In 1949, George Orwell wrote one of the most significant pieces of British literature in circulation today, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’ This dystopian novel told the story of protagonist Winston Smith in an endless struggle against the manipulative surveillance nature of the tyrannous Big Brother. Living within the confines of Oceania, residents have no privacy, and are watched and listened to around the clock.
Just over 16 years ago, the feared Millenium Bug was spreading across the world, bringing with it one of the most popular television series since its premiere, Big Brother. This introduced a fascination with voyeurism. Although participants knew what they were signing up to, being observed around the clock, even at their most intimate of moments (remember Kinga? And who could forget ‘Bear’ and Chloe?), the sense of ‘we’re watching them without their knowledge’ was ever-present. From this primary stage product came several evolutions – celebrity versions, and replacing the house with the jungle down under, comes ‘I’m A Celebrity…’
The latest of these voyeuristic fads comes in the form of the widely successful, ‘Gogglebox.’ Fast approaching its eighth season, Gogglebox introduces the television viewer to a number of families watching television all over the country, ranging from the Moffats in County Durham to Sandra and Sandy to Steph and Dom to Brighton best friends and Gogglebox favourites, Stephen Webb and Chris Steed. On the 22nd of September, the duo published a collection of anecdotes and memoirs, both light hearted and lugubrious. We had the opportunity to sit down with the two to discuss the book, and what readers can expect from the dynamic duo’s comic collation.
THE FOXLEY DOCKET: How did your participation in Gogglebox begin?
STEPHEN WEBB: Chris told me that he’d been approached by someone in the salon which he was working in at the time – we were only told the basic information regarding the show.
CHRIS STEED: I was working in a salon in Brighton and a researcher walked in looking for people to take part in a new TV show. All I knew was it was going to be based on us watching and critiquing TV programmes – I thought why not? Give it a go and have a laugh!
TFD: The premise of Gogglebox is almost Big Brother-esque in that there’s a sense of voyeurism – the audience is essentially ‘people watching’. Why do you think this is so appealing? What do you personally think makes Gogglebox so popular?
SW: As you have said it’s total voyeurism – looking into normal people’s lives! I think most people can connect with someone on the show – they may share the same humour or share the same political opinion – we say what the viewer is thinking.
CS: I think the show is so successful because people love knowing what’s going on in other people’s lives. I love to tune in to see if everyone else thought the same as I did about the TV programmes we watched, and face it – Britain has some funny characters from all walks of life.
TFD: There’s a lot of discussion in regards to your relationship status – you’ve since clarified that you were together in the past. How has the transition been whilst working on the show?
Stephen: We were friends long before we started dating and long before Gogglebox, so it was easy for us to remain good friends – I was the more persistent one though!
Chris: This is true; we knew each other from years ago. We dated for a while, but we just felt that we were better as friends. When we split up, Stephen kept turning up like a stray cat wanting food – he is persistent in that way. He’s definitely the reason we stayed friends though, and I thank him for that.
TFD: Let’s talk ‘We Need to Talk’ – when did the idea to create a book present itself? Were any other directions discussed before settling on a collection of your stories?
SW: When we were approached to do a book, we decided we wanted to do an autobiography. There have already been two Gogglebox books about our opinions on a range of topics. This time, we wanted to give our followers, and followers of the program, a little bit more information on who we were and our lives before TV.
CS: I think there are lots of different avenues we could have explored with the book, but we felt that doing a joint autobiography was the best way of documenting the things that had happened in our lives.
TFD: It’s a joint memoir full of your experiences and hilarious stories, dressed in one-liners that you’re loved for on the show. How was this list put together, and how did you decide which ones made ‘We Need to Talk’?
SW: We decided to start at the beginning – at “birth“, and work our way up to present day. As we chatted, we decided what stories to put in by the amount of time we spent laughing about it, although we have added some of our saddest times too. As with all of us, we have our ups and downs – we didn’t want it to be all giggles and glitter balls.
CS: I think it was important to have a variation of subjects, and we wanted to show all sides of our personalities. Doing the book was a great experience – it was so great to share my ups and downs with Stephen, and I loved finding out so much about him in return!
TFD: What are your personal favourite stories featured in the book? Are there any you wish you could’ve included that didn’t make the final print?
SW: My favourite story is the one when I went to the vicar’s fancy dress party dressed in stockings and suspenders!
CS: I would say that talking about growing up with my sisters would be my favourite bits of the book, especially playing Tarzan and Jane in the bath. That, or when I fell over a recycling bin dressed as a girl and fell in to my neighbour’s garden – it was like a comedy sketch!
TFD: Since the book’s release, you’ve rubbed shoulders with everyone from Christopher Biggins to Emma Bunton, taken over Heat Radio and participated in Innuendo Bingo – what’s been the most memorable experience for both of you? Have any responses to ‘We Need to Talk’ stayed with you?
SW: The book hasn’t been out long, but we have had a great response to it! Apart from the glitterati, I guess for me, it’s been people in the street stopping me to say how much they loved the book and wished us all the best!
CS: Some reviews have been really good in the mags, but I’ve had so many friends and family say they’ve loved reading the book. I think they would love a follow up book too! We met Emma Bunton and Fearne Cotton who are massive fans – maybe they’ve got a ‘We Need to Talk’ on their Christmas list…
TFD: What’s for the future? Are you appearing at any other events? Presumably there’s more Gogglebox in the works…
SW: Well, we are on series 8 – can you believe that? Apart from that, like everyone else, it’s back to the 9 to 5 – we are still full time hairdressers.
CS: It’s great that we’re doing series 8, and would love to do series 9 too! It’s a very busy time of year for us both with filming, the book release and the countdown to Christmas in the hair department. We don’t get much time to do much else, but we do try and squeeze in a celeb bash here and there!
TFD: To conclude, anything you’d like to add? The floor is yours.
SW: My salon, Lustig & Webb is in Hurstpierpoint just outside Brighton, a small village at the foot of the South Downs – free selfie with every cut!
CS: We are always looking to do our bit for charity – we have a few things coming up that we will be supporting. At the moment, two of them are raising money for The Chestnut Tree House and Amelia Craig, a little girl that needs a life changing operation. It’ll be great if any of our fans could get involved. Further information can be found at http://just4children.org/news/bbc-news-interviews-amelia-craig and http://www.chestnut-tree-house.org.uk
‘We Need to Talk’ by Chris Steed and Stephen Webb is out now, priced £14.99. Gogglebox is on Channel 4 on Fridays at 9pm.