Confession : I made Theresa May dance in her 2018 conference speec
This article first appeared in PR Week.
Theresa May was enduring a rough spell in her leadership and her party conference speech in October 2018 was an opportunity to show she still had the ideas and energy to lead the country, despite the difficulties she was facing in uniting her party over Brexit.
Traditionally, the leader’s speech at party conference is the set-piece moment that generates the most buzz and excitement among delegates.
This time, however, a certain Boris Johnson delivered his speech on the fringes of the conference the day before, to much adulation from the party membership.
The PM was left with little choice but to do something that would wrestle the headlines away from Johnson, a pretender to her throne.
I was acting as a public image and reputation consultant for various high-profile CEOs and politicians.
I’d also occasionally pop into 10 Downing Street for a coffee with the PM’s Special Advisers and share some ideas.
On one occasion in September, a month before the conference, I made a bold suggestion that the PM’s walk-on song should be Dancing Queen by ABBA.
Why? Because she’d gone viral on a few occasions showing off her moves on various overseas visits.
The rationale behind my suggestion was that whatever your political feelings towards the PM, you can’t help but watch a video of a sixty-something-year-old busting a few awkward grooves without a smile on your face.
The moment the idea left my lips it was met with smirks and a degree of scepticism.
It wasn’t said aloud, but I could read what the faces opposite me were thinking; Theresa May is a serious and business-like politician.
This was the Conservative Party conference, not Britain’s Got Talent.
That was that, I thought. I’d shredded my credibility with the Prime Minister’s team. On the way out of Number 10 that day, I consciously took the time to appreciate the building, as I was under the impression it would be the last time I’d be invited there.
The big black door slammed behind me and I made my way out of Downing Street with my tail firmly between my legs.
I’d heard nothing from Number 10 since that fateful meeting when I sat down to watch the Prime Minister’s conference speech on television.
In truth, I’d forgotten all about my suggestion; perhaps I’d suppressed the memory of my embarrassment.
And then it happened. That iconic piano spread that opens Dancing Queen rang out and my jaw dropped – along with millions of others around the country.
The Prime Minister was jigging and jiving her way on stage to give one of the most important speeches in her political career.
After clearing up the coffee I had just spat out, I had to review the notes I’d made before the meeting with Number 10 to make sure I did actually make the suggestion and I wasn’t in the midst of some bizarre fever dream.
There it was in black and white: “Dancing Queen as conference walk-on song” in an email I’d written to myself with talking points ahead of the meeting with the PM’s Special Advisers.
One of the PM’s Advisers sent me a text message afterwards thanking me and saying the idea worked really well, although he insisted the dancing was spontaneous.
Either way, the spectacle was quite something and the papers and social media lapped it up – job done, I thought.
I have never since had the courage to suggest anything quite as daring, but I’ll always remember the unlikely tale of how I, perhaps, made the Prime Minister dance.