Stacey Dooley has certainly had her share of surreal moments.
From being plucked from nowhere aged 21 to front her own investigative documentary series to being awarded an MBE and scooping the Strictly Come Dancing glitterball (‘a f***ing miracle!’, as she chirpily puts it), life has taken some unexpected twists and turns since her days as a teenage tearaway from Luton.
Today, she’s chatting about her latest ‘pinch me’ development, involving her first ever beauty gig.
Half a lifetime ago, she was flogging perfumes at Luton Airport, today she’s all glossed up and gorgeous as the new face and hair of Clairol Nice ’n Easy hair colour.
‘I’m going to be on the dye box!’ she says, delightedly. ‘I even saw them put the logo on my photo. Hilarious!’
It’s not hard to see why the nation has taken Stacey, 33, to its heart. She’s every bit as likeable as she seems on TV, with her chatty, easy-going manner and irrepressible (and slightly potty-mouthed) sense of humour.
Thanks to her everygirl persona, she’s equally relatable whether she’s tackling heart-rending stories from war zones or overseeing the war paint on make-up contest Glow Up. (‘Ooh I’m no good at doing myself up, whenever I need my fancy face I have to call my make-up artist,’ she laughs).
Away from the screen, she’s happily coupled up with her Strictly partner Kevin Clifton, and currently busy doing up their house. ‘I’m a bit of a homebody now,’ she chuckles.
‘People are always so underwhelmed by me in real life. I’m so boring.’ Sorry Stacey, we’ll have to agree to disagree there…
Did you always like your red hair?
You know what it’s like. When you’re younger, you want to look identical to your pals. I was so pale too, with red hair and a flat chest, and I used to think, ‘I want blonde hair, tanned skin and big boobs!’
But you can’t help but stand out when you have red hair and I’ve learnt to love it.
Does your personality match your hair colour?
Redheads are supposed to be quite fiery, aren’t they? It depends. I’m much calmer now, and I think that’s what comes with age. I was a lot more reactive when I was younger.
Is ‘reactive’ a euphemism for ‘pain in the backside’?
Definitely! I was a nightmare for my mother. I had no understanding authority existed, and I thought I could do whatever I wanted. But as you get older you think, ‘Sh** no, there are consequences.’ I’m more chilled now.
Your mum persuaded you to apply for the documentary that launched your career, what star quality did she spot in you?
I left school at 15 and I was never academic, but I was always curious about things and people. Yes, nosy! So I rang the number on the ad. Knowing now how television works, they must have been rubbing their hands in glee because I had no idea of what the wider world looked like.
So six British kids went over to India, they showed us how our high street garments were made and it changed my life. When I came home the guy in charge of the channel said, ‘Would you like your own series?’ My mother was so proud. She’s brilliant. Thank God she pushed me to make that call.
What do you think you’d be doing now if she hadn’t?
I have no clue. I would be a different person because travel has shaped me. Those experiences define what you believe in, and what’s important to you fundamentally.
And you’d never have done Strictly!
Ahh, I feel so much gratitude for that. I love doing the docs, I take so much from them, but doing Strictly was incredible. It reminds you to have fun. It’s like you’re on this massive school trip, and it sounds so cheesy, but you fall in love with dance.
I wasn’t that great at the end, but I got less terrible. It was nothing really to do with me, it was just Kev dragging me around at the start.
Do you get to hear the inside scoop on the show now?
You won’t believe me, but I’m not privy to any of the conversation. We’re out of the loop because Kev’s not dancing in it any more. I’m just delighted they’re still doing it this year because I think it’s the nation’s show. I bloody love it.
Did you enjoy getting glammed up for it?
Oh yeah! With my documentaries, it’s baby wipes in the back of the car and half a bottle of water to do my teeth for the next two days. On Strictly I was this deep mahogany colour and covered in glitter.
The day after the final, I woke up going, ‘That was amazing, but now there’s tan all over the sheets and I’ve got to wash my own hair again.’
Were you surprised to win?
Yes, because I was so bad and there were some amazing dancers on the show. I just didn’t want to feel silly, so I was training 14 hours a day. I was so fit. I had muscles everywhere.
When I got in the bath, I was like, ‘I’m like a sculpture!’ That has all gone now. I’ve got a lockdown gut. Everybody else has run 10k every morning, I’ve not even done 1k. I deserve this gut because all I’ve done is walk to the fridge and order takeaway food.
Apart from pigging out, what’s lockdown been like for you?
There were a few weeks where I wasn’t working but I didn’t mind it. It was nice to just do nothing. I think it forces you to look at what’s important. Life can be all work, work, work but you’ve got to make sure you’ve got time for your family and your gang.
Having triumphed at Strictly, do you have any other hidden talents?
I think I might have peaked. What I’ve learned from lockdown is that I can’t cook, I can’t do anything practical. I don’t think I have any other skills.
What about singing?
I am a terrible singer. When I was doing Strictly, a theatre producer said ‘Would you ever fancy doing the West End?’ and I burst out laughing. My voice shouldn’t even be heard in the shower. I was actually singing last night, and Kev said, ‘Please don’t sing like that.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, “like that”? That’s my voice!’
Tell us about your DIY makeover with Clairol Nice ‘n Easy Shade 8WR Golden Auburn…
I’d never dyed my own hair before and I had this lad trying to film it in my tiny bathroom. And there’s me with the dye on, wearing a white top – which illustrates I’m a moron.
I’m genuinely impressed with the results though, it’s my natural red but better. I have so many young girls messaging me, saying, “What colour do you use?” so it’s nice to be able to say to them it’s this one, and they can afford it.
Your job takes you to scary places, how do you deal with that?
It’s a complete myth that I’m brave. Whenever I go to hostile environments, I’m the one who’s thinking, ‘Oh God, have we really thought this through?’ But if we’re going somewhere like Syria, I have to tell my mum we’re going to Turkey.
It’s amazing they can get you on a plane…
I know. I actually hate flying. Nobody wants to sit next to me because I’m such a Negative Nancy. I’m really nervous, but only if I’m going over water which really doesn’t make sense.
If we’re flying over land, I’m thinking ‘We might be able to call the country and say we’re having problems.’ But when I’m flying over water, I’m looking at that little screen and thinking, ‘If something goes wrong, we are DOOMED.’
What makes you happy?
I think naturally I’m reasonably optimistic, and I wonder if it’s because of what I do for a living. It’s given me such perspective.
Of course I have days when I get the hump, but compared to so many people, what can I really moan about? I’ve got a house. I’ve got a beautiful family. I’ve got a great guy. I just feel very lucky.
Does anything keep you up at night?
I’ve learnt not to sweat the small stuff. There are going to be people who don’t like you and don’t understand you. There’s always going to be nonsense that will always exist irrespective of how you behave.
You have to make sure you like yourself and you know what you’re about. I’ve got to a point where I don’t let it faze me too much. I think as long as you try to be a decent person, that’s all you can do.
Finally, we hear you’re still to collect your MBE from the Queen..
Oh yeah, I do need to sort that out. She must have it round there somewhere on a shelf!
Stacey Dooley MBE is the ambassador for Clairol Nice ’n Easy and wears Shade 8WR Golden Auburn, available from Boots priced £6.49. Photographed by Catherine Harbour for Clairol.