Dominic West has taken a leaf out of David Beckham’s PR playbook

Why does blame always lay with the ‘other woman’, asks Katie Edwards

Tuesday 23 April 2024 11:06 BST
Ruth Wilson and Dominic West in ‘The Affair'
Ruth Wilson and Dominic West in ‘The Affair' (Showtime)

Nothing can undermine the illusion of gender equality quite like a celebrity scandal. Public reaction to celebrity scandals may seem trivial, invasive and even exploitative but it also tells us a lot about cultural assumptions and social norms.

It tells us that women can’t win. As the wife, they’re portrayed as a fool-hardy, long-suffering glutton for punishment if they stand by their man. As the “other woman”, they’re amoral homewreckers.

When I saw that Dominic West had commented – again – on the 2020 “scandal” where he was photographed seemingly nuzzling the neck of his The Pursuit of Love co-star Lily James, I rolled my eyes at yet another rich bloke complaining about a mess of his own making. Then I remembered the furore on social media at the time. (Don’t get me wrong, I still rolled my eyes at yet another rich bloke complaining about a mess of his own making, but this time, I felt angry for Lily James.)

Lily James. Who would feel angry for her? Wasn’t she the one apparently (and shamelessly) gadding about with a married man in public? Well, I feel angry for her. Where was her voice in all this? She’s only ever alluded to the scandal when pushed in interviews. In stark contrast, West felt able to speak up immediately. And he’s still talking about it now.

Dominic West and his wife see the funny side of the Lily James photo scandal

In fact, he seems to have taken a leaf out of David Beckham’s post-scandal PR playbook: in a recent interview, West echoes Beckham’s comments from last year’s documentary series Beckham.

David Beckham has never denied the alleged affair with Rebecca Loos – but he does say the scandal was “ludicrous”. Similarly, in his interview, West doesn’t comment on the veracity of allegations, he just says the scandal surrounding the Rome photos was “absurd”. And perhaps it is absurd that so many people are so exercised by the sex lives of consenting adults.

I’ll tell you what’s more ludicrously absurd, though: that women are still punished for men’s behaviour. From Billie Piper, whose name trends whenever her long since-divorced ex does something ridiculous, to Pamela Anderson who was damaged professionally and personally by the theft of her sex-tape with then-husband Tommy Lee – while he was celebrated for the size of his genitals. Celebrity scandals are object lessons in misogyny.

In fact, when I saw that James was starring as Pamela Anderson in the TV series Pam and Tommy, I wondered why she’d participate in a show about a woman’s lack of consent and subsequent slut-shaming. Anderson has been vocal about how much the stolen sex tape of her and her then husband Tommy Lee damaged her and, on first impressions, the show seemed distasteful at best. I mean, James, has, after all, experienced some of the treatment meted out to Anderson for herself.

Back in 2020, she was vilified in the tabloids and on social media for the apparent clinch with Dominic West. Following the publication of the photos, James trended on social media while thousands of people denounced her for her alleged moral failings. Did West trend too, you might ask? Nope. Of course he didn’t. Despite being the married one of the pair, it was James who was labelled a home-wrecker – even though the home was West’s to wreck, not hers.

Now, affairs are funny things – and, mainly because of the post-scandal PR performances, celebrity affairs are even more bizarre. West and his wife, Irish aristocrat Catherine FitzGerald, Viscountess Lambton, leaned into the posh eccentric stereotype by posing together, grinning and snogging for the press, in front of a handwritten sign that said “Our marriage is strong and we’re very much still together. Thank you. Catherine and Dominic.” How quaint.

And why should the couple keep a low profile anyway? Maybe they’ve got an open marriage – but don’t feel like they should have to share intimate facts of their marriage with strangers? Even if the photos are proof of an extra-marital affair, then as long as it’s no problem for the couple, then it’s no problem for the rest of us, right? Nah, don’t be daft.

Depressingly, the scandal proved a big old problem for Lily James who didn’t have the luxury of posing and grinning for the press. Thanks to the barrage of abuse, she had to keep a low profile. She was about to promote her latest project, Rebecca, but her interviews were either cancelled or she was replaced by her co-star Kristen Scott Thomas.

She won’t discuss the scandal – I imagine because she knows that to do so would cause her reputation and career further damage. Because women never escape unscathed.

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