Strictly Come Dancing began last September in its usual storm of sequins and glitter, as a host of celebrities teamed up with professional dancers in their quest to lift the Glitterball trophy.
But outside of the ballroom, the antics on the show were set to uproot actress Rebecca Humphries’ life.
On 6 October, pictures of comedian Seann Walsh kissing his professional partner Katya Jones – who was married to fellow dancer Neil Jones – were splashed across the national press. Sitting at home was Rebecca, Seann’s girlfriend of over five years. She responded with a now legendary tweet announcing that she had dumped Sean(n), that she was taking custody of their cat, and accusing the comedian of controlling behaviour and gaslighting.
Nine months on, Rebecca is preparing to speak about coercive control at the House of Commons on 3 July.
‘The day that those pictures were all over the newspapers, I was getting phone calls left, right and centre from people who knew me and loved me and wanted to show solidarity,’ Rebecca, 32, told Metro.co.uk. ‘And that was the first time I could speak freely about what had happened in the relationship. I had spent a really, really long time putting up with behaviour and not telling anyone because of fear of it all disappearing. But when it did disappear, I had nothing to lose, so I could talk about it.
‘My best friend, who is an actor and an activist called Sam Swann, I spoke to him about the treatment I had put up with and enabled as well, and he said: “That’s what gaslighting is.” I knew on some level, I think, that my relationship was toxic, but because I didn’t discuss it with anyone, it never felt real. And when Sam said that, I just felt so vindicated by that word, and that there was terminology for my exact situation. It gave me my voice.
‘The amount of people that got in touch with me to say they didn’t know that term existed – my dad, my aunt told me they had no idea it was a word, and if you don’t know the word, how can you know it’s a thing?’
One of the people showing solidarity with Rebecca was campaigner and activist Aisha Ali-Khan.
‘It sort of goes back to that time in October last year, when all of that stuff happened to do with Strictly. A woman called Aisha Ali-Khan, who is a writer and co-organiser of the Women’s March, was incredibly supportive of me from the off – and I haven’t forgotten anybody from that time. When it happened, I was offered interviews and features and spreads, everywhere you could possibly think of, but not only did I feel that everything I had to say, I’d already said within the statement, but also, I didn’t want to misrepresent myself in any way, so I turned all of it down. After quite a traumatic time, I wanted to focus on retraining myself and finding my own voice.
‘Then, Aisha got back in touch with me a couple of weeks ago with this opportunity to speak at the House of Commons. I think I’ve done a lot of work on myself and have spent a lot of time trying to retrain who I am, so I feel really ready to shed light on these sort of things. I feel a responsibility as well – the same responsibility I felt to put the statement out on the first place.’
The talk – chaired by Khalid Mahmood MP and also featuring talks from Afsana Lachaux, Huda Jawad and Peter Manning OBE – is centred around last month’s trial of Salamat Khan, who was found guilty of coercive control after imposing a ‘traditional’ regime on his family after two of his daughters refused to enter arranged marriages.
Two of his other children said they felt like they were ‘living in a prison’. Khan faces prison for inflicting psychological abuse on his family.
While this is a severe case, Rebecca is hoping that by sharing her own story, she can help shed awareness on gaslighting in relationships, and show that the stereotype of an ‘abused woman’ isn’t always correct.
When asked what she hoped would come from speaking out, Rebecca quoted her ‘inspiration’, RuPaul. ‘”The greatest threat facing humanity is unconsciousness.” I really think that if people don’t know what the problem is, how can it possibly be prevented? The more people who stand up and say “this is my experience, this is my story”, the quieter the sound of shame gets. I’m just a normal girl who likes wearing red lipstick and leopard print and singing Celine Dion at karaoke. I’m strong and confident, I like to think I’m intelligent and funny, and it still happened to me. If I can be all of the things that the media and society tells us is not what an abused woman looks like, but I am, the more I should put my hands in the air and wave about that, and hopefully, the more conversations will be had.
‘What I’m saying is nothing new or particularly revolutionary, but I want to be part of the conversation because the conversation needs to be had in schools and supermarket queues and yoga studios. Words like coercive control, gaslighting and emotional manipulation should be commonplace because the more people know about it, the more they know how to recognise it and hopefully, the less it will happen. It’s an idealistic view but sometimes, that’s all we have.’
Following the Strictly storm, Seann, 33, did admit that his behaviour was abusive, and that his ex’s statement influenced his decision to enter therapy.
‘I think that when I first saw that statement, it was so huge and you go through a mixture of emotions and I didn’t really know how to react. But I think with the time that I’ve had, that actually she is right, I think everything she said in that statement is right,’ Seann told Jonathan Ross back in March.
Rebecca Humphries’ full statement on Seann Walsh
‘My name is Rebecca Humphries and I am not a victim.
‘It’s incredibly good of Sean(n) and Katya to apologise in the media. I have received nothing, other than the support of my family, friends and a host of strangers on the internet who all wanted to make sure I was OK.
‘I was alone at home when Sean texted at 10pm saying the two of them were going for one innocent drink. We spoke and I told him, not for the first time, that his actions over the past three weeks had led me to believe something inappropriate was going on. He aggressively, and repeatedly, called me a psycho / nuts / mental. As he has done countless times throughout our relationship when I’ve questioned his inappropriate, hurtful behaviour.
‘But this whole business has served to remind me that I am a strong, capable person who is now free; and no victim. I have a voice and will use it by saying this to any woman out there who deep down feels worthless and trapped with a man they love. Believe in yourself and your instincts. It’s more than lying. It’s controlling.
‘Tell some very close friends who, if they’re anything like my wonderful network, will swoop in and take care of the logistics and of you. It’s important also to recognise that in these situations those who hold power over you are insecure and fragile, and their need for control comes from a place of vulnerability.
‘I think it certainly does in Sean’s case. Despite everything, I hope he gets what he wants from this. I’m not sorry I took the cat though.’
‘At first it’s denial, initially you look at that and you go, “No absolutely not.” But with time, someone that you cared about has written that about you and posted that and I think that actually, yes she was right what she said. And I think if you lie and cheat on the person that you’re meant to care for and be in a relationship with, then that is a form of abuse.’
When speaking about her ex, Rebecca gave a calm and measured response, although is keen to leave Seann behind. ‘It’s a very complex situation and it’s very delicate,’ she said. ‘Seann moving on with his life is no longer any of my business, and I have hope and optimism that he is working on taking responsibility in a way that at the time, it was clear that he hadn’t.’
Nine months after breaking up with the comedian, Rebecca’s focus on reclaiming herself has led to a spate of new projects, including The Trowel – a beauty website set up by Rebecca and her friend Claire as she recovered from her personal life being suddenly made public, which prides itself on pretention-free reviews and advice (or ‘beauty without the BS’).
‘It’s been amazing the amount of people who have taken to it,’ Rebecca told us. ‘It sort of came out of the determination to reclaim myself. I had an amazing friend called Claire who could see an amazing and simple way to do that, was to throw myself into my passion – and the two of us have passion for beauty products. It’s kind of an act of empowerment to focus on something that makes me feel good about myself.
‘We don’t say, “this cream will make you look 10 years younger”, we’re like “this will probably make you feel really great about yourself and that’s what’s most important in an industry built on manipulation”. We do it because we love it, and it’s fun, and it got me through a really difficult time, so it felt natural to do it for other women as well. We pay for these products ourselves, so we’ve got the right to turn around and say it’s money well spent, or it’s money down the drain and you should buy this £5.99 one from Superdrug.’
And as well as continuing The Trowel, Rebecca will be on our screens on BBC Two, as well as working on numerous other projects – some influenced by her experience, but none in the shadow of a comedian ex.
‘I’ve just finished filming a series for BBC Two called Trigonomotery, which is a comedy drama about polyamory, which is a bit of a hot topic. It’s written with a lot of wit and sensitivity, I think it will be a really cool thing. Then there’s loads of projects I’m working on – I’m working on a podcast which is all about challenges and how to take positives from them, as well as writing for a bit.
‘There’s lots going on, but I’m hoping to get a message out there that you can go through your worst nightmare, and come out better for having experienced it.’
You can follow Rebecca on Twitter and Instagram at @beckshumps. Rebecca supports the Women’s Aid 24 Hour National Domestic Violence helpline, which can be contacted at 0808 2000 247.
For more details on the Coercive Control in Families talk, visit the event page.
Source: Read Full Article