Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over has returned for a third season with an inside look into the lives of extraordinary women, but it’s the final episode that packs the biggest emotional punch.
From climate activists to families who live online, Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over has seen the documentary maker spend weekends with a myriad of fascinating households. “People always ask if we actually stay over, but I promise you, it’s legit,” Dooley tells Stylist. “We get there on Friday and we don’t leave until Monday – we completely immerse ourselves in these families’ lives.”
Now, Dooley is visiting three more extraordinary households in a third season of Sleeps Over, which airs on 11 April on W and UKTV. Her relaxed questioning and non-judgmental approach are key to the show’s candid style, but Dooley says it’s the premise that makes the series special. “I’ll go from interviewing them to eating spaghetti bolognese around their kitchen table,” explains Dooley. “I feel like I learn something new from every contributor, which I love.”
In episode one of the new series, we meet Carla, an influencer and glamour model whose controversial admissions – such as claiming that she faked depression to undergo a nose job on the NHS – have led her to be titled the “most hated woman in Britain” by some tabloid newspapers. “Although we’re very different – she courts the tabloid press whereas I try to avoid it – I didn’t dislike Carla,” says Dooley. “I’m not sure it’s fair that she’s been condensed into these lazy headlines.”
Next, we’re introduced to Sherry, a grandmother in her 70s who has a successful career as a dominatrix. “Of course, I found some of my time with Sherry incredibly awkward – particularly when I was confronted by a completely naked stranger at 10am in a conservatory in Swindon,” says Dooley, “but I’m pleased that Sherry and her clients felt listened to.”
The final episode is a tonal shift, as Dooley visits Jemma, a 28-year-old mum of three living with terminal ovarian cancer. First diagnosed in 2016, Jemma was given a year to live on 10 May 2021. “Jemma was unlike anyone we’d featured before because of the sheer magnitude of what she’s going through,” explains Dooley. “I was grateful that she agreed to take part; we don’t know how many weekends she’s got left, so the idea that she was willing to hand over one of those weekends to us felt like a gift. No one in the team took that for granted.”
Dooley admits she was taken aback by how healthy Jemma appeared on first meeting. “Do you know what’s funny? Jemma loves Instagram, so we took loads of selfies during the weekend. She was done up to the nines with fake tan, eyelashes, the works. I was next to her with no make-up on, my hair all over the place, and I joked it was me that looked like the sick one. That really made her laugh.”
When Jemma’s journey with cancer began in 2016, she was six months pregnant with her eldest child. She felt a pain in her side, which was misdiagnosed as a fibroid on her ovary, and underwent surgery to remove it. A few weeks later, she was told she had stage one ovarian cancer, but doctors explained that, since it was low-grade, she had nothing to worry about. It wasn’t until four years later that she found a tumour in her vagina. This time, she was told that the cancer was stage four and incurable. “It was really hard to process,” says Jemma in the episode. “I truly believed I’d be able fix it. Now, I just hope I’ll be able to prolong it and live with it.”
“I can only imagine what Jemma is going through,” says Dooley. “I’m forced to speculate, because I’m not a mum, but if you had three children, all under five, and you’ve been told you’re going to die, I’m sure your maternal instinct would take over – you’d do anything to hold on. Jemma prioritised holding onto her gang and telling them that she loved them, not sweating the small stuff.” One particularly impactful sequence sees Jemma unbox the gifts she’s bought for each of her children to open on their wedding day. “I’m not asking to be a grandmother,” Jemma explains, “I just want to be a mother for as long as I can.”
“It was really emotional, but I think Jemma’s story is one we all need to hear. When I came home, I remember thinking that I needed to make sure I wasn’t putting off any appointments, especially my smear test,” says Dooley. “Jemma’s story is a reminder that we should all be prioritising our health. I’m certain that she will have affected lives; I just hope she realises the huge impression she’s made.”
Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over series three airs Monday 11 April at 10pm on W. The series is also available to watch on catch up via UKTV Play.