What the Strictly kiss scandal teaches us about relationships
If historians of the future wish to analyse British culture in 2018, they could do worse than inspect the Strictly Come Dancing kiss scandal. First, front pages were emblazoned with reports that Seann Walsh and his professional dance partner Katya Jones had been caught “snogging” outside a club (which makes it sound like Strictly is Britain’s bike shed and the British media are collectively skiving maths). Then, on Tuesday, Walsh’s long-term partner, the actor Rebecca Humphries, accused the comedian of “controlling” behaviour, alleging Walsh had been
“aggressively, and repeatedly, call[ing] me a psycho/nuts/mental”. At the time of going to press, Walsh had not responded to these claims.
A story that started as a bit of fluff has quickly shifted into one about the dangers of controlling relationships. Humphries’ post on Instagram was a powerhouse takedown of an ex-boyfriend, from adding the extra N in his first name in brackets – to show it is an affectation – to taking their pet cat. But it’s her description of allegedly abusive behaviour that really stands out, as well as her show of solidarity with other women in similar situations. “I have a voice and will use it by saying this to any woman out there who, deep down, feels worthless and trapped with a man they love,” she wrote. “Believe in yourself and your instincts. It’s more than lying. It’s controlling.” Calling out alleged gaslighting publicly is particularly powerful because it thrives on isolation and secrecy: a victim is led to question her own version of reality, while her protestations are used as evidence she is “crazy”.
There’s much snobbery around the cultural impact of shows such as Strictly, not least because they are aimed predominantly at women. But the truth is the very shows too often dismissed as vacuous can be vital forces in tackling social issues. The death of the OK! favourite Jade Goody did much to raise awareness of cervical cancer among young women, while racism rows on Big Brother bring home prejudice in a way earnest campaigns often don’t. In the summer, Love Island became a vehicle for warning about unhealthy behaviour in relationships, with the charity Women’s Aid saying there were “clear warning signs” in Adam Collard’s treatment of fellow contestant Rosie Williams. An Instagram post like Humphries’ can do more to educate young girls than the best charity campaign.
But if there is a lesson in this, it is surely that we should be wary of using other people for entertainment fodder. There is something very uncomfortable about the way large sections of the press come over all Mary Whitehouse with the slightest whiff of sex, while titillating the reader with as many juicy details as possible. The Mirror reported on Tuesday that Strictly bosses have changed the planned dance being rehearsed by “shamed pair” Walsh and Jones in a bid to make it “less sexy”, putting Jones in a “less revealing costume” (presumably wardrobe are now working on a glittery sackcloth-and-ashes look).
This discomfort has rapidly increased in light of the recent revelations. Suddenly, leafing through the fallout of a sneaky snog seems less fun. The allegations from Walsh’s now ex-partner are a swift reminder to any of us taking pleasure in these stories as some light entertainment: behind the headlines sit the lives and pain of real people.
Strictly contestant Seann Walsh