Stacey Dooley is among that rare breed of investigative journalist that is as affable as she is Avant-garde.
Whether it’s interviewing reformed sex offenders in Florida or child soldiers in Congo, from being arrested in Japan to living amongst the lawless crystal meth industry in Mexico, Stacey knows no bounds when it comes to uncovering the truth and using her now-worldwide platform to show people what is really happening across borders and behind closed doors.
When Stacey’s book tour stopped by in Manchester on Wednesday evening, MM went along to find out what makes one of the country’s most celebrated documentary makers tick…
She steps onto the stage at Manchester Opera House to rapturous applause, shimmying into her seat to some classic Spice Girls. She sits in disbelief for a moment at the adoring crowd.
T h a n k y o u
London and Birmingham.
You’ve been a dream.
Manchester tmro! pic.twitter.com/y7304q2Byi
— Stacey Dooley (@StaceyDooley) October 9, 2018
She is relaxed though, emitting that girl-next-door innocence that makes audience members seem like they’re reconnecting with a friend rather than watching a television personality.
With a 60-strong catalogue of BBC documentaries now to her name, Stacey’s continent-hopping career is a far cry from where she was 10 years ago. The glitz and glamour of Luton Airport’s duty free store was supported by shifts in a fish and chip shop.
“We used to call it fish Fridays, I would work there for a bit of extra cash but I’d be stinking for days. That’s the work ethic I have though, and that’s often overlooked
“It’s often three or four weeks of work on the ground that goes into half an hour of TV, and with production pressures these days, sometimes it can be two weeks.
“I love it though. What else would I be doing?! I might as well be too busy than not! Today I was dancing from 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon with a Nandos in between. Then I was here for the sound check – and after this I will do the book signing.”
Despite her involvement in this year’s Strictly Come Dancing and an overnight trip to Northampton for early rehearsals ahead of yet another show, what was most remarkable was that Stacey’s day doesn’t end there.
“At about 11 my producer and director will pick me up and we are spending the night with some of the homeless people of Manchester.
“We’ll be following some kids we’ve been in touch with for a while – great kids. But it’s a story I’ve wanted to cover for ages so we thought whilst I was in Manchester, it would be a good idea.”
This week it’s seemed impossible to avoid news seeing other Strictly dancers caught up in the tabloids. Stacey on the other hand shines bright in her humble efforts to still do her job, to still strive to give the underprivileged a voice through her platform on the BBC – even if it means increasing an already brimming workload.
“It’s important to not forget our main priority when we set out to make a doc, and that’s the duty of care we have to the victims or those affected.
“Be it the Yazidi girls on the front line or the Honduran women suffering serious, unprosecuted domestic abuse – we want to take our wonderful platform to them. We want them to tell us what they are going through then we can bring it back here and hopefully millions of people will watch it.”
Stacey doesn’t get carried away by her stature though, nor the power her investigations often carry. There are four or five times throughout the evening when teen girls cite Stacey as their biggest inspiration, but there is never a moment you think Stacey’s feet aren’t firmly on the ground.
“I’m under no illusions that I’m saving the world. I’ve always said that it’s not that the public don’t care, it’s just often they don’t see the whole process. That’s what I try to do, talk openly with people about topics that don’t often get talked about, or shown in full.”
When a gentleman asks if she ever finds it difficult to disassociate with the things she sees or the stories she hears, she nods.
“You’re completely right to think it’s difficult. Going back to a hotel room some days it can be difficult to disconnect. You’re left questioning humanity off the back of some harrowing stories. But I am of the opinion that there is more good than bad in this world.
“I’ve met people who have given up their lives to help others that need it. I have worked with people who dedicate their careers to getting the vulnerable out of dangerous situations. The good in humanity definitely outweighs the bad.”
Today’s the day!
— Stacey Dooley (@StaceyDooley) February 7, 2018
Stacey’s take on her own traits is refreshing. Her popularity and her accompanying influence isn’t something she takes lightly, despite joking that no matter how skint she gets, she will never turn to endorsing fat burning tea on Instagram.
“We all know that is utter bollocks,” she quips in an indirect nod to the Kardashians.
During the interview Stacey touches on her past also, commending Danny Cohen at the BBC for taking such a leap of faith on an inexperienced school leaver back in 2009.
“He took a huge risk and only now looking back, having worked in Television for almost 10 years, do I realise how big of a risk it was.”
She finds it just as easy laughing at her past mistakes as well, calling upon the months during her early career that she believed an acronym for the term ‘Editorial Policy’ was in fact a mysterious chap called Ed Paul.
She went on to be open and honest about her infancy in the industry, revealing it wasn’t until a 2015 trip to Honduras did she really click into her now-renowned journalistic gear.
“Honduras was the turning point, for sure. We were looking at ‘femicide’ and how 95% of domestic violence cases weren’t prosecuted.
“It was shocking material, and moved me to the extent that I took ownership right from the off. I found that I was no longer relying on the director’s opinion or the producers’ opinion.
“I was conducting my own research to a massive extent whilst digging my heels in when I had to. Ultimately I grew a lot as a journalist and as a presenter in that time.”
Amongst a timeline of ‘inspirational role models’ clogged by nameless models and fussing reality stars, Stacey is a role model that every teen girl should be proud to tell their parents about.
With the floor open we find a lot more out about Stacey Dooley the person rather than the probing journalist we’re accustomed to. Her favourite drink is just a typical cup of tea (with almond milk as it is 2018 after all), whilst her biggest inspiration is her Mum, Di.
She admitted her love for ‘king’ Louis Theroux and his array of documentaries, even elaborating on the time she met Theroux for the first time.
“You know when you see a famous person you just love and you’re trying to play it off like you haven’t seen them? That was me.
“Then he came over to me and I was just playing it cool – when all of a sudden my neck starts blotching up! I go bright red and it’s really, really embarrassing. But Louis is one of the real guys in the industry who is so generous with his time, so generous with his advice. It was a real honour meeting him.”
TONIGHT you don’t want to miss @StaceyDooley uncover the shocking environmental impact caused by fashion.
Fashion’s Dirty Secrets: Stacey Dooley Investigates tonight at 9pm on @BBCOne #FashionsDirtySecrets @hellohalotv pic.twitter.com/OEqg1RuqHC
— Plank PR (@PlankPR) October 8, 2018
As the evening drew to a close and fans flocked home with their freshly signed books, it was visible the effect that Stacey has on her fans extends even further off screen.
Her down-to-earth personality and lack of ego will continue to pave the way for younger, similarly hungry journalists who share that same fundamental desire to uncover the truth.
On the Front Line with the Women Who Fight Back is the first published release by Stacey Dooley MBE. It is available now from all good bookstores.
Her most recent documentary, ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secrets’, first aired last Sunday and is available now on BBC iPlayer.