Wednesday 16 October 2019

Why we are so transfixed by the Strictly snogging scandal?

Kiss story wasn't exactly front-page worthy, but it provided counterbalance to a wider injustice

Out of step: Seann Walsh and Katya Jones getting floury on ‘Strictly’ last night. Many online fans felt they got ‘sympathy’ votes from the judges. Photo: PA
Out of step: Seann Walsh and Katya Jones getting floury on ‘Strictly’ last night. Many online fans felt they got ‘sympathy’ votes from the judges. Photo: PA
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

As far as celebrity cheating scandals go, it was hardly what you'd call high stakes.

A Strictly Come Dancing couple, he a middling comedian, she a professional dancer. A few grainy photos of them snogging outside a pub. Two grovelling Twitter apologies.

Yet, the scandal that erupted last week after comedian Seann Walsh and his married dancing partner, Katya Jones, indulged in a supposedly one-off kiss, was one befitting of an A-list affair.

Last week, tabloids published images of the pair indulging in a passionate kiss outside a London pub. That evening, both issued apologies via their Twitter accounts. While Jones stated that she loves her husband and that "this is not a reflection on our relationship", Walsh made no mention of his girlfriend of five years, actress Rebecca Humphries.

A tabloid story that should have been met with a raised eyebrow and a muttered "well, that's the Strictly curse", as the page is turned and the story all but forgotten, has instead been caught up in a maelstrom of fiery TV debates, concerned statements from women's charities, heated opinion columns and demands for the couple to be removed from the show, forcing the BBC to shift into crisis-control.

It was widely reported that the pair were initially billed to dance a salsa or rumba on last night's show, typically sensual Latin American dances, but were instead given a jaunty Charleston, a routine with far less physical contact and sexual tension.

Well-timed response: Actor Rebecca Humphries
Well-timed response: Actor Rebecca Humphries

In the wake of the scandal, re-watching their performance of the paso doble from the previous week makes for uncomfortable viewing. The traditional Spanish routine sees the male dancer portray a bull fighter while the woman is either the cape or the bull - in both instances, he passionately pursues her. Walsh and Jones's dance was Matrix-themed, with both clad in black leather. Ooph.

What prevented this from being just another quickly forgotten piece of gossip was the eloquent and ever-so-slightly caustic response from Humphries the following day. In an open letter posted to her Twitter account, Humphries addressed the scandal that had engulfed her private life, while at the same time deploying an extraordinarily damning character assassination of her now ex-boyfriend.

Each sentence drops a new detail that, when read in full, creates a narrative far darker than the drunken snog it was initially framed as.

"It's incredibly good of Sean(n) and Katya to apologise in the media. I have received nothing other than the support of my family, friends, and a host of strangers on the internet who all wanted to make sure I was OK.

"Those pictures were taken on October 3. It was my birthday. I was alone at home when Sean(n) texted at 10pm saying the two of them were going for one innocent drink.

"We spoke and I told him, not for the first time, that his actions over the past three weeks had led me to believe something inappropriate was going on. He aggressively, and repeatedly, called me a psycho/nuts/mental. As he has done countless times throughout our relationship when I've questioned his inappropriate, hurtful behaviour."

Humphries goes on to encourage other women who feel "worthless and trapped" by their partner to seek help and leave, as she had just done, taking the couple's cat with them. It is these few lines that have given rise to a wider discussion about emotionally abusive partners and the gaslighting of women.

Whether or not we believe Walsh to be one of these men, it is irrefutable that women are so often told to ignore their instincts. Whether they are cast as a 'hysterical harpy' or nagging wife, women's fears that they are being treated either unfairly or immorally are so often laughed off.

While this has been a devastating time for Humphries, it is clear that the vindication that has arisen from this is something of a salve for her heartbreak and humiliation. That nagging sense that Walsh was manipulating and untrustworthy have been proven not just to Humphries, but the world at large.

In a week that saw Brett Kavanaugh elevated to the US Supreme court because the testimony of Christine Ford was not sufficient evidence to prove he sexually assaulted her, perhaps we find it heartening that at least one woman who was wronged has been publicly vindicated. When a woman's distressing story of an alleged sexual assault is not enough, a few grainy photos of another's cheating boyfriend are suddenly deeply satisfying. It is iron-clad proof that Humphries is not a 'psycho' and Walsh is absolutely a liar.

Perhaps this is why we have been transfixed on the unfolding scenario, why we won't allow it to become yet another piece of tabloid fodder, why Walsh is being cast as so much more than a lousy boyfriend.

Debate rages as to whether Walsh has become a scapegoat or whether his behaviour is indicative of a far more pervasive attitude towards women.

Walsh, of course, is entirely aware of this. Last Wednesday, he appeared alongside Katya on It Takes Two, the behind-the-scenes spin off that accompanies Strictly each week. It was the first time the pair had addressed the situation on camera. Again, Katya's priority was to shield her husband from the scandal, while Walsh seemed to want to do the same thing for himself.

"I'm not perfect, far from it. Our relationship wasn't perfect, that doesn't mean I wanted it to end the way it finally did," he said.

"It's also important for me to say that the people that know me the most, that love me, they know I am not the person I'm being portrayed as. I'm still sorry for what I did, but it's very important for me to get that out there."

Fans have been divided, with some outraged the couple are still allowed on the show while others feel the pair have been painted as villains for what was a genuine moral transgression.

The lure of Strictly for mid-level personalities like Walsh is this audience - it is hoped that after a stint on the show their star will rise. Despite having to don some regrettable costumes, the trade-off is worth the garish sequins. Unfortunately for Walsh, Strictly has drawn him the wrong type of attention and it is possible that his behaviour could result in an earlier exit from the show.

Humphries's career, on the other hand, may well benefit from the whole sorry scenario. She has been thrust into the spotlight for a horrific reason, but as a wronged woman she has masses of viewers on side already. She's a talented performer, as well as wry and funny. In fact, she has all the makings of a crowd favourite. Who knows, perhaps next season she could be tempted to take to the dance floor?

Sunday Independent

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