A Grand Finale for an Ex-Prime Minister -- Andrew Crofts
This is the seventh, and ultimate, monthly chapter in the saga of an ex-prime minister - unless, of course, something else interesting happens ...
“Dancing?” Teddy looked entirely non-plussed by the word. “Are you sure I’m the right man for the job?”
“It’s the most popular programme in the country at the moment,” Ding pointed out.
“You put on some pretty spectacular shows on dance floors in your youth,” Puppy reminded him.
“Did I?” Teddy squinted hard, as if trying to conjure up a picture of his past. “I don’t remember that.”
“No, well,” Ding shrugged, “you were usually pretty loaded.”
“But you had a pretty good natural rhythm,” Puppy interjected. “The girls always seemed pretty impressed.”
“Ah, yes,” Teddy’s eyes misted over. “The girls. They all like a chap with a few natty moves.”
“Indeed,” Ding said, “so you are booked to be on the next series. Rehearsals start next week.”
The producers at Strictly had a number of heated meetings around the subject of which of the professional dancers it would be wisest to pair Teddy up with. Not everyone found the concept as amusing as others. If possible, they agreed, they wanted to avoid any sort of unpleasantness on air, so they felt they needed to pick one of the older and more experienced women, someone who would know how to ward off any ill-judged romantic advances. The obvious choice was Natalya, who already had a fearsome reputation with the public. Even she, however, seemed to find the prospect of the pairing unappealing.
“Really?” she asked with an imperious arching of both eyebrow and upper lip. “You are really asking this of me?”
“Not really asking, Natalya,” the producer who had been designated to break the news, returned the steady stare, “just letting you know that, as the strongest and most experience dancer on the show, you have been chosen.” The level of threat contained in the word “chosen”, was not lost on the dancer. She knew that her advancing years meant that her time was limited on the show anyway, the bosses who had made her, were now calling in one last, compulsory favour.
“You have no idea what you are doing,” Natalya replied as she left the room.
The following week, after the first day of rehearsals, Teddy was dropped back at Puppy’s front door in Berkeley Square in a state of nervous exhaustion.
“I’m telling you, Pup,” he said when he had imbibed enough whisky to speak from the depths of the sofa, “I have met some chilly women in my time, but this one absolutely takes the biscuit.”
“Immune to the old Teddy Bear charm, eh?” Puppy laughed.
“Absolutely terrifying. Can’t get the woman to crack so much as a smile. Absolute sergeant major of a creature. If I didn’t know better, I would think she actually hated my guts.”
“A professional dancer like her would be well used to fending off old letches like you,” Becky chipped in as she put a plate full of food down in front of him.
“Thanks, Becks,” Teddy pushed a handful of the food into his mouth, “I’m supposed to be sticking to some sort of diet, so don’t tell anyone about this!”
“All your secrets are safe with me, Teddy,” Becky allowed herself a wry smile, “you know that.”
Puppy shot his wife a look which was a mixture of gratitude and discomfort. “Don’t worry, old boy, I’m sure you’ll be the first to be disqualified. It’ll all be over soon.”
“I don’t know though,” Teddy stared dreamily towards the window as he masticated thoughtfully, “I was watching my moves in the mirror, some of them weren’t half bad.”
The sounds of chomping inside his head drowned out Becky’s snort of derision as she left the room.
Even Teddy’s seemingly bottomless wells of optimism struggled to keep his confidence afloat when he saw how technically adept and fit the other competitors on the show were proving themselves to be. He had hoped that his individual style of clowning would count for something, but Natalya’s was not the only face on the programme to remain untroubled by a smile at his antics. By the time they got to competing for public votes in a live broadcast, in order to avoid elimination, Teddy was feeling unusually jittery. Those nerves, he decided, coupled with the rather sneering comments from the judges, might well cause his downfall, and so they did. The public, feeling uncomfortable at his discomfort, made it very clear that they wanted Teddy to be the first out of the competition.
He was only partially relieved when the votes were announced, and kept his arm around Natalya’s muscular waist, partly because it felt so pleasant to the touch, and partly to stop himself from toppling over from giddy exhaustion. The ordeal was nearly over, all he had to do was sing the praises of his partner, listen to her sing his praises, express his gratitude for a “wonderful journey on an emotional roller-coaster”, and then they could have one last dance as the credits rolled and everyone in the studio pretended to care that he was going. The blank-eyed presenter was holding up the microphone and asking Natalya how she felt about her latest partner.
“Actually,” Natalya replied, finally cracking a smile, “I have a little surprise for Teddy.”
The presenter looked momentarily puzzled as the producers, equally surprised by this announcement, instructed her to give keep listening. They had no idea what was coming next but they sensed that Natalya was growing genuinely emotional. They ordered the cameras to close in on her eyes, which appeared to be brimming with tears.
“Teddy does not remember,” Natalya spoke calmly, articulating each word carefully, as if loading a particularly hair-triggered gun with exploding bullets, ignoring the tear which had made it through her lashes and onto her cheek. “When I first came to England, I was just fifteen, brought in by criminals, who took my passport and my money and forced me to work as a chamber maid in a grand London hotel.”
This was news to everyone in the studio and in the control room. No one made a sound, beyond a few sharp in-takes of breath.
“That is where I met Teddy. And his friends. They were staying in the hotel for some school reunion. They came back to their room while I was still cleaning it. They wouldn’t let me leave. They were drunk. They raped me.”
Natalya, the assassin, fell silent as her bullets found their mark.
“No, no, no,” Teddy was shaking his head, perhaps in disbelief, or perhaps to try to ward off a returning memory. “Absolutely not!”
“You,” Natalya quelled his protests with a strong, clear voice, “sat on my chest as I fought to escape. You shouted, ‘feed her the worms! Feed her the wigglers!’ And you laughed like it was the best fun in the world.”
“No, no, quite wrong …” Teddy was aware that the microphone was now
close to his mouth, catching every mumble. “Just a bit of fun … boys will be
boys … Surely there should be an omerta covering these sorts of youthful high