There’s something of an engagingly hapless PG Wodehouse character about Dom Parker, half of Gogglebox’s “posh couple”: you can imagine him as Bertie Wooster’s favourite uncle, a genial, daffy fellow rusticating in a beautiful house near the south coast, fond of gin and the odd bottle of champers.
When we meet, Dom apologises for the hole in his back pocket, worn through by his wallet. But his wife of 18 years, Steph, is immaculate in designer labels (Versace scarf, Mulberry handbag) and just a bit formidable, in a cheerful kind of way. “You look absurd,” she says to her husband, who’s just been primped by the make-up artist for our photoshoot. Steph musses the hairspray from Dom’s greying thatch as we all sit in the splendid lounge of the couple’s home/bed-and-breakfast business by the Kent coast to watch television together. Of course, Dom has just popped open the first of a number of bottles of champagne, and their beloved, teeny-tiny sausage dog Gigi, with her sparkly collar, is playing with a squeaky toy.
Steph and Dom (47 and 49) are the break-out stars of Channel 4’s unlikely hit. Even they are surprised by the warmth with which Gogglebox has been enveloped by a nation of TV lovers. After all, it’s just people – brilliantly cast families, couples and friends across the country – who are filmed as they watch TV. Yet the wise and honest responses of everyone involved have struck a chord, probably because that’s the way most of us watch television. We’re not part of the metropolitan elite, with its endless discussions about House of Cards on Netflix, or Breaking Bad. We are Gogglebox people, the kind of people who cry at Coronation Street.
I suppose as a professional TV critic I should worry that Steph and Dom and the other Goggleboxers will make me obsolete. But they are both very reassuring and I don’t think it’s just because I’m sitting in one of their easy chairs, drinking their coffee. Though not their champagne – I am working, after all. “Purely and simply, you’re critiquing before things go out and we critique after things go out,” says Steph. She adds, kindly: “You’re persuading people to watch it, or not,” before Dom comes in with: “Gogglebox is the voice of the nation, and people [are watching] because they want to see whether they agree with the voice of the nation.”
Certainly the part of the nation that watches Gogglebox enjoys nuzzling up with Steph and Dom (they met on a blind date) as much as they enjoy nuzzling up to each other; they hold hands a lot on the show. Reactions to them are over-whelmingly warm and fuzzy, says Steph: “When we go up to town, say to London, people just point at us and start laughing. One bloke just said ‘GOGGLEBOX’ and I said, ‘SAME TO YOU!’ It’s all been really positive, we’ve had no negatives at all. Maybe some people were expecting to loathe us, that’s their perception of us [because you are quite posh and speak nicely, I wonder?], but we are completely normal and down to earth. We are ordinary people, we just happen to live in a bigger house.”
Their house, incidentally, is a 1912 Lutyens-designed dream that has, as we learnt from one memorable Parker comment, 63 windows. There’s a perfect view of a perfect Norman church from the lounge and the grounds could have come straight from a Peter Greenaway film. The pair settled down to run a B&B after varied careers – Steph worked for Nato and the European Commission while Dom, among many other things, once ran the family steel business.
I can’t help but notice that a large cubbyhole is very well stocked with booze. So what about the drinking, then, Steph and Dom? That’s what people love about you, watching you take sip after disinhibiting sip. What’s your favourite tipple? It depends on the time of day, says Dom. “We start filming at about six in the evening and around that sort of time we’ll probably have a screwdriver or a Bloody Mary, or a gin and tonic. It depends on the mood of the day if we have a glass of champagne or, sometimes, wine.”
The defining Steph and Dom moment was when Steph tipped up the sofa, with Dom still on it. Viewers didn’t actually see the falling-down moment, but they howled with mirth at the aftermath. It was all unplanned, the result of a very, ahem, refreshing day with Gogglebox’s producer at the end of the first series.
Dom: “We went out for lunch at about 12.30, came back at six and carried on in our normal way. We finished filming that night at 1.30am, so we’d been partying for 12, nearly 13 hours. Steph came in a bit too enthusiastically for a kiss [“which I never do,” she chimes] and tipped the bloody sofa over.” Thus TV legends are born.
The pair say they will carry on being Gogglebox guinea pigs for as long as it remains a laugh. The cameras are very unobtrusive (the film crew with all their gear decamp to the enormous dining room) and Steph and Dom just get on with it.
“Ours is very honest behaviour, with no censoring and no filtering,” says Steph. “We’d behave very differently if the children were here [they have a young son and daughter, who are both away at school]. But you get the honest, brutal truth from us when we sit down and relax. After a few glasses of wine we become more verbose, obviously… It’s quite a hoot. We’re enjoying people’s responses and it’s lovely to know that we’ve made people laugh.”