When actress Rebecca Humphries was thrust into the spotlight in 2018 after her then-boyfriend, comedian Seann Walsh, was caught kissing his dance partner Katya Jones in what became Strictly Come Dancing’s biggest ever scandal, she never realised how empowered she would ultimately feel.
Walsh had been her boyfriend for five years and the kiss, which happened on her birthday, was splashed all over the tabloids days later. Humphries was floored initially but did not sell her story despite a number of lucrative offers.
She remained silent and dignified, posting a statement in a tweet days after that fateful kiss in which she accused Walsh of calling her “psycho/nuts/mental” when she suspected he was involved with the Strictly dancer.
In the same statement, Humphries, now 34, told the world she was not a victim, that she hadn’t received a personal apology although the pair had apologised in the media, and urged women to believe in themselves and their instincts. The tweet went viral.
“It was one of the most shocking and extraordinary days of my life,” she recalls, from her kitchen in east London.
“Hand on heart, I sent that tweet out for myself because I had felt so voiceless for such a long time and I knew what was expected of me publicly.”
Four months after the scandal, Walsh said on The Jonathan Ross Show that he thought everything she said in the statement was right.
The kiss, the break-up, the tweet, support of friends and plenty of therapy have changed her into someone who has a voice, has opinions and has regained her self-respect, she says.
“I came to this fork in the road,” she reflects. “I don’t want to look back on my life and see an opportunity to assert myself and think, I wish I’d taken it. I just thought, ‘No, I have to do it (send the tweet) because it’s a first step to my new life’. And then it went crazy.”
The thing she least expected was that so many people, mostly women, would come forward in response to her tweet to say they knew exactly how she felt.
“My story was so authentic. I was the girlfriend of someone who had appeared on Strictly Come Dancing who was embroiled in this Strictly curse and yet all of these people just got it. It was part of my recovery into not feeling so alone in what had happened to me.”
She largely received positive messages of support, but one caught her eye: ‘If he was that bad, why did you stay eh?’
Almost four years later, Humphries has made that the title of her autobiography, a journey through life, love, relationships and how we can all rise above the bad behaviour inflicted on us and come out stronger.
Why Did You Stay? is no misery memoir, but ultimately an uplifting life story about how you can find the positives from bad situations, and it’s peppered with wry observations and laugh-out-loud anecdotes.
In it, Humphries lays her soul bare regarding her relationship (and numerous others before and after), which was far from perfect before the Strictly furore, she agrees.
Walsh is not painted in a good light, but nor is Humphries for some of the time, the needy girlfriend who sometimes turned into a ‘wild woman’ who ran around the flat screaming, storming off at shopping centres, crying at parties.
“I was difficult at times and the only way to move on from situations that happen is to assess your part in it. I stayed in that relationship and behaved in ways I’m not proud of,” she admits. “I want to be a better human being.”
“What I have to make really clear is that this book is as much about taking responsibility for myself as it is about making wild accusations about Seann,” she continues. “One of the things I want to impart is how I cast myself in that role as much as I was put into it.
“It wasn’t just about that relationship. It’s about what I’d seen in pop culture growing up, about the quieter partner of these big, loud stars. It has to do with the narratives I’d been fed – once you find a man then that’s the end, your job is to keep the relationship alive in some way.
“It was like, ‘Well done, you’ve completed the game, you’ve got a bloke’. And in my instance it was, ‘Not only have I got a bloke but I’ve got one who’s famous and funny and people love him!’ I allowed my self-worth to be tied up to that relationship. In terms of me being a quiet partner, that has to do as much with what I brought to that as Seann.”
During lockdown she finally felt ready to write about her experiences and how they have ultimately made her stronger.
“I had so many revelations about how far I’d come as a person and I just knew I had quite a lot to impart as to what I’d learned about relationships and love and about toxicity.”
The book jumps between her life and loves in past years to the events leading up to the Strictly curse and her life since then.
“This is not a witch hunt and it’s not revenge porn. It’s not about Seann. It’s about me and my experiences of so many people, not just women.
“I’ve played the supporting role for so many years in so many narratives, not just in that relationship. My instinct as a woman is to let other people take the spotlight and to people-please and to ensure that everyone feels very comfortable. But this is my story and it’s my time to claim it.”
She’s never bumped into Walsh since she the night she left him to stay with friends as the story broke, although there was a shock moment three years later when she saw him on a dating site she was perusing.
“Can you believe that!” she exclaims, half-laughing. “It felt like the walls were melting. It was extraordinary. I was with my friend Theo looking at my phone in this B&B in Amsterdam. At the time it was quite hideous but the universe does have a sense of humour.”
She writes that she’s been told she had PTSD and recalls having recurring nightmares of the flashing lights of cameras outside the Elstree studios.
Has she forgiven him for the Strictly kiss?
“Infidelity-wise, everyone makes mistakes. This isn’t a book about cheating. It’s about relationships.”
But what about his treatment of her?
“It’s quite hard to talk about forgiveness … if I say I forgive him, it makes me look weak and if I say I haven’t forgiven him, it makes me look ruthless and I’m neither of those things.”
She found her own ways to cope with the grief she felt in the wake of the storm.
“There’s been lots of therapy, investigating things like spirituality and just finding your people, your tribe, going out with your mates, spending time with people who make you feel brilliant about yourself and who really love and respect you.”
She says she hasn’t found it difficult to trust again after what happened, and has been on dates with both men and women – she calls herself ‘hetero-flexible’.
“Everyone comes into your life on a case-by-case basis and things like trust have to do with how much you trust and respect yourself. The woman that I was in my relationship with Seann and previous to that is so different to the woman I am now.
“I was hungry for love, I had confidence in my abilities but not in myself. I didn’t know who I was. The break-up with Seann has been such a huge learning curve.”
After Walsh, her career picked up as she gained roles in The Crown (as Carol Thatcher) and the comedy series Ten Percent and is now working on a TV writing project and planning a novel.
Currently single, she reflects: “I’m more boundaried now. I look for people who listen, are supportive, kind and thoughtful – those are not necessarily traits that would have felt really sexy to me up until quite recently.
“Of course I believe in love, but my idea of love has changed shape. If someone comes along that fits that shape, I’m open and ready to receive.”
Why Did You Stay? by Rebecca Humphries is published by Sphere on July 7, priced £18.99