I’m a Celebrity: The fixation on Seann Walsh’s Strictly Scandal suggests a hypocritical concern of infidelity

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IIt was one of the most awkward moments in recent television history. Comedian Seann Walsh and professional dancer Katya Jones sit across from Zoe Ball, host of Strictly Come Dancing’s sister show It Takes Two. Jones seems close to tears; Walsh seems irritable, defensive. Neither of them wants to be there. “I’m sorry for the pain I caused,” Walsh says, making a face. “I deeply regret it.” Then, later in the same interview: “I’m not who I’m portrayed to be.”

This is October 10, 2018, four days after photos of Walsh and Jones kissing one night made the front page of The Sun. Walsh – who had performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and was a frequent guest on panel shows such as Mock the Week – was one of the prominent participants in the hit TV dance competition. Jones was his professional dance partner. At the time, he was in a long-term relationship with actress Rebecca Humphries while Jones was married to fellow dancer and fiercely professional Neil Jones. The fallout was immense, not least because Humphries was quick to issue a statement accusing Walsh of “controlling” his behavior and claiming he had “aggressively and repeatedly” called her “psycho/crazy/mental,” when she confronted him. He and Jones stayed on Strictly but were soon voted off the show. The following summer he was booked at the Edinburgh Fringe to play in a 200 seat venue. Walsh, who was used to selling out the first night of the festival, walked out in front of 30 people from the audience.

Four years later, scandal follows Walsh at every turn. For the past few weeks he has appeared on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! alongside a motley crew including Coronation Street star Sue Cleaver, Boy George and Matt Hancock. Earlier this year, Humphries released a book, Why Did You Stay?, a memoir that details (and there’s quite a lot of detail) her relationship with Walsh and the aftermath of the Strictly scandal. Her ongoing work campaigning for greater awareness of toxic behavior in relationships – she spoke on coercive control in the House of Commons in 2019 – should be applauded. It’s the behavior of the media and the public that bothers me.

His stint on “I’m a Celeb” was derisively touted as Walsh’s “redemption tour,” but he didn’t seem ready to really delve into the past on his own. However, when questioned by Sue Cleaver, he winced and gave her a brief summary of events, to which she asked, “Why did that crucify you? Why did that have such an effect?” Walsh then recalled Humphries’ published statement, “That was the end of me.”

Celebrity infidelity has been a hot topic in recent years. There was Adam Levine, who was accused this year of sending flirtatious (cringey) messages to other women while he was married to model Behati Prinsloo (he said he “crossed the line” but denied cheating). Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Walsh’s I’m a Celeb campmate, broke his own Covid guidelines in 2021 when he fell into a clinch with his assistant Gina Coladangelo in his ministerial office. Dominic West was pictured appearing to kiss his The Pursuit of Love co-star Lily James while inexplicably riding a micro scooter in 2020. Neither he nor James commented on the photos, but West and his wife later held up a written statement outside their home: “Our marriage is strong and we are still very much together.”

Nuanced portrayals of infidelity on TV and film are becoming increasingly common. There was “The Affair” (ironically starring West), which cleverly used memory distortion to demonstrate the drastically different perspectives in a relationship. There was Marriage Story and Doctor Foster and Conversations with Friends. However, real life — and social media — gets bogged down in this weird culture of moralizing and finger-pointing.

Social media thrives on absolutes. Likes Dislikes; Good Bad; vote up, vote down. It’s much easier to explain that someone is an “asshole” than it is to have a more nuanced conversation about why someone is behaving the way they do. In an article published in The Independent last month, Oliver Keens suggested Britain may have lost the “confidence” to discuss affairs: “I think we’re in a strange new state of moral confusion: unsure if it’s our business to know about infidelity,” he wrote. “Angry and intrigued, but not quite sure why.”

Confusion seems to be the order of the day when it comes to the Strictly scandal. Humphries has said she felt “gaslit” during their relationship, while Walsh said in 2019 that the way he treated her by cheating was “a form of abuse” — both of which seemed the issues with their relationship at first recognizable after it has ended. What Humphries described – he was labeled “psycho” and “spiritual” for challenging his behavior – will likely sound familiar to anyone who has confronted a cheating partner. Isn’t that what so many people do when they don’t want to get caught? They turn the tables and accuse the other of targeting them: “You’re crazy, insane, how dare you.” Is everyone doing this a gas lighter? There is a risk that the term will soon lose its meaning, which in turn will make it more difficult to respond to individual behavior.

In the case of Humphries, she has said that she wants to move on with her life. But the public taunt against Walsh continues, and it’s very difficult to imagine many other scenarios in which someone would be professionally punished for a personal leak. If a doctor has had an affair, is she unqualified to perform heart surgery? And outside of work, does not abiding by society’s rules regarding sexually exclusive relationships make you a terrible person? There are enough studies to suggest that monogamy isn’t actually natural, which means the outrage that erupts when there’s an infidelity scandal is a bit disproportionate.

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In response to the Levine allegations, Caspar Salmon wrote for The Independent and suggested it was time to “grow up” and stop “panicing” about infidelity. “People are not logical. If you judge others and think that you can or should tame your own desires forever, you may be in for some surprises,” he warned.

That’s not to say people should be able to claim they don’t have autonomy when it comes to this infidelity. When the photos of Walsh and Jones surfaced, there was much talk of the so-called “Strictly Curse” intended to burn the candidates’ relationships. “As if it were something beyond his control, divine intervention. It’s not,” Humphries recalled telling her friends on Why Did You Stay? “Curse places the responsibility on an abstract concept when it is not abstract at all. The responsibility lies with them. Your choice. You should call it that: the strict choice.”

Walsh certainly lived with the ramifications of his election. But how long should that go? Why are people so fixated on the idea that he should be reminded of what he did… do they really think he’ll soon forget it? People make mistakes. And for the most part, they learn from them. But we must allow them to change; we have to let them move on.

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