1. Ed Balls
Ed Balls’ transformation from rejected MP to unmissable Saturday-night telly was a Stars In Their Eyes level of makeover. We last saw Balls skulk off into the humiliation of a high-profile lost seat after the 2015 General Election, leaving only Ed Balls Day, the anniversary of when he tweeted his own name, much to the delight of the internet. But, as the 14th series of Strictly began, the former shadow chancellor emerged in satin, sequins and with some eyebrow-raising hip-shaking. Ed Balls became Glitter Balls and tried to dance on our screens with the same futile determination the Labour party shows when attempting to win an election. In a time when admiration, respect and trust for politicians is at rock bottom, Balls’ popularity soared, along with Strictly’s viewing figures. The surprising but winning combination of dad-dancing, a steely expression, unwavering effort and sheer hopelessness turned Balls from disgraced politician to people's choice – even when the establishment tried to get rid of him (aka, the judges). Alas, he didn’t see glory, but he might have laid some clever groundwork for the least surprising political comeback of 2017.
2. Gary Lineker
For a long time, Gary Lineker was synonymous with Match Of The Day and Walkers crisps. And then, in the year in which Absolutely Anything Can Happen, Lineker broke the BBC’s neutrality pact to directly confront one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our times and became a passionate defender of refugees. Reacting to news of children from the Calais "Jungle" arriving in the UK, he tweeted: “The treatment by some towards these refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What’s happening in our country?” Of course, common sense and compassion were met with the usual response – a barrage of abuse. But Lineker didn’t stop there. ”Wonder what makes some people feel, by sheer good fortune of place of birth, superior to others. I need a lie down.”
As the tectonic plates of the world as we knew it were beginning to shift, Lohan emerged as the surprising voice of the frustrated – and it was social-media magic
3. Lindsay Lohan (during the night of the Brexit vote)
During the early hours of the morning of June 24th, when the first clouds of doom were beginning to gather as results came trickling in, I was in bed, awake, gobsmacked. But a saving grace appeared in the unlikeliest of forms: a tweeting Lindsay Lohan. And, through my despair, I began to hysterically LOL as I watched all the major news broadcasters try to secure an interview with the actress while she live-tweeted her reaction to the referendum. She used a lot of hashtags #REMAIN #LOVEISLOVE #MARGARETTHATCHER and expressed worry for the #markets and the #pound. As the tectonic plates of the world as we knew it were beginning to shift, Lohan emerged as the surprising voice of the frustrated – and it was social-media magic.
4. Michelle Obama
OK, so we knew she was a hero, but did we really know she THAT much of a hero? That she could give speeches like this and this; that she could bring millions around the world to tears as their hearts collectively soared with hope, thanks to her gift as a communicator and her powerful articulation of being a black woman in today’s America? It was masterful – and it launched the calls for the First Lady to run for office.
5. Amber Heard
Claiming you were abused by everyone’s favourite Hollywood actor was never going to be – especially when you are a young, attractive woman who the world has down as a gold digger. But, along with a photo of a bruised face, Heard pressed charges against Johnny Depp and the couple settled the dispute out of court. Heard donated her $7bn payoff to charity – including an organisation for victims of domestic violence – and she released a video on the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women, which encouraged women to speak out about their abuse or on behalf of other women. Any woman who challenges the institutionalised tyranny that can accompany male power is a hero of mine.
6. Marcia Clark
The prosecution lawyer for the notorious OJ Simpson case was mocked and ridiculed, degraded and bullied by the press during the time of the trial in 1994. But in the TV dramatisation of the case, which hit screens this year, Clark was portrayed in a different, arguably fairer light – a single, working mother in a male world, judged by her appearances and not her ability. She stood hard and fast for the plight of working mothers and against the crime of violence against women at a time when it seemed violent men could, literally, get away with murder - especially if they were a football-playing national hero. Clark left law after the trial and was diagnosed with PTSD due to the experience. She paid a heavy price for being part of history, but the passing of time has allowed not only a new generation of young women, but maybe even history itself, to recognise the hero she was.
The world was surprised that young women are awesome. And smart. And have a multitude of interests. Who’d have thought, ey?
7. Prince Harry
I know he’s a prince, and a handsome one at that, and neither of those things make for hero criteria, surprising or otherwise. But he did release a royal statement telling the tabloids to stop being racist and sexist – and we were all a little shocked by that.
8. This penguin
"Is that penguin really a hero?", I hear you ask. Of course it is! Because of the absurdity of the image, because of the absurdity of the caption update, because of defiance of being a lone penguin in a harsh terrain. But mostly because this penguin has brought such joy in such a testing year.
10. Elaine Welteroth
The world was surprised when the 29-year old editor of Teen Vogue wrote a brilliant essay about Donald Trump gas lighting America that went viral. The world was surprised that a magazine for teenage girls is edited by a razor sharp African-American women who provides intelligent, informed content for her readers. The world was surprised that teenagers demand intelligent, informed content along side “how to apply glittery nail polish”. The world was surprised that young women are awesome. And smart. And have a multitude of interests. Who’d have thought, ey?
11. And the anti-hero: Palmerston, resident cat at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
For a while, the cat of Downing Street, Larry, Number 10’s chief mouser, was the best thing about British politics in 2016, giving this nation a reason to believe in Democracy once again, or, at the very least, a reason not to roll our eyes every time we saw someone enter or leave Number 10 though the sheer hope that Larry might stroll into the frame. But then Palmerston of the Foreign Office came along. Part cat, part Roman gladiator and part Brute, Palmerston likes a fight. But like all true anti-heroes, he is his own greatest enemy: he's angry, overweight and desperate for attention. Perhaps he was an omen of what was to come? After the year we’ve had, I wouldn’t be so surprised after all.