(Michael Hogan’s article appeared in the Observer, 7/10; via Pam Green.)
The actor’s breakup with comedian Seann Walsh went viral after he cheated on her with his dance partner and she responded with a tweet. Now she’s written an unflinching, very funny memoir
Rebecca Humphries’s 32nd birthday was one to remember, but for all the wrong reasons. On 3 October 2018, the actor was waiting at home alone, wearing a red silk dress and keeping a celebratory dinner for two warm. Meanwhile her boyfriend, the comedian Seann Walsh, was at the pub, kissing Katya Jones, his married professional partner on Strictly Come Dancing. When paparazzi photographs of their embrace were splashed across tabloid front pages, a scandal erupted. Humphries’ relationship, and her whole world, publicly collapsed.
The next day, she tweeted a statement which began: “My name is Rebecca Humphries and I am not a victim.” It described how, during their five-year relationship, Walsh called her “mental” and “psycho” whenever she questioned inappropriate or hurtful behaviour. His multiple other infidelities would emerge later. In the meantime, her tweet went viral, gaining her 20,000 new followers overnight. Now it was Humphries’s turn to monopolise front pages. One gleeful headline read: “You’re cha-cha-chucked!” Another hailed her as “the real winner of Strictly”.
Humphries – currently appearing in Ten Percent (Amazon Prime), the UK version of the hit French TV series Call My Agent! – was deluged with invitations to appear on television and radio and to write newspaper columns about toxic relationships and emotional abuse. On behalf of the organisers of the Women’s March London, she spoke in the House of Commons about gaslighting and the media. “I became an accidental figurehead,” she says.
Now she has written an extraordinary memoir, Why Did You Stay?. Described as “dazzling” by Marian Keyes and “fierce”, “gamechanging” and “brilliant” by Emma Thompson, the book is neither a kiss’n’tell, nor a revenge tragedy. Alternating between episodes from her relationship with Walsh and the aftermath of the Strictly debacle, it becomes a chilling study of insidious control and male-female power games. Unflinching and often very funny, it’s also a diary of self-discovery, an account of finding one’s self-worth, a celebration of resilience and a hymn to the value of friendship.
Tell us about the book’s title, Why Did You Stay?
It’s the question that those of us who’ve had difficult relationships get asked more than anything else. It’s victim-shaming, but it’s also the question that stays with us and has the potential to eat us up. So I’m reclaiming it.
You write that what happened was your worst nightmare come true. Really?
I’d catastrophised that exact scenario. Two months earlier, a friend asked me: “What’s the worst that can happen?” I said: “He has an affair with his dance partner and it’s splashed all over the tabloids for my friends and family to see.” I blurted that straight out. At that point, the relationship was my everything. I was watering a dead plant for a long time. It was all I had left. But when it broke up, that’s when my life started.
How did it feel when your tweet went viral?
Before I met Seann in 2013, I was somebody who people listened to. I was forthright and always had opinions. But those five years were a slow process of eroding my personality, feeling as if I had no voice and my opinion didn’t matter. When I decided to tweet a statement, I told my friends: “It doesn’t matter if anyone else believes it. This is for me. And maybe it’ll get like, 50 likes.” When the numbers started totting up, I felt as if I had a voice again. Maybe one that mattered.
Are you still getting supportive replies?
It never stops. Mostly from people that it resonates with, which says something about how common this is. Thousands came forward who’d been through the same. They understood what I was trying to say, which was: I was a smart, sexy, confident, clever woman and I can’t believe this happened to me. Victims of this behaviour don’t all look like submissive mice. It’s insidious when you see abuse victims in pop culture, because they’re often portrayed like that.
Do you feel like you had to write this book?
I did, I felt a strong sense of responsibility. When I tweeted, I felt a similar sense of responsibility for the many who’ve had these experiences but don’t have a platform. And when you voice your shame, it disappears. I want to encourage more people to do the same. So much of the book is about ending victimhood. Nora Ephron said in Heartburn that she didn’t want to be the victim of her story, she wanted to be the heroine. That’s exactly how I felt.
Can you watch Strictly now?
I still watch it. Strictly’s great. None of this is Strictly’s fault.