. I’d be so disappointed.
This, I confess, is a little hypocritical of me, as dancing did help me to lose 50 lb in the past year, taking me from 19st to 15st 7lb and a size 18.
While, at 5ft 10in I’ve never been called dainty, I wasn’t overweight until I had children. Over the years, my weight climbed up and up. It was a classic case of finishing off my four children’s leftovers, before sitting down to a grown-up dinner when my husband got home.
I realised after seeing the photos from my son’s graduation that I could no longer blame my very obvious jelly-belly on pregnancies that had happened more than two decades earlier. Action was needed.
I certainly wasn’t going to take up running to shift the pounds, and aerobics didn’t appeal. But dance — both slow and sensual, and vibrant and energetic — certainly ticked all the boxes.
Practice makes perfect: Lisa Riley and Robin Windsor pictured in rehearsals for Strictly Come Dancing
For, like many bigger women who hit the dance floor, I wanted to tone up my body, yes, but I also wanted to celebrate it.
And dancing is in my blood. My parents lived to dance. They frequented London dance halls in the Fifties — a time when soap suds were sprinkled on the floors to speed up the dancing thrills.
My mum advised me to be sure to choose a husband who was able to give me a good whirl on the dance floor. And I did. My husband George and I had the song Kung Fu Fighting as the first dance at our wedding, because something smoochy would have been too slow and dull for us.
I’m now 53, but have always loved to dance occasionally for fun, even when I was at my largest.
Like Lisa (who says that ‘people assume you can’t be big and happy, that you have to be miserable and timid — well I’m not’), I have always been a jolly fatty. My sister says I suffer from reverse body dysmorphic disorder, because I always think I look nice.
But, as Lisa must know, there are hazards to dancing as a bigger woman. The dance floor creaked far more beneath me than it ever did under my partner. And my puff always ran out long before my enthusiasm ever did.
Then there was the night that George and I were jiving energetically at a party and he let go when I was in full flight. I flew backwards and ended up crashing into defenceless partygoers, and narrowly missed squashing the hostess’s cat.
The mood in the room wasn’t that I could have hurt myself, but that by being so fat I could have injured an innocent thin bystander.
Contestant: Lisa's weight (all 18 st of it) isn't slowing her down at all, and she seemed wonderfully free of inhibitions when she saw off all the Strictly lightweights with her dazzling cha cha cha
At parties and weddings, I tried to believe that people smiled at me when I was dancing because I was clearly having fun. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder if people were smiling because I looked ridiculous. Or worse, they were smiling out of pity for me. Which is why, in the end, I decided some of that weight just had to come off. And dance exercise classes seemed the natural way to do it.
A lot of the pounds I lost were Zumba-ed off in my local leisure centre with a combination of Latin and international dance.
It wasn’t easy — not least because, like Lisa, I have big breasts, and if I don’t secure them in a heavy-duty sports bra, they have the potential to knock me out cold when I am dancing vigorously.
I’m pleased I’ve lost weight —although I’ll never, ever be slim enough to fit into a Victoria Beckham dress, which is fine since they look too tight for dancing in — because it means I am now fit enough to stay on the dancefloor longer than my husband, and I no longer worry what people think when they see me jive.
I so admire Lisa for dancing on national TV and not caring what other people might think, and I imagine there are thousands of women who feel the same.
When interviewed about her turn on Strictly, Lisa said: ‘If I can inspire one woman to get up and dance, then I’ve done my job.’
After this week’s performance, it’s safe to say that she’ll have achieved far more than that modest aim.
For, after just one week, as Brucie says: ‘She’s my favourite.’
I love her moves, her smile, her spirit and her sass.
And I want her to win. Not just for herself, but for every woman watching who isn’t a perfect size 10.