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Stacey Dooley On Life With Kevin Clifton And How She Looks After Her Mental Health

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She’s interviewed patients on the psych ward, entered war zones and investigated everything from drugs cartels and sex crime to domestic violence, terrorism and murder – yet Stacey Dooley remains remarkably grounded.

While the 34-year-old documentary-maker admits to suffering anxiety as a teenager, today she reflects: “As an adult now, my life is much more stressful, a lot more chaotic, and you would think that I would be more of an anxious person but actually, for whatever reason, I’m really grateful that I’m quite centred now.”

This could be in some part due to her idyllic home life with partner Kevin Clifton, with whom she won the Strictly glitterball in 2018.

She moved house over a year ago and, judging by her Instagram posts to her 996k followers, loves how her home is being transformed.

“It’s my first house,” she enthuses. “I’ve always lived in flats. I’m feeling very grown-up with my dishwasher and my floors. The insulation’s down and we’re getting there. I love being at home, it’s my favourite place.”

It’s this unfiltered, relatable persona which has given her a real connection with a new generation of viewers. As well as posting updates of her new flooring and decor, she’s also been chatting excitedly about her new book – Are You Really OK? – which ties in with her On The Psych Ward documentaries and opens up the conversation about mental health.

“I just felt this was timely and could be beneficial,” she says of the book, which follows people she met at Springfield Hospital in London in 2019 and 2020 for the making of two documentaries, and explores a range of issues from OCD to post-natal depression, gambling addiction and eating disorders. She’s embarking on a regional tour with the book to discuss her findings too.

After days of hearing heart-breaking stories, it wasn’t always easy to switch off.

She recalls being in an Indian restaurant with Clifton after spending a day filming with Kyle, a patient who seemed so defeated that she couldn’t get him out of her head.

“It was such a juxtaposition that I was in this semi-fancy restaurant, there was laughing and cheering and people were half cut, and I just remember thinking, ‘All of those people are still in hospital really unwell and Kyle’s probably sat there in silence’. Sometimes I feel like this is a really different place to the one I’ve just been in.”

She says she’s seen crews unravel while filming disturbing stories, and has herself been offered therapy several times but hasn’t taken it up, although she says she wouldn’t refuse it if she felt she needed help.

“I’ve just never felt like it would be beneficial to me. I haven’t had any periods when I felt like I can’t cope and I need professional help, but I certainly wouldn’t shy away from it if I was struggling, and I’d be open about it and quite candid in the hope that other people would go if it would help them.”

She is able to slip back into her life away from the camera and Clifton is incredibly supportive, she agrees.

“Kev’s incredible. I feel very fortunate to have Kev as my wingman. He’s very interested and interesting. If I’m at work and I call him and it’s silly o’clock, we’ll have a bit of a debrief and he’s very patient. You need that support network, don’t you?”

Her ways of unwinding are very dull, she says candidly. “I want to say that I’m a hedonistic, rock and roll star, but I’m happiest at home with Kev, and my pals, having cups of tea, watching Ted Lasso or listening to a playlist. It’s very low-key.

“It’s really important to indulge in escapism,” she continues. “You work really hard when you’re at work and give it everything you’ve got, but then you go home and you do have to put the music on and dance in the kitchen and have a takeaway and see your girls. Joy is really important and gives you balance.”

She hasn’t had time to continue dancing since she and Clifton won Strictly in 2018, but notes: “Kev bought me Latin shoes for Christmas and we’re going to dance at the Blackpool Tower.

Such a lovely gift. I miss dancing. Strictly was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. It was total escapism and good for the soul.”

They have no plans to tie the knot, she reveals. “People ask me this in every single interview I do. I’m not desperate to get married but if I am, you will be the first to know.

Of course, it [marriage] works for some people but it’s not something that I need.”

Dooley has made no secret of the fact she would like children. “I’ve spoken very openly that yes, I would love a family one day, but there’s no rush, no pressure.”

Brought up by her mother, Diane, Dooley’s father was never a part of her life as he left home when she was two.

Diane was resilient, working in pubs and cleaning houses and managed to secure council housing. She later married Dooley’s stepfather, Norman Niblock.

At 19, Dooley had been working at Luton Airport duty-free when her mother presented her with a leaflet she’d been handed by a TV production company, looking for fashion-obsessed young people to take to India to witness the terrible conditions in sweat shops.

It culminated in the BBC3 documentary Blood, Sweat And T-Shirts, and catapulted her into a TV career despite the fact she had no journalistic training.

Her natural empathetic and emotional reaction to what she saw soon attracted a younger fan base, people who wouldn’t have dreamed of watching Panorama.

In those early days, Dooley received a lot of flak from critics, who were scathing about her interviewing style and the fact she didn’t have journalistic training.

Now, she’s certainly having the last laugh, having won awards and an MBE for services to broadcasting.

“I’ve proved myself now. These are conversations we were having maybe a decade ago. My work speaks for itself.

It does consistently well on iPlayer, I’ve won various awards. I speak to a demographic that doesn’t watch more traditional documentaries,” she says.

“I feel less ar**d about what people like that are saying about me now. I mean, I’ve been doing it for 15 years. I’ve been on location since I was 20 and I’m 35 in March.”

The criticism she received both in the press and on social media did hurt in the early days, she admits.

“When you’re 20 and you’ve got a 40-year-old tearing chunks out of you, of course, you are thinking, ‘God!’ – especially when a lot of what’s being written about you isn’t factually accurate.

You can’t believe that people will print things that aren’t true, but the older you get, you realise that happens all the time.

“But as long as you know how you behave and what’s gone on, that’s all you can do.”

She wants to make programmes that interest her, whether that be hard-hitting documentaries, Strictly, light-hearted panel show This Is My House or Glow Up: Britain’s Next Make-Up Star.

This year she’s presenting a second BBC Two series of DNA Family Secrets and will be fronting a documentary on the murder of sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in 2020, and the aftermath and trials of the murderer and the two Met officers who shared photographs of the victims’ bodies.

“I don’t listen to the news 24 hours a day and I’m not reading religiously every night. I think it’s OK to be multi-dimensional and multi-faceted and have different interests, whether they are high-brow or low-brow.,” says Dooley.

“I never want to say, ‘I’m only going to do this’, or ‘I’m only going to do that’. I love doing documentaries but I also loved doing Strictly.”

Are You Really OK? Understanding Britain’s Mental Health Emergency by Stacey Dooley is published by BBC Books on February 3, priced £16.99. For tour dates, see fane.co.uk/stacey-dooley