Lift­ing the lid on the Strictly curse

Fans know it takes two to tango, but is Strictly get­ting too spicy? Eleanor Steafel goes be­hind the scenes

The Daily Telegraph - - News Review & Features -

As he sat be­side his dance part­ner on the It Takes Two sofa on Wednesday even­ing, af­ter what must have been a pretty hu­mil­i­at­ing week, Sean(n) Walsh ap­peared solemn, sad, a lit­tle em­bar­rassed… Ex­cept he didn’t, re­ally. In fact, though his body lan­guage should have con­veyed all of those things, the shaggy-haired co­me­dian mostly looked cheesed off. When asked by pre­sen­ter Zoe Ball about his ex-girl­friend Re­becca Humphries’s Twit­ter state­ment af­ter he was pho­tographed snog­ging his dance part­ner, Katya Jones, in the street, Walsh said: “I think, first of all, I would rather not be hav­ing to ad­dress this pub­licly, but I feel like I have to.”

He went on to apol­o­gise be­fore in­sist­ing he is “not the per­son I am be­ing por­trayed as”. So you’re not the sort of bloke who pub­licly cheats on your girl­friend on her birth­day while star­ring on a na­tional tele­vi­sion show? Must have been a mix-up, then. How very awk­ward.

Not awk­ward enough to stop the pair com­ing back to dance the Charleston tonight in front of 14 mil­lion Strictly devo­tees, many of whom have been call­ing for their heads all week. “What about lovely Neil?” The fans cried for Katya’s hus­band, a chore­og­ra­pher on the show. “How could she do such a thing?” “I knew from that ridicu­lous hair­cut [Walsh] was trou­ble.”

What a week it has been for the BBC’S flag­ship show, which al­ways man­ages to serve up some­thing juicy for us to sink our teeth into beyond the ball­room. Gone are the days when it was just a camp lit­tle pro­gramme about tan­goed celebri­ties trot­ting across a dance floor in be­tween some ter­ri­ble jokes (RIP, Sir Bru­cie).

As the danc­ing has im­proved, the drama has got spicier, al­most as if Natasha Kaplin­sky and Bren­dan Cole’s fris­son in that first series in 2004 set some­thing in mo­tion. View­ers were trans­fixed by their ap­par­ent bond on the dance floor for weeks be­fore ru­mours of an af­fair, which co­in­cided with the end­ing of Cole’s re­la­tion­ship with fel­low dancer Camilla Dallerup. From that mo­ment on, the show would never again just be about how many fleck­erls some­one from Ca­su­alty had man­aged to per­fect in their Vi­en­nese waltz.

Nowa­days, the ru­mour mill kicks into over­drive at the start of each series and, as one Strictly in­sider tells me, the back­stage team place early bets on who might fall prey to the curse. “We all thought, well, it’s prob­a­bly only a mat­ter of time with Lee [Ryan] and Nadiya. But then comes this dark horse. This one came as a to­tal sur­prise.”

It’s un­der­stand­able, re­ally. The weeks on end spent pressed up against one an­other as sweat clouds up the dance stu­dio mir­rors; the fear and the ela­tion of the live shows. It’s enough, as one in­sider ex­plains, to bring a ham­mer and chisel to even the small­est of cracks in a re­la­tion­ship. “It’s the Strictly bless­ing, not the Strictly curse, re­ally. No one who goes into the show who is in a solid re­la­tion­ship will have that re­la­tion­ship ru­ined by go­ing on Strictly. If you’re in one which isn’t very

happy, then it might.” One for­mer con­tes­tant agrees: “Strictly has al­ways been sex­u­ally charged. Short, per­haps, of lock­ing lips on the dance floor in front of mil­lions, you’re in firm hold for hours on end with a nu­bile part­ner of the op­po­site sex who is paid to teach you, men­tor you and, frankly, flatter you on a daily – hourly – ba­sis. It’s an ir­re­sistible cock­tail.”

It doesn’t help, I’m told, that the celebri­ties stay in a ho­tel on the Fri­day and Satur­day nights – as one BBC in­sider puts it: Strictly isn’t so dif­fer­ent from Love Is­land. Danc­ing aside, if you put 15 men and 15 women in a ho­tel for 13 weeks, some­thing is go­ing to hap­pen. “You of­ten hear ru­mours of peo­ple get­ting to­gether, but we’ve never had it where there’s been any­one who’s got pic­ture ev­i­dence of any­thing.”

This, per­haps, goes some way to ex­plain­ing why there has been such up­roar this week: it was just so very pub­lic. And only in week three! Truly, it was all too much for fans to take. We just about coped when Kristina went off with Joe Calza­ghe. We turned a blind eye when she did it again with Ben “snake­hips” Co­hen. But this – ca­vort­ing in the street, out­side a pub – re­ally took the bis­cuit.

Cyn­ics say it was a set up: that all pub­lic­ity has to be good pub­lic­ity for the Beeb. Not so, one in­sider tells me. This week’s an­tics have not gone down well with the pow­ers that be. “It’s quite a messy si­t­u­a­tion. The BBC has to think about the fact that it’s a fam­ily show. We all know it hap­pens, but nor­mally it’s pri­vate, so when it hap­pens like this it doesn’t re­ally help. It changes the fo­cus of the show.”

It’s worth not­ing that af­ter a scan­dal like this, pro dancers have been known to be qui­etly dropped be­fore the next series. “The dancers are re­ally con­trolled, they aren’t on much money, they aren’t al­lowed to have com­mer­cial deals while they are in the show, they aren’t ex­pected to have an opin­ion,” ex­plains a source who has worked with sev­eral for­mer con­tes­tants. “They also know that if they step out of line then there is a line of hun­gry new dancers des­per­ate to get on the show.”

But with Katya still reign­ing cham­pion and widely re­spected for her pitch-per­fect chore­og­ra­phy (don’t for­get it was that stun­ning paso that set this whole de­ba­cle in mo­tion), there is ev­ery chance she will be back next au­tumn. In any case, all this is noth­ing, I’m told, com­pared to what hap­pens when the series ends, and the live tour be­gins: “There’s a party ev­ery night. That’s when the af­fairs re­ally kick in.”

To be fair to Seann (who was born “Sean” but added the ex­tra “n”), I’m told he is well-liked on the show. “He is a re­ally nice guy,” one in­sider says. “I think it came as a bit of a sur­prise.”

Poor thing, splashed across the front pages for a snog. Must have been quite a week for the chap – though, in the words of one source, “the lesser-known peo­ple have got a lot less to lose”. Still, I think I speak for ev­ery­one when I say we’re all glad Humphries took the cat.

‘You’re in firm hold for hours on end with a nu­bile part­ner of the op­po­site sex’

Cursed cou­ples: clock­wise from main, Seann Walsh and Katya Jones, Ben Co­hen and Kristina Ri­hanoff, Ge­or­gia May Foote and Gio­vanni Per­nice, Joe Calza­ghe and Kristina Ri­hanoff, Natasha Kaplin­sky and Bren­dan Cole, Kara Toin­ton and Artem Chigv­int­sev, Jimi Mistry and Flavia Cacace, Rachel Ri­ley and Pasha Ko­valev

Elec­tric: Katya Jones and Seann Walsh dance the paso doble last Satur­day

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