From Catherine Cookson to Ridley Scott and from Eric Idle to Joe McElderry, South Shields has a long and eclectic cultural pedigree. Now the seaside town may be about to add a more unlikely star to the showbiz firmament in the shape of its MP, David Miliband.
News emerged today that the former foreign secretary, who was narrowly beaten to the Labour leadership by his younger brother, Ed, is considering a role in TV and has approached the BBC with some programme ideas.
"David is talking to a range of organisations about his interest in foreign and environmental policy," said a spokesman.
Details of Miliband's pitches remain tantalisingly elusive, but he will be following in the footsteps of political figures as diverse as Ann Widdecombe, who stole the show on Strictly Come Dancing , and Lembit Opik, who ventured into the jungle for I'm A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! – as had Christine Hamilton. It is extraordinarily unlikely that Miliband will reinvent himself, à la Widdecombe, as an agony-aunt-turned-ballroom-dancer – or emulate either Hamilton's turn in The Vagina Monologues or Opik's attempts to break into stand-up comedy – but their experiences still provide valuable precedents.
But Widdecombe cautioned Miliband about abandoning Westminster. "I would have thought that at 45 it's better to stay in politics for the simple reason that he's still got years ahead of him in which he can make a contribution," she said. "I left when I was in my 60s, not my 40s." It was, she added, too early for Miliband to write off "the [Labour] leadership … [or] ever being in the cabinet again".
Widdecombe said: "Were I in his shoes at that age – and I underline at that age – I would stay there. I think it is different when you have had your career if you want to make a change, like Michael Portillo did, like I did – in very different ways."
If Miliband had decided to break into TV, said Widdecombe, he needed to start multitasking now. "The first thing you have to decide is what you want to do. If he wants to do serious television, then the way to do that is to make serious documentaries while staying [in politics]. If you have finished with a political career, then if you want to do entertainment, you can lay the ground for that by doing things like Have I Got News for You, which I did while I was still there."
Steve Anderson, creative director of Mentorn Media and executive producer of Question Time, said Miliband's plans sounded like a sensible move. "He'd look good on camera, he's clearly an incredibly clever guy and very well-informed, and I think he's got the ability to grasp complex ideas and communicate them in a way that lots of people would be able to relate to," he said.
But Anderson suggested the MP would do well to choose his projects carefully.
"I'd be surprised if he wanted to go and do a Portillo and decided to live like a single mum for a couple of weeks," he said. "I think it would make more sense for him to keep his options open for the future. He'd be a fresh face and somebody different fronting big and complex issues and I think that would be a good thing."Another of those who exchanged politics for a life on the box agreed. "I have firmly left what I describe as the artificial world of Westminster for the real world of media, entertainment, showbiz.
And it's much more fun," said Christine Hamilton, whose husband, Neil, lost his Tatton seat in 1997.
"The people are much more fun, the life is more fun, everything is more fun and you're not accountable to anybody. That's the sheer bliss. You don't have constituents to worry about."
What advice did she have for Miliband? "Go for it. But don't ever expect to be taken as a serious politician again; viz Lembit Opik. Once you've crossed the divide, I think that's probably it. Especially for somebody like him."
Not sure how credible this is as it's from the Guardian and just the other week they were saying he was up for the US Ambassador role- which he categorically denied on twitter a couple of days later... oh well, perhaps this is just their bid to keep him in the news (Underwhelmed by Ed perhaps?).
If it is true... I'm really not sure if this is the best move if he wants to carry on in politics... I think he needs to chill out for a bit, wait until Ed has had a shot at running for PM, and then step in when needed.