Angela Rippon: The legendary newsreader making Strictly Come Dancing history aged 78

Strictly Come Dancing is back for its 21st series, with a true broadcasting legend on the lineup.

Angela Rippon CBE is a journalist, newsreader and presenter. Aged 78, she is the oldest celebrity to take part in Strictly in the show’s history and has a special connection to the series, having previously presented the BBC’s long-running ballroom series Come Dancing that gives Strictly its name.

Born in Plymouth in 1944 to a seamstress mother and Royal Marine father (the latter of whom she met for the first time in 1947 when he returned from the Second World War), Rippon was just 17 when she landed her first journalism job on a local newspaper.

She continued at BBC local radio and, aged 21 in 1966, landed her first TV role for BBC South West. She quickly rose up the ranks to become a TV reporter and hosted her first national news programme in 1974. After stepping in for Richard Baker on BBC One’s Nine O’Clock News during a holiday period, she was offered a permanent newsreading role the following year.

While Rippon was widely referred to as the first female TV newsreader, it would be more accurate to call her the first female journalist to regularly read the news on national TV. Both ITN and the BBC had featured female newsreaders over the previous two decades, but they hadn’t presented regularly on a national level.

The presenter has spoken about her experiences of sexism while working on Nine O’Clock News. In 2019, she claimed that a “highly respected” male colleague – who she did not name – once unzipped his trousers and pretended to expose himself to her while she was reading the news live on air. Rippon said that she felt “disrespected” by the experience.

Rippon was married during the early years of her career, having tied the knot with engineer Christopher Dare in 1967 aged 22. The pair divorced 22 years later.

Rippon’s foray into the world of dance began in 1976, when she performed a routine on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show. She returned the following year as a member of a chorus line and later became one of the hosts of Come Dancing.

Rippon on location in 1977 (Getty Images)
Rippon on location in 1977 (Getty Images)

Airing from 1949 to 1998 over 424 episodes, the show saw members of the public and competitive dancers performing ballroom routines. It was relaunched in 2004 as a celebrity version, with the name Strictly Come Dancing bringing together the tradition of Come Dancing and the fiery edge of Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 film Strictly Ballroom.

Rippon continued to lead the coverage of a number of high-profile events for the BBC, including the 1977 Eurovision Song Contest, the general election in 1979, and the wedding of Princess Diana and the then-Prince Charles in 1981. Nearly four decades later, she would co-lead coverage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding for Australia’s Channel 7, returning in 2022 as a royal commentator at the Queen’s funeral.

In the world of entertainment, she hosted the first edition of Top Gear and quiz panel shows Masterteam and Matchpoint, and in 2007 became the host of Cash in the Attic. Over the years, she has presented many radio shows, including for BBC Radio 2 and LBC. She has released books for both children and older people, including guides on how to stay fit and healthy in old age.

As a result of her time hosting Come Dancing, Rippon has long had an interest in dance. In 2011, she competed on Dancing on Ice and took part in a newsreader-themed Strictly special for Children in Need.

Rippon, pictured in June (Getty Images)
Rippon, pictured in June (Getty Images)

She remains a patron of the Old Time Dance Society and from 2000 to 2003 was the chair of the English National Ballet. However, her time at the ENB wasn’t without controversy, and she resigned in 2003 after she was accused by her deputy of “bullying staff”.

Before her resignation, Rippon denied the claims, saying: “It’s not true that I’ve been intimidating people. They asked me to stay on with other duties. I don’t think that would have been the case if they were unhappy.”

Now, Rippon presents BBC’s Rip-Off Britain and is a regular on Morning Live and The One Show, while also working as a stand-in presenter for GB News. She received her CBE in 2017 for her services to dementia care.

On joining Strictly, Rippon said: “Having been a fan of Strictly since day one, and as a former presenter of Come Dancing, this will be quite an adventure for me. A scary one, considering I’m about to be 79. But I’m really looking forward to the challenge, and perhaps being able to learn to dance the Argentinian Tango!”

Strictly Come Dancing airs on Saturdays on BBC One from 16 September.