6th November 2023
Investigative journalist, presenter and past Strictly champ, Stacey Dooley, also answers to ‘Miss. H.’ So, she informs interviewer Simon O’Brien at Liverpool’s Playhouse, on the Scouse leg of her Britain-wide ‘audience with’ tour, Conversations with Stacey Dooley. How intriguing. (Very Line of Duty.) But just what does ‘H’ stand for?
Dooley comes- or, rather, struts- onstage to the strains of the Spice Girls’ single ‘Spice Up Your Life.’ It’s a homage to the Union Jack/leopard print-draped girl-power five-piece just as much as it is a reminder of the choreographic prowess that saw her crowned Strictly winner back in ’18. (The multi-coloured roving disco lighting is a nice touch, too.) It’s all very self- deprecating and ironic, though, evidenced by her wry smile as she settles down into one of two green plush armchairs strategically positioned before the sold-out, 450-strong audience.
Dooley has selected the intro as well as the inter-act playlist herself, testament to her all-encompassing work ethic. Also to her strong feminist credentials: the tracks are all double X-chromosome rated, ranging from ‘Scrubs’ to Queen Bey’s ‘Who Run the World?’ (Girls!). When it comes to the Spice Girls, she herself identifies most with Ginger (her signature tresses are tonight free-flowing, centre-parted), or perhaps Sporty, too (she admits to a past penchant for tracksuit co-ords). Meanwhile, she counts Baby as a close personal friend, and would love to meet Posh (producers of the upcoming series of Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over, take note). Perhaps that ‘H’ stands in for ever-hopeful, then.
It’s a fitting description of all and every one of her documentaries, which explore contentious societal issues at home and abroad. She’s covered high-class call-girls in Russia, middle-men people-smuggling profiteer ‘coyotes’ in Mexico, shockingly low conviction rates for femicide in Honduras. Tonight’s topics are similarly weighty: paedophilia, (trans) gender equality, our mounting mental health crisis and the attendant impact of social media. Never one to sidestep the serious, she speaks poignantly about friend Flack- musings all the more resonant since Dooley herself has received press criticism in the past.
Or how about another hyphenated option: hard-working? This quality is in evidence in her micro-managing of the evening’s music selection, just as much as in her meticulous documenting of the doco-making process (pitching, ethics approval, rolling consent forms…). You can just tell she’s hands-on at all and every stage of the process.
Meanwhile, I’d say she has some seriously sticky hands, too: after all, she’s had those gold signet-ring-circled fingers in lots of pies. Aside from her own (numerous) documentaries, she’s moonlighted as a presenter on Glow Up and The One Show, fronted a Panorama ep, and managed to find time to hoist the infamous glitterball trophy (as well as bag herself a boyf), after a successful stint on Strictly back in 2018. The passion (in both cases) endures, and she speaks to one inquisitive audience member about her fond memories of the ‘Paso Dooley.’
Refreshingly modest throughout the interview, she tells O’Brien she’s ‘under no illusion’ that her success is down to unrivalled talent. Yet she’s clearly not blase about it all, either, noting with pride that her latest Stacey Dooley: On the Psych Ward is currently the most-streamed documentary on the iPlayer. A departure from the norm, it was filmed entirely back in Blighty, but in response to a question-from-the-floor during the show’s second half, she reveals upcoming films to delve into Columbian and South Korean dramas.
It’s during the talk’s latter half that Dooley’s at her most engaging: unscripted, spontaneous and sassy, in direct interaction with the audience. Unguarded, too, so we learn her opinion on everything from Trump (no), to transphobia (most definitely no), to the tango (it’s a si from me). Should ‘H’ be for human? She has an unerring ability, evident in her documentaries and in person, to level with any- and everyone. Or hilarious? When an iPhone alarm burbles mid-performance, she quips: ‘Oh, it’s the Love Island alarm.’
Unfortunately, only minutes in she has a heckler- it’s her mother (and close friend of interviewer O’Brien), Di. In her bestseller, Stacey Dooley: on the frontline with the women who fight back, she credits her as an inspiration, ‘the first impressive woman in my life,’ and for reasons other than surviving as a native of Everton, but an ardent Red. Yep, with her half-Liverpudlian heritage (plus her love of Mowgli and Marais, admiration for Jodie Comer and desire to buy a house round here, instead of a shoebox back down South), perhaps ‘H’ means honorary Scouser. Happy to have you, Stace – and we have tiffin boxes on tap.
It’s most definitely not an abbreviation of haute couture, though. Tonight’s comfy-casual chic is classic Stacey (you Dooley you). She’s in an oversized, high-necked, ribbed black jumper, paired with frayed wide-leg Levis and heeled slides, plus enough gold jewellery to make a leprechaun jealous.
In fact, the leaflet that sparked her so-called ‘Sliding Doors’ moment and eventual fame began with the question ‘Do you like fashion?’, while Dooley can credit fashion-focused documentaries early on in her career with journalistic success today. Which is why an audience member’s question as to who is her fashion icon is not as frivolous as it at first sounds.
Characteristically off-the-(frayed)cuff, Dooley levels: ‘I’m always perving over the Danish girls [models and influencers] on Instagram.’ Then she considers, and adds another source of inspiration: auburn-haired alcoholic, authoritarian and orphanage owner, Miss. Agatha Hannigan of Annie fame. Her stylist has dubbed her ‘Miss. H.’ She cites her own preference for a scrappy up-do and general sartorial slovenliness as proof. Unlike with the O.G. Miss. H, though, there’s no enforcing of declarations of devotion, ‘We-love-you-Miss-Hannigan’-style. Instead, praise comes unbidden and unprepared-for by a modest Dooley, as a top-tier audience member rounds off the talk by declaring her an ‘angel’ for her documentary work and highlighting of the realities of hard (knock) lives worldwide.