Documentary / Film / Interview

Stacey Dooley on questioning integrity and why the future is female

The empowered investigative journalist talks us through her polymathic career so far, from winning an MBE to writing a bestselling feminist book.

In a career spanning over a decade, Stacey Dooley has had her fair share of backlash: the presenter, documentary maker and writer has been called out on social media for various decisions and statements. With her relationships splashed across the tabloids, Stacey, like many women working in media, has had her looks and personal life spotlighted and discussed far more than her work.

Growing up working-class with a single mum in Luton and leaving school at 16, she was always taught the power of, and a need for hard work. She also learnt early on in life that you’re not going to get along with everyone. Growing up in the same town as Tommy Robinson (who she later confronted in My Hometown Fanatics) in a town known as the “extremist capital of Britain”, it’s no wonder she was inspired to take on such tough topics in her work. “Professionally I’m conducting interviews with some of the most recognisable terrorists in the world”, Stacey Dooley explained to HUNGER, “Or covering paedophilic rings. Or discussing youth homelessness. Or conflict in Syria and Iraq. Or mental health units. Femicide rates in Honduras…I could go on and on.” Political, emotive and authentic, Stacey Dooley is a figure we need in the Straight White Male Oxbridge-heavy world of current affairs, a person to represent a class often left behind and thwarted in broadcasting. We meet the unique Stacey to talk integrity, feminist icons and where her rollercoaster of a career will take her to next…

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Curious, optimistic and often hungry. (For actual food, not some earnest description for the truth…)

 

Do you ever feel like your journalistic integrity is challenged in the media? If so, why do you think this is?

I’m sure there are lots of people out there who challenge my journalistic integrity. The truth is, when you have made a name for yourself, by reporting and commenting on other people’s lives and circumstances…you can’t really blame others for holding an opinion or passing judgement on you, I suppose. But freedom of speech and expression are things I know are precious, and with those luxuries can come voices you don’t always understand or agree with.

Even in 2019, there are stereotypes about women in journalism and the topics they choose to report. Despite this, your reporting is investigative, and it often talks about women being overlooked, abused and exploited. Have the stereotypes ever affected you and made you feel less than capable of doing your job?

I’ve been making documentaries now for 12 years, so with over a decade of experience… I certainly feel capable and competent enough. But that quiet confidence and cautious optimism have only quite recently become apparent. Maybe in the last couple of years? There are still stereotypes for sure, regarding what women should report on, and have an opinion on. But for me… I’ve always been lucky enough to tell the stories I genuinely find fascinating. Many of those stories exist on the front line, in hostile environments etc. It’s true that it’s rare for younger women to be in the thick of those spaces. But I look to women like Orla Guerin and Rukmini Callimachi for inspiration. They. Are. Just. Incredible.

 

A Google search of your name shows that the majority of the articles written about you don’t talk about your work, but instead about your private life. Do you find that frustrating as an investigative journalist, especially when you’re spotlighting so many important topics?

It honestly blows my mind, that people give a shit about who I fancy, or who I’m dating, when professionally I’m conducting interviews with some of the most recognisable terrorists in the world. Or covering paedophilic rings. Or discussing youth homelessness. Or conflict in Syria and Iraq. Or mental health units. Femicide rates in Honduras… I could go on and on. These are all topics worthy of front-page news. But you know what makes the front page of the tabloids? Who I’m with romantically and supposedly trusted sources, quoting completely untrue statements. It’s fuckin mad.

What do you think needs to change in the industry for this dialogue to move forward towards a future of equality?

I think equality needs to be a priority across all industries… I wouldn’t necessarily say television has a particularly unique problem with regards to this. Maybe others would disagree… But from my point of view, my boss at BBC 1 is female, my boss at BBC 3 is female, my current exec is female. The director who I’m working with as I type is female. Of course, there are inherent issues with misogyny in the UK, but compared to other parts of the world…we are definitely moving in the right direction. We recognise feminism is ultimately just us asking for total equality and respect. I was in South Korea last week and there were so few people willing to label themselves feminists. I found that super sad.

 

Who were your feminist inspirations growing up? Who are they now? 

Growing up, I LIVED FOR THE SPICE GIRLS. I was a mixture of ginger and sporty. Had the orange hair, with the kappa trackie. Sure. Their girl power message and unwillingness to conform is still relevant now. Now, I find myself inspired by different women all the time. I find different traits, in different girls that I find beautiful. For example, the last director I just worked with was extraordinarily patient. I wish I was more like that. Also. My mum. A bloody trooper.

Glow Up season 2 is on the way… What does beauty mean to you?

I really love filming glow up. For me personally, it’s complete escapism and I’ve learnt so much re the enormity of the industry and how many opportunities it can offer young talented individuals.

 

What is the power of beauty in 2019?

 Beauty is about owning who you are, and being unapologetically yourself. You celebrate your differences and flaws too I think, the older you get… It’s so cheesy, and painfully predictable but you really do appear truly beautiful… If your heart is in the right place. Having an amazing face but zero chat is not enough anymore… (thank god)

What’s next for you? 

I’ve got a pretty mental next year coming up I think. I was in Korea last week, and am now in Spain filming a doc focusing on the new routes for cocaine and hashish coming into Europe. Then I fly to the USA to film in a prison full of women lifers (some of them have killed their own children.) Then Jan, Feb I’m on tour with strictly hosting, then I do my own book tour and then we start making documentaries again through my own new company. I think we’re hoping to get to Australia next summer, and I’ve never been before, so that’s exciting. I’m pretty bloody lucky, aren’t I? Mustn’t fuck it up!

 

13 November 2019