Stacey Dooley is renowned for putting herself in often quite dangerous situations in order to get interviews with some of the world’s most appalling criminals. She’s faced down paedophiles, drug dealers, murderers in the toughest prisons, all in the name of journalism. She’s now taken that one step further by writing a book about the women she has encountered throughout her career. If you have watched her on TV you’ll know that she’s not shy of offering up her opinion in her broad Luton accent and that voice can be heard loud and clear through the chapters of On the Frontline with the Women Who Fight Back.
The introduction gives the reader an insight into how she got into making documentaries and I’m not going to lie I definitely looked up Blood, Sweat and Tshirts, which was the first documentary she took part in at the tender age of 19. She was one of six consumers sent to India to work in sweatshops on clothing destined for the UK high street. It was this series that propelled Stacey into a career in front of the camera.
Each chapter of the book talks about a specific documentary, so it’s a bit like getting a bit of background info into the making of them, but what Stacey really focuses on is the strength and courage that the women she encounters have shown in the face of complete and utter despair and experiences that I can’t even begin to comprehend. From Maria, who walked 60 miles from Mexico across the border to America hoping to earn decent enough money to send back to her family so that they might have a better chance at life than she did. To Heydi from Hondurus, whose husband cut off her legs with a machete after years of violence.
While the content of Stacey’s book is often difficult to read about, the way in which it’s written was fairly easy and actually I finished it in a matter of hours (just spread over a few days). But it felt very much like I was just listening to Stacey speak. Her tone and her manner came across perfectly and it almost felt like it hadn’t been edited as it was just so completely Stacey. I have no doubt that she sat down and wrote all of those words, no one else did that for her. If I had to pick one criticism for the way it is written, it’s that each chapter is dedicated to a woman or women she met while making a particular documentary, but I felt a little bit like she didn’t really focus on that woman as much as I thought she might. Often there were other women in the chapter/documentary or even men, but I think in order to do the story justice then it wasn’t enough to focus too intently on only one woman when so many others were important to it too. If it had gone more in depth then the 290 page book would have doubled in size and for the emotional weight of the topics that might have been too much. I’ll let you make your own mind up about that one.
As I’ve said, Stacey is not shy of offering her opinion, and this book is no exception. She touches on politics and exactly what she thinks about President Trump. I won’t spoil that one for you, but I’m sure you can imagine. You also understand why she continues to put herself in these crazy situations; she’s been in the middle of a war zone twice (telling her mum she was going to Turkey when she was really in Iraq really reminds you that she’s human too). She says that a lot of what is happening all over the world is not reported on in the UK and she wants to raise awareness of all the injustices and violence she’s encountered in her career.
Stacey comes across as humble and down to earth. It’s one of the reasons she’s done so well in her documentaries, I think. People warm to her and open up. They’re grateful that this woman is telling their stories and that, to her, is the most important thing.
I was a fan of her before I read the book, I even watched Strictly Come Dancing for the first time in years because she was on it, so I knew I’d like it. And I wasn’t wrong. If you’re a Stacey fan or even if you just enjoyed her documentaries then I’d highly recommend reading it. And if you’re not familiar with her, then it’s about time you were. Use this book as your introduction. She’s an incredible woman putting herself on the frontline to help other incredible women. How could you not support that?