Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over USA: Stacey Dooley says Yorkshire Tea was her home comfort while stateside for lastest show
Stacey Dooley has tackled hundreds of hard-hitting subjects in her career, but meeting a nine-year-old GunTuber is a new one even for her.
The young girl, featured alongside her parents, was just one of a handful of guests encountered by the acclaimed documentary maker when she travelled Stateside for her new series of W's Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over.
Others include a transgender mother and father who, along with their two boys, have had to learn to adapt to a seismic shift in the family unit; and an interracial married couple who triggered a wave of hate due to their 37-year age gap.
The hit three-part series, which explores modern families and couples by spending a long weekend at their home, not only invites 35-year-old Dooley to bed down and share meals with her hosts but also to intimately explore their attitudes to love, relationships, parenting, money and beyond.
"I don't think there are many series quite like Sleeps Over..." she muses over the hit format. "I think it's because we genuinely stay there and we genuinely immerse ourselves with the family, which totally changes the dynamic.
"The whole process gets put on fast-forward, as you start off having these candid conversations, then you're having to sit down for dinner together or asking them how to use their shower or having to sneak past their bedroom when you need the loo at 3am..." reasons the star, who filmed the series whilst pregnant last summer and recently gave birth to her first child, daughter Minnie, with ex-Strictly Come Dancing pro Kevin Clifton.
"So you get a wider understanding of who they are a lot quicker, as opposed to how you would if you were interviewing them in a neutral space."
But how do the US sleepovers compare to the UK's?
"I love filming with all families, I do, but I think there's a slightly different dynamic when you go to America. I find Americans are much more willing to tell you exactly what they think," concludes Dooley, who says her daily home comfort while filming was a cup of Yorkshire Tea.
"I think they self-edit less and they're less concerned about how they're going to come across.
"Whereas us Brits can hate the idea of saying the wrong thing, I find Americans are a lot more up front, which is a gift, of course, when you're making a documentary."
The Luton-born presenter can certainly draw on her experience, for she has become a mainstay in the investigative journalism arena having first rose to prominence when she travelled to India for the BBC Three series Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts in 2008.
From child exploitation to sex offenders and from war to domestic violence, Dooley has since made countless impactful films - praised for her relatable style, compassion and candid questioning. It was also a path that, in 2018, saw her made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her services to broadcasting.
Warm, honest and insightful, this latest series continues her reign on the small screen as each episode tells a compelling story of modern American life.
First up is the aforementioned nine-year-old, Autumn, who having picked up her first gun at the age of just two, now has 36 of her own as well as a dedicated YouTube channel where she reviews and tests out semi-automatic weapons for her 200,000 subscribers.
Dooley meets her and her family, including father Randy and mother Lindsay, who move from state to state in their RV and have settled in Oklahoma, where they can benefit from relaxed gun laws.
Autumn is "really charismatic and incredibly bright", Dooley recalls. "She's super switched on and, at times, you almost forget that you're talking to a prepubescent child. She's not even 10 but having quite lengthy discussions about what guns mean to her and why they're such a massive part of her life and culture.
"I fundamentally disagree with America's relationship with firearms," she points out. "But at the end of the day she's nine years old and I'm not there to give a child a hard time. We're there to truly understand why there are families like hers in America and to try and see life through her lens."
What did Dooley hope to discover by staying with them?
"I think a lot of us Brits have a hard time understanding this love affair between Americans and their guns..." she begins. "We've seen that guns can cause so much devastation and we've seen time after time that children have had their safety in school compromised.
"So, from our perspective in the UK, we're thinking, 'Why don't you just do something quite radical? Why don't you look at gun reform?'
"But for lots of Americans, it's a massive part of who they are and it's about identity and it's so enormously important to them. I like to have discussions because I'm interested to see things from a different perspective, but I don't like it when it's the same rhetoric. For example, when people say that it's their second amendment. You want it to go past those soundbite headlines."
Next, Dooley journeys to Virginia, where she spends time with transgender couple Mya, Kennedy and their two boys - a pairing she calls "just magic".
"I just found everything they had to say super insightful," she says simply.
"I found them really generous with what they were willing to offer because a lot of it is deeply personal and we know that sometimes the conversation around the trans community is weaponised against them."
She follows: "We then visited Georgia, where we met our age-gap couple. I was really looking forward to meeting them because I'd seen them on TikTok so I already had an understanding of who they were as people. And they definitely didn't disappoint!
"I think it's fair to say that weekend was perhaps our most chaotic!" she teases, admitting she was surprised by some of their more explicit videos made for OnlyFans.
"We were there when it was Cheryl's birthday so there was lots going on.. But, of course, there are times when I don't quite understand the situation, but they were a good Sleeps Over couple."
Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over USA lands on W and UKTV Play on Wednesday February 22.