Fun in the lush Welsh Valleys

Ruth Jones and Patrick Baladi in Stella
Ruth Jones and Patrick Baladi in Stella
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Five years since Gavin & Stacey wrapped, Welsh actress and writer Ruth Jones is still riding high with a fourth series of Sky1 comedy Stella. Jeananne Craig finds out what’s occurring

As big breaks go, Ruth Jones’ role in ITV drama Fat Friends was a particularly fruitful one.

On top of showing off her acting skills as curvy Kelly Chadwick, the Welsh star also met future Gavin & Stacey collaborator James Corden, and got the chance to pen an episode of the series created by Band Of Gold’s Kay Mellor.

“Kay gave me my first break, and I’ll always be indebted to her,” says the Bridgend-born actress, who appeared on Fat Friends from 2000 to 2005.

“Prior to that, I’d given her a script called Marsha’s Story, which I must re-read. It was probably terrible, but Kay was so kind and gave me some feedback.

“I learnt a lot from her stylistically.”

A decade on, and with a string of gongs for Gavin & Stacey in her trophy cabinet, Jones is back with a fourth instalment of Stella, the heart-warming Sky 1 comedy drama she writes and stars in.

Jones launched the show in 2012 with husband David Peet (the pair run Tidy Productions together, a company that specialises in comedy), and confesses: “We didn’t even think we’d be doing a second series.”

Heroine Stella (Jones) is a down-to-earth, rugby jersey-wearing single mum and trainee nurse, living in the fictional village of Pontyberry, in the Welsh Valleys.

In the last series, we saw Stella become a grandmother and embark on a romance with her handsome next-door neighbour, the memorably named Michael Jackson (played by The Office’s Patrick Baladi).

But things won’t stay so rosy for long, as Jones, 48, reveals.

“This year, it’s Michael’s story. Without giving too much away, he makes a stupid mistake and ends up paying for it. It’s about his demise, so to speak, and then his redemption.”

She adds: “Things aren’t going great for Michael, career-wise. Although he’s set up a business on his own, he’s getting rubbish clients and is working from the house, which isn’t ideal.

“In the first episode, he knocks down the adjoining wall between his and Stella’s house and, basically, it’s the start of everything going wrong.”

There’s also a new addition to the cast in the form of Casualty’s Ramon Tikaram, who plays hospital consultant Mr Honey.

“He lacks any social skills whatsoever and is a very serious man, but weirdly, seems to warm to Stella. She brings out the fun in him,” Jones says.

As with Gavin & Stacey, there are also plenty of ‘lush’ Welsh phrases to look forward to.

“Me and Di [Botcher, who plays Aunty Brenda] were talking, actually, about getting this very Welsh expression, ‘there you are’, which is used to reaffirm something, into the script, so listen out for that.

“A few pop up in episode four, when Aunty Brenda is accused of making everybody sick with her rice salad.”

It’s the show’s colourful characters that make Stella a success, Jones believes.

“People make friends with them and feel they can relate to them, because they’re so down-to-earth.”

The same can be said about Jones’ earlier creation, Gavin & Stacey, which earned Baftas and British Comedy Awards during its three-year run, and spawned a short-lived US version.

While Jones has previously ruled out a return for the hit comedy, she’s still in touch with co-creator Corden (who recently said he’d be “distraught” if they never revisited the show).

“We would [write together again] if we had the time. Definitely,” says the actress, who played Nessa to Corden’s Smithy. The chance of either of them finding a quiet spot in their schedule seems unlikely, however.

Corden is set to go stellar in the US with his own chat show, and can currently be seen alongside Meryl Streep in the Oscar-nominated film Into The Woods (“it’s absolutely brilliant,” Jones says of his success), while his former writing partner has plenty of work in the pipeline too.

“I’m in such a lucky position, to have a production company and to be making a successful show. I’m chuffed and am really enjoying things as they are at the moment,” she says.

In the future, she’d love to work with fellow funny woman Dawn French, revealing: “I’m a mad, crazed fan”. And she’s interested in writing a book. “I haven’t got a concept yet, but I think I’d really enjoy it.”

For now, there’s a fifth series of Stella in the pipeline - although the actress admits she hasn’t really got an endgame in sight for her heroine.

“The show is character rather than plot-driven,” says Jones. “I remember someone saying to me, the great thing about Stella is that nothing happens, and it’s wonderful.”

Stella returns to Sky1 on Friday, February 6