Angela Rippon has said it will be “brilliant” if her time on Strictly Come Dancing will help prove that it is still possible to do something that keeps you “fit and strong and agile” in your 70s.
The broadcaster will turn 79 in October when the programme is filmed, making her the show’s oldest contestant, after Johnny Ball took part in 2012 aged 74.
She is among 15 contestants, including 69-year-old comedian Les Dennis, who are set to take to the dancefloor when the hit BBC show returns to screens on Saturday.
Speaking about why she has agreed to the show ahead of its launch, Rippon said: “When my agent rang me and said: ‘Angela, they want you to do Strictly?’ the first thing out of my mouth was: ‘Why didn’t they ask me 10 years ago?!’ I shall be 79 years old in October and it’s bonkers, really, that I’m doing this.
“I took a long time to decide if I wanted to do it. My brain says fun, my body says: ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?!’”
She recalled how after it was announced she had people online and in person thanking her for representing older members of society.
“I was in the grocery store the other day and the lady next in line, who was of a certain age, tapped me on the shoulder and said: ‘Can I just say that I and my friends are thrilled you’re going to Strictly… sometimes I feel people of a certain age become invisible and you’re going to make a few headlines for us.’
“So I’m doing this because, if I can last a few weeks and demonstrate that it is possible in your 70s, that you can do something that keeps you fit and strong and agile, that will be brilliant.”
Rippon admitted the show will be a challenge but after advocating for the benefits of dance for the older generation for many years, she feels this will be a “very public way to put my money where my mouth is”.
She became the first regular female news anchor on the BBC in 1975 and went on to host shows including Strictly predecessor Come Dancing between 1988 and 1991.
The broadcaster is now an ambassador for the Royal Academy of Dance’s Silver Swan programme, which aims to get older people back into dance.
Whilst hosting a BBC show title How To Stay Young, she also discovered that scientific research has found dance was the best exercise for 50 to 60-year-olds.
She added: “For older people, dance beats those two terrors of old age – isolation and loneliness. You’re never going to be lonely when you go to a dance class.
“I love dance and I’ve been promoting dance as a way of keeping strong, fit and agile and balanced, so I suppose I wanted to do the show because of that and to prove that dance can help you, in so many ways, no matter what your age.”
Rippon revealed that she went to dance classes from the age of five to 17 to help improve her knock knee condition, which is when there is a gap between your ankles when you stand with your knees together, according to the NHS website.
She has since dabbled in dance including appearing in a Strictly Come Dancing segment for Children In Need in 2011, competing on ITV’s Dancing On Ice and her famous performance with the comedy duo Morecombe and Wise during their show in 1976.
Ahead of her debut on the Strictly floor, she said she has been building her fitness and practicing her breathwork as she has asthma and does not want this to get in the way of her routines.
Dennis may also celebrate his 70th birthday in October while on the show if he remains in the competition.
The TV presenter and comedian, who presented Family Fortunes for many years, said: “I always do things that are outside my comfort zone.
“I did my first opera two years ago, I worked at the Royal Shakespeare Company without any training three years ago, so, if there’s anything that goes outside of my comfort zone, I go: ‘I’m scared so let’s do it.’
“I had a knee replacement two years ago and thought: ‘You’re not too old, go for it.'”
He revealed he also has some dance experience after having performed in the musical Me And My Girl in 1991 where he had to tap dance on a table in front of 2,000 people every night.
The new batch of famous faces will compete on the 21st series of the dancing competition when it kicks off on Saturday September 16 on BBC One and BBC iPlayer at 6.35pm.