Laughter in the valleys
Stella (Ruth Jones)

Tucked away in Welsh actress Ruth Jones' bedroom is a Cottesloe Beach sweatshirt, a treasured souvenir of a visit to WA 25 years ago. She was 21 when she bought it and her hit TV series Gavin & Stacey was not even a dream.

Now with a second sitcom, Stella, soon to begin here, she is doing interviews with Australian media but what she wants to talk to me about is her time in WA.

"I was going out with somebody back in the day and they went to Australia so I went out there," she said. "It was lovely. I stayed in Gooseberry Hill and I used to work at His Majesty's Theatre bar. I was really shocked that people bought such small glasses of beer, they were called a middy, I remember that. They explained to me it was because of the weather, the beer gets warm too quickly.

"I went up to Broome and down to Augusta and to the Toodyay Festival. I was there for three months and it was great."

There is a lot of the character Stella in Jones. She is warm and friendly even when doing interviews at 6.30am before starting a day of filming for the second series of Stella.

But you would expect that - she created and wrote this series and plays the title role of a native of the Welsh valleys who found herself pregnant at 16 and is now a single mother of three. The eldest of her children, Luke, is soon to be released from prison, her 16-year-old daughter Emma wants to leave school and Ben, 13, spends his day buried in a book.

She barely makes a living taking in ironing. But don't expect a gloomy view of Wales with struggling families beaten down by poverty.

As Jones says, Stella is "peopled by folks who get up in the morning and don't want to have a bad time. They want to have a good time rather than a fight".

Stella has been a big success in the UK and Jones says people who stop her in the street now call her Stella rather than Nessa, her character in Gavin & Stacey, the series which she created and wrote with co-star James Corden.

The hefty Nessa stomped around in short skirts and big boots while Stella favours tracksuits. She's blonder and much slimmer. Jones has been steadily losing weight and is now very happy in her skin.

She lives in Cardiff with her husband, David Peet, and Stella is part of the output of their production company. Her home is close to the Welsh valleys; she is not from there, though she obviously has great affection for the people.

Jones was asked by Sky TV to write Stella with the request that it be "something like Roseanne". It is a lot sweeter natured than Roseanne - the closest thing there is to a nasty person is Nadine, the younger, blonder wife of Stella's ex-husband Karl.

"With Nadine her heart is in the right place but she is a type of person that I grew up with who would know the price of everything and the value of nothing," Jones said.

"But actually she would be trying really hard and would probably feel quite insecure. I think that is the thing that makes the characters work, that they are quite rounded."

That is except for Daddy, father of Stella's sister-in-law, the wonderful undertaker Paula, because it is impossible to round out a character whose dialogue is gibberish.

"You are not meant to understand him, that is the whole point," Jones laughed. "The humour comes from the fact that everyone in the world of Stella understands him but we in the audience don't, and I kind of like that. I also like the fact that Paula is a functioning alcoholic but her alcoholism isn't an issue, it just is what it is."

Just like the fact that the old couple across the road from Stella have a Welsh pony that lives in the house with them.

"A friend of mine knew a GP who did a house visit and there was a horse in the house," she said. "Things like that really do happen and they end up going in the script."

My time is up but before the call ends Jones says: "Send a big kiss to WA. I watched Neighbours for the first time over there and I remember going home and saying there is this brilliant series, it is amazing'."

The West Australian

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