Strictly a show trial: why all the fuss about Seann and Katya's snog?

Tara Conlan
Dancing on the edge … Seann Walsh and Katya Jones. Photograph: Ray Burmiston/BBC/PA

It all started with a snog. Since shots of Strictly Come Dancing contestant Seann Walsh’s drunken kiss with dance partner Katya Jones appeared on the front page of the Sun on Sunday, the story has been played out in the red-tops. Today, the pair have made front pages of the Sun, the Mirror and Daily Mail. Their crime? Not apologising enough for said snog when they appeared on the Strictly spin-off It Takes Two to apologise for their actions.

It is not surprising the duo have been pilloried by the press. The popular press love stories about the relationship-ending “curse of Strictly”, whose victims include rugby player Ben Cohen (who left his wife and now has a child with his dance partner Kristina Rihanoff); Rachel Riley (who divorced her husband after appearing on the show in 2013 and is now with her partner Pasha Kovalev); and actor Georgia May Foote (who separated from her boyfriend before going on to date her dance partner Giovanni Pernice).

We do not know what went on in Walsh’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend, the actor Rebecca Humphries. She did, however, write an extraordinarily brave and articulate statement that she posted on Twitter (note: she did not sell her story to the press, despite being offered money for doing so). In it, she claimed that during their relationship he had “aggressively and repeatedly” called her “psycho, nuts, mental” about her suspicions over his fidelity. Walsh has not addressed these claims.

Yet the current coverage is not centred on this. Instead, it is a show trial for a snog.

Walsh and Jones perform on the show. Photograph: Guy Levy/BBC/PA

The dedicated column inches for forensic analysis of yesterday’s TV appearance included a front-page splash in the Sun under the banner “cheats face the music”. Over two further pages inside, the paper ran a full transcript of the interview, next to which a dedicated body-language expert was called in to explain that Walsh was not sincere because he “rubbed his nose” which is a “cut-off gesture”. Elsewhere, unnamed friends of Jones were quoted as saying the “Strictly snogger” keeps her husband “under the thumb”.

The Mirror, meanwhile, went with the front-page headline “sorry excuse” and an inside page featuring a paparazzi picture of Jones’s husband Neil out walking his dog. The Daily Mail went with “Cha-cha cheat’s weasel apology”.

While the judges have said that the incident will not affect the pair’s scores on Saturday night, and that they will be judged solely on their Charleston, viewers are expected to deliver them a sequinned blow on Saturday night in the public vote.

Why do the papers care so much about a kiss? Perhaps it is in part because licence-fee-payers often feel as if they own the BBC.

But the reason is also because family show Strictly is the embodiment of the BBC’s commitment to “inform, educate and entertain”. The fact that Jones is a married woman also sparks moral outrage. If the papers see the BBC as gatekeepers of the nation’s moral values, then any transgression by its stars will be seen as public property. Even if, at the moment, all that is in the public domain is a quick snog in the dark.