Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over is a terrific idea. Where did it come from?
We were having various conversations about different ideas. Sometimes you can go around the houses, but it's actually the really simple premises that work best. So, we flirted with the idea of the programme being really immersive, and we came up with the sleep over idea.
Why do you think the first series struck such a chord with audiences?
The first series was really well received because it all feels very relatable. These are conversations that everybody is having in houses around the UK. So, I was delighted that W went with the second series. I'm really pleased with the calibre of the contributors. They are really interesting families.
In the first episode, you stay with Lillian, a "trad wife" who prefers to take a submissive role in her marriage to Felipe. What was that experience like?
There were such obvious clashes because essentially, she's saying that it's her role and it's her responsibility to make sure she's the dutiful, subservient wife. She thinks that ultimately, she's there to serve her husband and prioritise the kids. I haven't got kids, I'm not married and actually a lot of my life revolves around work, so we are already coming from totally opposite ends of the spectrum. Some of her statements were wildly outlandish. She likens feminism to cancer, which is obviously a difficult pill for me to swallow because I've seen first-hand what inequality and misogyny can look like.
Did that provoke a lot of discussion with Lillian?
Yes. I feel like she's really missing out and think she's totally misguided on various things, but she feels the same. She feels sorry for me. She thinks, "Stacey, why haven't you got kids and got married? Where are you going to be in 30 years' time?" I found those conversations fascinating.
What can you tell us about the second episode, which focuses on a family whose child is a model?
That was really good fun. Keisha, the mother, is a scream. I'd like to go for a night out with her! She's lived in New York and LA, and she's really cool. Her husband was a Nigerian prince. You think, "OK, a Nigerian prince is going to feel quite regal. Maybe you are going to feel like a bit out of place in front of royalty." But he was actually very personable, very accommodating. As soon as I walked in, he asked, "Can I get you a cup of tea?" He had his apron on. He cooked for us and was really hospitable.
Will the idea of a child going into modelling divide viewers?
Yes. Some people will be thinking, "They are pushy parents. They're trying to live vicariously through their kids." But Keisha was a very successful model, and she's just saying, "If my kid wants to do it, why not?" That will split people. But I thought they were a lovely family.
Talk us through the third episode, where you stay with eco-warriors on a Scottish island.
This was a good example of where I had to reassess my opinion. At face value, you're looking at this family who are extremely privileged. They are white, middle-class and own an island in the Scottish Hebrides. I mean, who owns an island and also has a home in London? The kids are privately educated. So, I had a very definite idea of who these individuals were going to be. I thought, "Are these just middle class rich kids?"
But actually, I think there's real depth to them. They're really just doing what they think is right. I ended up admiring their commitment to the cause, particularly the younger daughter, Blue. I wasn't passionate about anything at her age. My world revolved around myself. So, I think that's to be admired.
You stay with "The British Lion King," a man who keeps big cats in one of the episodes too. How did that go?
This lad has got two lions and a puma. Instinctively, you look at these beautiful cats locked up in a cage off the motorway and you think, "This is so cruel." But do I think he's an awful man rotting from the inside? Of course, I don't.
What did you say to him, then?
I told him, "This just feels very strange to me. I feel like it's cruel. You've got these beautiful cats that are used to living in the wild where they will roam free for hundreds of square kilometres. And they're in a cage in Nottinghamshire. How can they be totally fulfilled and stimulated?" He's been asked these questions a million times, and his argument is that the big cats were rescued. Because they've always lived in confinement, he doesn't believe that they would make it if they were returned to the wild. He thinks they would starve to death and wouldn't be able to react to their surroundings.
What are your memories of living with the Strictly Orthodox Jewish family in the fifth episode?
I really, really took to this family. The father is a Rabbi and they have got nine kids. They have very, very strict religious beliefs. The access felt quite privileged. I don't think it's typical for an Orthodox Jewish family to allow cameras into their home. That felt like a real treat in itself, but I just love how relatable and how warm and how honest the family were about who they are and about how important religion is to them.
So, I'm really delighted that they said yes. You just really fall for this family. The kids are lovely, and the wife is a sweetheart. I think it's great to show people in their home being themselves. You end up taking to them, and that might make you think about bigger topics.
What do you think people will learn from this episode?
I just want people to watch this documentary and realize that they're all lovely, decent people. Of course, they live their lives in a totally different way, but we're all different. For me, that's the beautiful thing about our culture. It's such a mix, isn't it? Each house looks entirely different, and we all prioritise different things.
What happened in the final episode when you slept over with the family whose son Lucas is living with Down's Syndrome?
That was a really lovely weekend. They were very sweet. It was a conversation about what it's like to live with a kid who has additional needs. What are the hurdles? What do they look like? Is there judgment? Yes. How do you deal with that? Realistically, what kind of life will Lucas be living in as an adult?
We also had very interesting conversations about testing for Down's Syndrome. If you look at the stats, you see that whenever parents are told that their kid's going to have Down's Syndrome, the abortion rate just rockets sky high. So, it begs the question: are we in danger of eradicating children with Down's Syndrome from society? How do we feel about that?
Was it strange filming during lockdown?
Yes. We stuck to all the rules. Everyone was tested every few days. I had to stay at home, before and after I was in their houses. The crew had all the gear on. But it was funny because Alice, my series producer, had her mask on and she was trying to give me notes. She was trying to adhere to the two metre rule and the windows were open. So, I had to say to her, "Alice, I can't hear you. I have absolutely no idea what you're trying to say to me!" So yes, it was hard work, but it was worth it.
How far can you challenge the people you're staying with?
I think that's what makes this approach unique. Typically, when you're making a documentary, you understand the main objective of the interview is that you have to hold people to account and make sure that you put everything to them, even if it is a bit uncomfortable. But then you leave, and you go back to the hotel room and they go back to their homes. In this situation, I have to ask the questions, but I also have to sit down and have dinner with them an hour later. And I have to ask them how to use their shower. So, there's no denying that it sometimes feels very awkward. But that's my job. You can ask questions without being unnecessarily confrontational. We're so used to TV interviewers going, "Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang,", but you can ask questions calmly.
Have you ever had a big row with anyone on Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over?
Not a shouting, kicking-off row. But there have been instances where we have had a genuine debate. In the first series, there was a good example of that actually. There was a couple who practised child-led parenting. That essentially means that the kids weren't educated in a traditional manner and didn't go to school. There was no routine. They went to bed when they liked. I thought personally that even though it was coming from a really loving place, it felt like it was doing a disservice to the kids.
Can you give us an example of that?
They weren't vaccinating the kids. I remember the mother saying, "I'd love to go travelling around the world, but I wouldn't vaccinate the kids, and we wouldn't take malaria tablets." I think she had quite a romantic idea of floating around various continents. But as I've seen children near death because they've got malaria, I found that very frustrating.
How did you challenge that mother?
I just said to her very calmly, "I feel like it's really irresponsible to suggest that you would go to parts of the world where malaria is a real killer, and you wouldn't protect your children." But they're not my kids, I accept that as well. It's very easy for me to say, "Oh, I would do this, or I wouldn't do that." But they're her children, and you have to respect that. It's her choice, ultimately, how she raises her family, isn't it?
So, you have to be honest with the people you're staying with?
Yes. The thing is that I'm so far from perfect. I'm certainly not the perfect documentarian. There are loads of things I do that people probably don't get. But I am honest, and whatever I say to the camera, I have to be willing to say to the contributors. If there are points to be made, I need to make them to the family and not sneak upstairs and whisper them in a piece to camera.
It is still important to have these debates, then?
Definitely. I really do think it's healthy to have these kinds of conversations with people you don't agree with. Increasingly, we feel so polarised. You sit in your gang, you don't converse with the opposing side, and nothing changes. So, I love this series for that reason.
That polarisation is a real problem at the moment, isn't it?
Absolutely. We've become so polarised, and sometimes it's good just to sit down and listen to someone with a different opinion. That's really, really important. We've heard this 10,000 times, but we all live in echo chambers. I don't know how healthy they are. So, I think it's good to just reflect and think, "Right, I think I know who I am and what I stand for, but do I really think these things? Do I really hold these views?" There's no shame in listening to an alternative perspective and changing your mind. That's growth - although I can't say that's ever going to happen when it comes to trad wives!
How do you feel about the people you have stayed with in this series?
There might be families I totally disagree with, but I feel protective towards them because I've met bad people in my life, and none of these are bad people. They're alternative, and they're different, and they're maybe a bit controversial or a bit quirky, but they're not inherently bad. I really am grateful to all of them actually.
Do you actually sleep over at these people's houses?
Yes! People always ask me, "Do you really sleep over?" And I say, "Yes. I have to creep out of bed at 3am when I need to wee and quietly go across the corridor to the toilet!"
Does it ever get awkward sleeping at someone else's house?
Sometimes! For instance, the trad wife episode was really funny because they renewed their vows, and we all know what people want to do on the evening of renewing their vows! I stayed directly next door to their bedroom - I mean, the wall was so thin! So, I'm just praying. I don't want to hear them having sex. But also, it's their house, and obviously they are totally entitled to have sex if they want to. It can be a bit awkward, but nothing I can't handle.
Do you feel like you learn things making Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over?
Yes, I do. That's the lovely thing about what I do for a living. I always try and be nonjudgmental, and over the years, you realise that nothing is as it seems. So, the best bet really is to go in with a very open mind and then come to your own conclusion towards the end. But it makes you think about things that you've never even thought about. The Down's Syndrome episode is a really good example. If you fell pregnant and found out that your child was going to have Down's Syndrome, how would you react to that?
Do you think it's important to maintain a sense of curiosity about people?
Absolutely. Even if we're not on the same page, or we have wildly different thoughts on things, I find people fascinating. I think when you lose that hunger, or you lose that curiosity it must be a lot tougher. If you didn't like people, you'd have a tricky time making this show!
Did winning Strictly Come Dancing make a major difference to your life?
Yes. It definitely changed the demographic. I think up until Strictly, I had a real presence on BBC Three. But I don't think I was a household name by any stretch of the imagination. I was known for documentaries, but then Strictly catapults you into a different space. Suddenly, Mary in Tesco knows who you are. So, it's definitely changed my life for the better.
What do you hope that people will take away from Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over?
I hope they think it provokes a really constructive debate. Sometimes you get into these houses, and then it works as a springboard to even wider conversations. "The British Lion King" episode is a good example. Ultimately, the conversation ends up being about animals in confined spaces. You ask, "Well, what do we think about zoos?" Some people say, "Animals don't belong in zoos." But others will say, "Oh, zoos have brilliant conservation projects. And actually, a lot of people who are passionate about animals and go on to do amazing research started their love affair with animals in a zoo when they were kids." Life is rarely black and white. There's always this grey to explore.
What are your feelings as you look back over the last 14 years?
I've had the most extraordinary life. I can't quite believe it. It's been well documented, but it was never really meant to play out like this. I took part in a series 100 years ago called Blood, Sweat and T-shirts. I was only ever meant to be a contributor, and it was only ever meant to be a one-off. Afterwards, I was meant to go back to work at Luton Airport. But then I got my own commission and then just continued to get the work. So, I never take it for granted. Even if I'm knackered or I've got the hump or I feel like I've been working nonstop, I feel really lucky to be able to do this for a living.