Their hilarious TV series about small-town Cotswolds life has been hailed the hottest comedy since Fleabag. This Country’s Daisy May and Charlie Cooper reveal how they took their sleepy backwater to the Baftas – and now Hollywood.
You could call it doing a Fleabag. The moment that happens every few years, when a British TV show comes along without fanfare or an expensive publicity trail and becomes the only thing anybody is talking about. Daisy May Cooper, 33, and her brother Charlie, 30, are the creators and stars of This Country, the latest TV phenomenon, with the third and final series about to launch on BBC Three.
Centring on hapless cousins Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe (Daisy May and Charlie), the show is a mockumentary on the minutiae of rural life and is simultaneously the funniest and most touching comedy since, well, Fleabag.
This Country is based predominantly on the siblings’ experience of growing up in Cirencester (or ‘Ciren’, as they call it) in the Cotswolds, a million miles from the Barbour-and-Bollinger scene. The Coopers’ Cotswolds is more a bottle of WKD at the bus stop than a cup of tea in David Cameron’s shepherd’s hut – and the isolation, boredom and trivialities of small-town life make for must-watch viewing.
The characters, played in part by friends and family (their dad Paul plays Kerry’s errant father, while their Uncle Trevor plays village curmudgeon Len), are caricatures of real locals Daisy May and Charlie have met. ‘Our favourite comedies were always the ones that were real,’ says Charlie, when I meet them on the YOU photo shoot. ‘We loved The Royle Family, The Office, the ones where the characters were people you felt you knew. We always wanted to do something with heart and weight behind it.’
As well as a huge public following, the show has gained them hordes of celebrity fans, including actress Miriam Margolyes and, much to Daisy May and Charlie’s delight, fellow Cotswolds resident Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen (who came in for gentle ribbing in This Country’s first episode). ‘He tweeted me after he’d seen it and we met up,’ says Charlie. ‘He’s a funny guy. He plays this flamboyant King Charles cavalier character, but he’s brilliant.’ He even attended Daisy May’s wedding last September. ‘We sat him next to Paul Chahidi, who plays the vicar in the show, and they got on like a house on fire,’ she says. What did LLB buy her as a wedding gift? ‘He gave me money towards my honeymoon – that’s what we asked for, because we’re tight gits,’ she laughs.
Daisy May and Charlie came up with the concept for This Country in their early 20s, while living together in London. Charlie had dropped out of Exeter University, where he was studying sports science (‘I hated it – I still don’t really know what it is,’ he says), and gone to stay for the weekend with his sister, who was training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). A year later he was still sleeping on her floor. It was a bleak time for them both. They had £20 a week to live on (which Daisy May had a habit of spending on booze and cigarettes), and she hated drama school. ‘I found it difficult,’ she says. ‘I was always getting told that my instincts were wrong, so I was totally confused. Charlie arriving was amazing, because I was so homesick. It was like a weird parent-child relationship. I’d come in and he would have made cheese on toast on a camping gas stove in an apron.’
‘That was the year we got close and talked about things we found funny,’ agrees Charlie. ‘And that was the genesis of This Country.’
It took them six years to get the show made: writing and rewriting, meeting agents and pitching their idea. ‘There was always that hope: “We might just get this away,” and then it would fall through,’ says Daisy May. ‘Our agent at the time had said, “Don’t bother taking it to the BBC, because they won’t commission it.” Had we listened, it would have been disastrous for our careers. I think it’s so important for people to know that you have to keep going, whatever you get told.’ Was there ever a plan B? ‘I think if you have a plan B, it’s too easy to fall back on it,’ says Charlie. ‘It has to be all or nothing.’
Entertaining is in the Coopers’ genes – their dad even did stand-up when he was younger, and won a competition judged by Paul Merton and Julian Clary. ‘He bangs on about it,’ says Charlie.
‘All the time,’ agrees Daisy May. ‘He was meant to go to the final of another competition and his work wouldn’t let him have the time off – that was going to be his big break. He ended up working in sales because he thought it was safe, then got let go from that job. So we always thought, at least do something that you enjoy rather than the safe thing.’
Luckily for them, they’re very good at the thing they enjoy. This Country won them two Baftas in 2018, one for Scripted Comedy and one for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme for Daisy May. ‘When we had nothing, the thought of one day going to the Baftas was the thing that made us feel better,’ Charlie says. ‘We didn’t expect to win, though.’
Daisy May memorably picked up her award wearing a custom-made Swindon Town FC dress, mirroring Kerry’s football shirt in the show. ‘Didn’t you make a list of your goals with Dad when you were 21, and one of them was to win a Bafta in a stupid dress?’ Charlie laughs.
‘When I saw the dress, I did have a panic attack. I thought, “Have I made the worst decision of my life?”’ says Daisy May. ‘But then I thought, “Why not?”’ For last year’s ceremony, instead of buying a designer gown, her mum Jill made her a dress out of bin bags and she donated the money she’d have spent to a local food bank instead.
‘I thought I’d be more comfortable in a bin bag than a nice dress,’ she says. ‘I remember walking into the Mondrian Hotel in London that night, and Steve Coogan looked at me and said, “Christ.” That’s all he said! That’s upsetting.’ Their Baftas experience sounds hilarious, from cornering Tony from Hollyoaks (‘the second we turned around, he ran away’) to serenading Declan Donnelly with a PJ & Duncan song.
We meet a couple of days after the Golden Globes, where Fleabag reigned supreme. ‘People say, “You must be so jealous,”’ says Daisy May of the Fleabag phenomenon. ‘Yes, absolutely, I’m jealous, but I’m also so proud and so in awe of what Phoebe Waller-Bridge has achieved.’
‘And it opens the door for other people to do it, people like us,’ says Charlie. ‘It’s a really exciting time.’
It really is an exciting time. In December last year it was announced that Paul Feig, director of Bridesmaids, would be making a US version of This Country. ‘The most surreal thing ever,’ says Daisy May. ‘Paul Feig comes down to Cirencester with Jenny Bicks, who wrote Sex and the City and The Greatest Showman. We go to our local pub and have dinner. We’ve seen script outlines and their vision for the show is similar.’ Daisy May and Charlie are not writing or acting in this version, but will be executive producers, ‘which means you get the dosh but no stress,’ laughs Daisy May. ‘They were respectful of the fact that the show was our baby, and they didn’t want us to feel we were out of the loop. But we were happy it was in good hands.’
Even if it doesn’t work out, there’s no chance of unemployment. Charlie appears in Michael Winterbottom’s Greed with Steve Coogan, while Daisy May is in Armando Iannucci’s Avenue 5 with Hugh Laurie and The Personal History of David Copperfield alongside Tilda Swinton, Dev Patel and – again – Hugh Laurie. ‘It’s weird because we don’t feel like we’re part of this circle,’ says Charlie. ‘We still do the same things we did ten years ago.’
Tilda, says Daisy May, has become a mate. ‘I found the first day of David Copperfield really scary,’ she says. ‘I had no experience of big actors, but Tilda is amazing. She told me that one of her favourite things is to polish cutlery. She’ll do that for hours. I enjoy folding towels.’
Towel-folding aside, Daisy May is passionate about the paranormal, regularly posting her ghost-hunting updates to her thousands of followers. When we meet, she’s tired after being up half the night having terrified herself watching a documentary about ‘the goat-man’, an axe-wielding half-man, half-creature. This is normal for Daisy May – she believes in ghosts and had read that if you record yourself asking one a question on your phone, the phone will pick up its reply in a way that you wouldn’t be able to hear normally. I must look sceptical, because she thrusts her phone at my ear and presses play. I hear her asking a ghost to make itself known, then there is a tiny, ethereal voice that replies ‘don’t be afraid’. It is genuinely the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s also not something that has happened to me in 20 years interviewing celebrities, but then I’ve never met anyone like Daisy May and Charlie Cooper – successful yet brilliantly normal.
While they aren’t sharing a student room any more, the pair still live near one another. Charlie, who only moved out from his parents’ house in Cirencester last year, now lives round the corner, while Daisy May, her husband Will (a landscape gardener) and their daughter Pip, two, live in a nearby village. ‘Our parents are our biggest fans,’ says Charlie. ‘Without them, this would never have been possible – they let us live at home rent-free for years.’
‘Even though they were really struggling,’ says Daisy May.
‘It meant we were able to be creative and pursue our dreams,’ adds Charlie.
‘We see Mum every day,’ says Daisy May.
‘She still does my washing,’ reveals Charlie.
So what’s next? ‘Jobcentre,’ replies Charlie.
‘We could write something about the goat-man?’ suggests Daisy May, and I suspect she’s only half joking. First, though, they have series three of This Country to get out. It’s a particularly poignant one, the first without their friend Michael Sleggs, who played Slugs in the show and was a constant source of fond teasing, both in real life and on telly. He died last year at 33 while receiving palliative care for heart failure. ‘He always had such good humour and such dignity,’ Charlie says. The hardest part of writing season three must surely have been figuring out how to include his passing into the storyline. ‘It was very difficult, obviously, because Michael was a close friend of ours and he was ill right up to before we started filming,’ says Daisy May. ‘We thought he might get better, so it was really hard, because that was written last minute. It was important, because he was so funny, to make it funny and touching.’ She takes a moment to compose herself when the tears take hold.
‘He always wanted to be included, whether he was ill or not,’ adds Charlie.
Michael had some last requests that Daisy May describes as ‘mental’. As well as asking the show’s vicar Paul Chahidi to conduct the ceremony at his actual funeral, he also wanted his body in his coffin to be in the first episode of the new series (though neither of these things actually happened). ‘We said: “How much morphine has he had?”’ says Daisy May. ‘It was a difficult episode to write because the way Kerry and Kurtan feel about Slugs is so different to how Daisy and Charlie feel about him. We tried to give him as good a send-off as we could, but I found it tough. I miss him so much.’
It’s their genuine approach to how humour meets human emotion that makes This Country such absolute genius. While the death of a friend is uncharted territory for them, whichever way they’ve chosen to honour Michael, I have a feeling it will be perfect. Because that’s the thing with This Country – it almost always is.
Series three of This Country will be released weekly on BBC iPlayer from Monday 17 February at 7pm