The British use America the way Americans use rehab. Before Heather Mills, there was Sarah Ferguson, the divorced Duchess of York, who, after being photographed topless while a suitor sucked her toes, sought refuge in the US and became its sweetheart as a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers.
Mills, who became one of the most hated women in Britain after her messy, tabloid-intensive split with Paul McCartney, pulled off an amazing feat on last week’s live season premiere of Dancing With the Stars, a contest that is as much about redemption as it is about the rumba. And it wasn’t just that she managed, despite a prosthetic leg, to perform a graceful foxtrot to Irving Berlin’s Cheek to Cheek.
Mills was identified on the show as a “charity campaigner,” and throughout it she successfully expunged any trace of her estranged billionaire husband and what the British gossip columns delight in describing as his Heather-hating children.
“I am not taking the competition too seriously,” she said serenely on Entertainment Tonight on Monday. “Because my life is so serious, with land mines and animal rights and everything.”
Dancing is the perfect second chance for Mills, and she is the perfect Dancing diva: a celebrity shaking off a cloud of bad publicity and willing to brave a disability and ballroom dance in front of more than 21 million people.
She also proved quite charming off the dance floor, saying that her sparkly, sequined yellow and hot-pink ball gown made her feel like “an ice-cream sundae”.
The ABC network ruthlessly advertised her disability with promos that zoomed in on her bag of prosthetic limbs and drumrolled the possibility that she would fall on her face.
Mills was more down to earth, saying in interviews that having learned to ski with one leg, she was confident she could hold her own on the dance floor. She said she hoped her performance would inspire young people who had lost a limb.
And one of the strengths of this peculiar and irresistible show is that even though Mills’ story trumps all others, by evening’s end, she blended into the larger ensemble.
After Mills’ performance, Bruno Tonioli, a judge who briefly appeared in the Australian version of the show, told her, “You have more guts than Rambo.” Actually, what she really demonstrated is that Americans will always love a Rocky.
NEW YORK TIMES