When Strictly Come Dancing’s new head judge Shirley Ballas made her debut in the seat next to Darcey Bussell the headlines were almost inevitable. Two women on a judging panel? That must automatically mean feuds, cattiness and snubs! True to form we had headlines like “Shirley Ballas is ‘ignored’ by Darcey Bussell” and “Strictly’s Shirley Ballas gets massively SNUBBED by fellow judge Darcey Bussell” – and so on, and so on, and so on.
But in fact, all the evidence suggests that Darcey and Shirley get on extremely well. Sitting in the audience you’ll see them chatting and laughing away when the cameras are off; on screen, they’ll sometimes back each other up and they’ll sometimes politely disagree. Neither has ever said anything remotely insulting about the other.
Surely this narrative of “cattiness” must be frustrating? Tess Daly thinks so.
“Can you tell me, if there were two men, if anyone would ever mention the word “cattiness” between two men?” she told RadioTimes.com at the National Television Awards.
“Why must cattiness be mentioned between two women, who clearly get on? They share a love of the shame profession, they get on brilliantly.
“It’s like myself and Claudia [Winkleman] when we first started on Strictly, and two women had not stood side by side on a Saturday night before, and we were the first to do that, and we were really proud and we were great mates and it was brilliant!
“But it felt like a natural progression and just because you’re a woman, by nature of your sex, you should not have to defend your position, that you can have a relationship with another woman on screen. Why must you be ‘catty’? Why can you not be friends?”
Female contestants often get hit by this “narrative”, too. Last year we saw headlines like “Strictly FEUD: Debbie McGee and Alexandra Burke rivalry INTENSIFIES” and “Strictly ladies caught in CATFIGHT ahead of tonight’s final”. Fellow finalist (and eventual winner) Joe McFadden was nowhere to be seen.
For her own part, Shirley’s approach is simply to shut out the haters. “I don’t really focus on that,” she explained. “I just focus on, everybody is a good friend, and the whole place works like a family, and I don’t read it.”