Since starting on Strictly Come Dancing, Ed Balls has undergone a remarkable transformation – from bland, failed politician to bona fide folk hero, an underdog who is aware of his own absurdity but tries his darnedest and desperately wants to shine.
With his sweetly self-conscious dad dancing, garish fancy dress, health and safety-defying lifts and faintly obscene hip thrusts, he has made strangely compelling viewing, and viewers propelled him further into the competition than most other “novelty” contestants in Strictly history.
So now he is out, one question looms – where on earth does his career go from here?
He has achieved a unique if peculiar place in the nation’s affections – even being described as a national treasure. Balls has successfully worn away his bland image, but has surely lost some political credibility in the process.
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Here are some ideas for Balls’s next move.
If the political world closes the door on the former shadow chancellor after his stint in sparkly suits, and if any alternative media career fails to take off, there will definitely be one career option open come next Christmas.
He would surely make a wonderful Dick Whittington or Widow Twankey, and would be a panto producer’s dream booking – a huge national star who doesn’t take himself too seriously.
He would also be following a familiar route – the year after her Strictly appearance, Ann Widdecombe reunited with Craig Revel Horwood for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre.
The Great British Bake Off host
Before Strictly, Balls took part in a special Sport Relief edition of The Great British Bake Off and impressed with his baking skills by rustling up muffins, beef pie and a show-stopper cake shaped like a ski slope.
Of course, there will be some vacancies on the Bake Off line-up when it moves from the BBC to Channel 4.
But, in all honesty, it is hard to picture him filling the shoes of judge Mary Berry or hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, who have all opted not to stay with the show.
Full-time reality TV star
If Bake Off doesn’t want him, another offer this time next year will undoubtedly come from ITV for him to sample kangaroo testicles on the next series of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!
It was good enough for fellow ex-politician and ex-Strictly contestant Edwina Currie two years ago.
But if he doesn’t fancy that, there are enough other reality TV shows to keep him going for a while – he could follow George Galloway’s footsteps on Celebrity Big Brother or Widdecombe again on shows such as Celebrity Antiques Road Trip and 24 Hours in the Past.
Travel documentary presenter
Or he could follow the example of Michael Portillo and many other mid-career personalities and forge a career at the altogether classier end of factual TV by hosting genteel travel documentaries.
Portillo has got trains stitched up, though, and most other forms of transport are already spoken for. So Balls may need to resort to pitching more unusual ideas like Up the Thames in a Pedalo, or Britain By Tandem, perhaps co-starring his wife and fellow Labour politician Yvette Cooper.
There are other potential subject areas of course – Portillo (surely Balls’s role model in this arena) has thrived with documentaries about subjects as varied as World War One, classified state secrets, classical music and capital punishment.
Political pundit for hire
A likely option is for Balls to become a regular contributor on political programmes such as The Daily Politics and (again, like Portillo) This Week.
It would also be very little surprise if he ended up with a column in the Daily Mirror or New Statesman.
Balls could always combine his political nous with his recent television experience by applying to be chairman of the BBC.
There will be a vacancy – the corporation is currently chaired by Rona Fairhead, who is standing down early next year when the BBC Trust is replaced by a unitary board.
It is a role that involves a lot of political wrangling, so Westminster expertise would be a definite bonus – former Conservative Chairman Lord Patten did the job from 2011-14.
And his insight into one of the BBC’s biggest shows would no doubt come in handy.
Is it totally inconceivable?
Given his recent record in public votes, and given the political shocks of the past 12 months, might Balls return as an MP at a by-election between now and the next general election in 2020, and might the Labour Party look for someone the public connects with (and has heard of) if another leadership contest should come to pass?
And, if Brexit begins to unravel between now and the next election, might the great British public look for an alternative to the Conservative administration?
Stranger things have happened. A reality TV star is US President-elect, after all.
Read more: www.bbc.co.uk