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Oona King: 'You can’t worry about what people think'

ICE QUEEN: Oona King

THERE IS no harsher critic than the Great British public. Stick your head above the parapet and it will shoot you down from the comfort of the sofa or with an off-the-cuff tweet sent from a smartphone.

So when it was announced that former Labour MP, now life peer, Oona King was to don sequins and ice skates for the latest series of Dancing on Ice, alongside celebrities like Pamela Anderson, the response was ferocious.

“Oona King on Dancing on Ice? How embarrassing,” was one verdict on Twitter.
After all, King was once considered a realistic prospect for Mayor of London but unsuccessfully took on veteran Ken Livingstone for the Labour nomination.

What would possess someone already as likeable and as credible as King – a former head of diversity at Channel 4 – to risk her reputation for reality TV? The answer is almost too simple.

“I’ve always loved ice skating ever since I was a kid,” explains King. “I’ve been asked to go on the show nearly every year for the past seven years and I always said no. And every year I would watch it and feel sad that I didn’t do it.”

The difference is that this series, the working mother-of-three who became Baroness King of Bow in 2011, was beyond caring what people might think.

She says: “I’ve never been enamoured with the idea of politicians doing reality TV but if you get offered the opportunity to learn something you’ve always wanted to try enough times, it is hard to resist. I didn’t like sitting in make-up for hours or prancing about in sequins, but it was an amazing experience. I’m fine about being knocked out – I’m a win-win person. I can skate, not as well as I’d like, and I get to go back to weekends with my gorgeous kids.”

One of the other attractions of Dancing on Ice for the Labour peer was the ability to fit the daily training sessions around her normal work and home routine: “The show is not invasive. Cameras weren’t in my house and I was still at the House of Lords every day.”

King - a proud mother of three adopted mixed race children – aged seven, five and 16-months-old – is currently working on a project close to her heart.


She sits on the select committee for adoption legislation and is fighting Government proposals to amend the Adoption and Children Act 2002 that will remove barriers to adoption based on ethnicity.

Education secretary Michael Gove, whose portfolio includes all issues affecting children and young people up to the age of 19, is a vocal critic of the current laws that suggest that it is better for children to be adopted by families of the same ethnic background.

He called it “misguided nonsense [that] punished those who most need our help” in reference to statistics that show black and mixed race children are disproportionately represented in the care system.

King is concerned. “I do understand Gove’s motivation, but I don’t think we should go from one extreme to the other,” counters the Sheffield-born politician, whose own mother is Jewish and father is African-American. “I don't think it’s fair to have kids in a care home instead of a loving family, but it’s also wrong to say that ethnicity is irrelevant. I think most of your readers know that is certainly not the case.”

The east London resident who has always spoken openly about race and identity adds: “We’re pushing to change some of the wording of the legislation. We’re asking the Government to put ethnicity on the list of characteristics alongside things like disability which social workers take into account when considering if an adoption is in the child’s best interest.”

And it’s her own children’s needs which are now her main priority and indicate that while another attempt for City Hall is, if not entirely off the table, it is probably unlikely.

She says: “When people congratulate me for adopting, I’m keen to remind them how much I gained from being able to adopt. My kids haven’t added to my life; they are my life. I owe them.

“I still believe Mayor of London is the best job in the world and that’s not going to change. I don’t know what will happen by 2016 but it really depends on what is best for my kids.”

So King may have hung up her skates and put the dream of becoming London’s mayor on ice, but she is a woman unafraid of dancing to her own beat and is capable of anything.

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