Monday 5 December 2016

Dance show's appeal is Strictly about the Splits

Majella O'Donnell is sure that Daniel is safe with the Siberian Siren, writes Sarah Caden, so fans will have to get infidelity fix elsewhere

Sarah Caden

Published 13/09/2015 | 02:30

Daniel O'Donnell
Daniel O'Donnell

Sure it was only gas last week when Majella O'Donnell told Ryan Tubridy on his new Radio One show that she has no worries about her Daniel falling prey to the "curse of Strictly" as he embarked on what will be known as his talent-show "journey".

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Singer Daniel has been paired with Kristina Rihanoff for his turn on Strictly Come Dancing, you see. Rihanoff, also known as the 'Siberian Siren', is a key player in the curse that has seen various marriages and long-term relationships die, as the celeb amateurs fall like flies for their professional dance partners. And, as things stand, that's half the entertainment of Strictly.

"I knew what everybody knew, I suppose, she's the Siberian Siren," said Majella, with not a bother in her voice. "I am [relaxed] about her.

"The poor woman doesn't have to go off with everyone she dances with. Okay, she might have had a couple of [romances] but at the end of the day, she was single. I don't think I'll be ditched. I'm very confident."

"It was thought Daniel was the perfect person to pair with Kristina amid the controversies," a BBC insider said last week. "Going public with [her romance with Strictly alumnus] Ben [Cohen] this summer has really put her in the spotlight and the BBC doesn't want to risk looking like it's courting drama by pairing her with someone there could be flirtations with. Daniel is such a wholesome character, he was deemed the most appropriate partner."

If that's really the BBC's attitude, then it's telling of a modern-day two-facedness about infidelity. As in, we love it and we seem to have an endless appetite for other people making a mess of their marriages.

But then we greet their messes with a mock horror that consoles us that we're not the baddies; the 'love rats' are. And Rihanoff is the pantomime baddie in the Strictly camp.

In 2009, she was put together with British boxer Joe Calzaghe, who apparently left his partner of five years for Rihanoff, with whom he remained in a relationship for four years. She is now involved with former rugby player Ben Cohen, with whom she danced on the telly in 2013. Both have always denied that anything happened while they were on the show or the subsequent Strictly tour, and they only made official their relationship this summer.

They were photographed hugging on the tube in late 2014 - good old Joe Public, always on the case, unmasking baddies for the good of all - but they denied a romance.

On the other hand, in a UK Sunday paper interview earlier this month, Cohen's ex-wife Abby, from whom he parted in mid-2014, expressed her hurt at being dumped for a "f***ing Russian dancer". Expressed her hurt, or, more accurately, "lashed out". Because that's what it's called in a culture in which people go on "amaaay-zing journeys" on jazzed-up talent shows and claim to form family like bonds that would make you wonder what class of family they have.

Obviously, it's likely the case that the relationships that sunder on the rocks of reality TV might have been in trouble before the show. One would like to think that just being on the telly wouldn't turn someone's head to that extent, but there is a degree to which all talent show or reality TV participants become altered by the experience, lapse into the lingo and transform into stock characters.

Of course, if you are the wife/husband/child in a situation that publicly falls apart and includes photographs, texts, emails, online activity that reveals the dirty nitty-gritty of the betrayal, you are painfully aware that this isn't pantomime. But in the world where TV shows carry curses and grown women like Rihanoff stay put in a job where they appear to be dangled like some sort of married-man bait, then nothing is real. It's entertainment - and, weirdly, family entertainment.

As a culture, there is a degree to which we revel in public infidelity, pounce gleefully when yet another celeb is caught in the act and then cover up our glee with disapproval. We have this high moral ground attitude that if they were cheating, then they deserve to be caught, and we all deserve to know.

In cases of married celebs, commentary will run that they had one of the happiest marriages in showbiz and the words "love rat" will precede their name for all time.

In a weird way, what is unsettling about this is the combination of voyeurism and censoriousness.

We want in on a very private act, but we're completely detached from real-life consequences. And we're not just gunning for the stars, as the barely concealed glee that met the hacking of the infidelity website Ashley Madison revealed that we're happy to condemn the non-celeb strayers, too.

The audio clip of an Australian radio station blurting out to a caller that her husband was an Ashley Madison subscriber became a frivolous "and finally" news item all over the world.

It was entertainment, despite the fact that it was this woman's real life. In the US last week, a man who was publicly revealed as another subscriber, died from suicide, apparently partly as consequence of the humiliation.

At the very least, those people got more than they bargained for when they dropped in to Ashley Madison.

And Strictly is supposed to be about celebrities and their amateur two left feet on the dance floor. Not a sort of Whose Divorce is it Anyway? for our schadenfreude delight.

Well, it won't be the end of Daniel and Majella, anyway, at least we can be sure of that.

Sunday Independent

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