Voices: Why Matt from Busted deserves our praise for confessing he gaslighted his wife
People tend to use the term “cancel culture” as a pejorative, but I’m not sure that it is. It’s not the worst thing to be part of a culture where information is so freely available, and so many of us have a voice, that people are able to be held account for bad behaviour that they would have previously been able to hide.
What I think rubs people the wrong way are two things: the fact that it happens so often, and the fear that we could be next.
The former tends to make people believe that “cancel culture” is a bit of a witch hunt; that we target certain people for “cancellation” to sate our lust for drama. There’s probably an element of truth to that – there are absolutely instances of people being “cancelled” over misunderstandings, or even outright lies. But in general, the search for accountability has done more good than harm, with movements like #MeToo exposing people like Harvey Weinstein who, in another age, would have lived their entire lives without ever being exposed for their crimes.
But it’s that second one – that it could come for all of us, in the end – that I think underlies a lot of the anxieties around so-called “cancellation”. How do we know if our past transgressions are serious enough to get us in trouble? And what do we do if they’re ever exposed?
Busted star Matt Willis seems to have cracked the code in a recent interview with The Guardian, in which he talked about his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, and the effect those have had on his relationship with his wife, former Big Brother presenter Emma Willis. In the interview, Matt talked about gaslighting his wife, setting out to make her “feel crazy”, calling himself a “mastermind” when it came to that kind of spousal manipulation.
His account is pretty harrowing, not least because it’s a rare instance of abuse being recounted from the perspective of the abuser. To be clear, I use that term “abuse” in the sense that it’s the only way to characterise Matt’s behaviour, as he explains it. Gaslighting your partner is abusive, no matter how you cut it. So is making them live with your mistakes, and lack of self-control.
What’s more notable, though, is the fact that Matt owns up to all of it. He takes ownership of his mistakes, and he promises to be better. Most importantly, he acknowledges that there are things he simply won’t ever be able to make amends for, saying “I never did that with Emma; I don’t think I ever can.”
It’s a far cry from the usual celebrity notes app apology, hastily scribbled by some agent or publicist in a vain attempt to get in front of the allegations. You know the one: “I’m sorry for the hurt I’ve caused. I’m growing and learning every day. I promise my fans I will try to improve. Please don’t stop buying my merch. Who among us hasn’t set an orphanage on fire?”
I have a lot of respect for Matt here, because I’ve been in his position. I used to be a big drinker (before my digestive tract finally put its foot down and decided to take the law into its own hands), and I used to be a really bad boyfriend. Honestly, I wish I could blame it all on the booze, but to be honest I think it was more just a result of my being a) in my twenties and b) kind of a s***head in general.
Unlike Matt, I’ve never actually apologised for most of it. I tell myself, “well, there’s no sense dredging up the past, and I’m sure it would cause more hurt than good at this stage”, but to be honest I think I’m just looking for an excuse. And as we’ve learned in recent years, sometimes the past gets dredged up regardless of what we want to happen. People find peace in closure, more often than not.
When we worry about being “cancelled” – or, let’s call it what it is, “being held to account for our actions” – maybe it’s worth taking Matt’s lead: take ownership of our mistakes, make amends where we can, and admit to ourselves that there are some things that we’ll just never be able to fix.
If you’re looking for an end to the epidemic of “cancel culture”, I’ve got some bad news: the only real remedy is honesty.