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
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