About 15 years ago, a couple of jobbing character actors working on an ITV show called Fat Friends decided to write a film script.
Called It’s My Day, the feelgood comedy revolved around the wedding of a Welsh girl and an English boy.
Each boasted a host of colourful friends and family members. Many of them were inspired by patrons of a hotel where the two writers were staying.
Over time, the duo’s script morphed into an entire TV series, focusing on the back story of the couple’s relationship.
By the time it hit our screens, in 2007, it had also acquired a new name: Gavin and Stacey.
James Corden tweeted this photo with Ruth Jones, saying: ‘We had to be together to watch it go out tonight! Gavin and Stacey is a show about friendship and family. Tonight’s show has been a labour of love from start to finish and we hope you enjoy it. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Happy Christmas from us both’
The creators of what, over three award-winning seasons, would become arguably the best-loved British comedy of the past decade were, of course, James Corden and Ruth Jones.
In the programme, they play the Welsh girl and English boy’s two best friends: Smithy, a hard-drinking plumber from Essex, and Nessa, a tattooed and regularly foul-mouthed worker at an amusement arcade in Barry, South Wales.
For Corden, already a star of the stage and film version of The History Boys, the hit show was a springboard to international superstardom that now sees him living in Hollywood, where he earns upwards of £3million a year fronting a nightly chat-show on US TV (for which he has won no fewer than nine Emmys).
Miss Jones has, by contrast, followed a charmingly parochial path.
Aged 53, she has in recent years carved out a portfolio career as an accomplished actress, screenwriter, TV producer, occasional gameshow contestant and, more recently, bestselling novelist.
But her home remains the distinctly unglamorous Cardiff suburb of Pen-y-lan.
She lives in a mock-Tudor house bought by her husband David Peet for £325,000 in 2001 (Corden’s LA pile is, by contrast, worth £8million).
She lives in a mock-Tudor house bought by her husband David Peet for £325,000 in 2001 (Corden’s LA pile is, by contrast, worth £8million). Miss Jones met Mr Peet almost 20 years ago, when they crossed paths on the set of a BBC comedy pilot (pictured at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden)
Miss Jones met Mr Peet almost 20 years ago, when they crossed paths on the set of a BBC comedy pilot.
In a case of life imitating art, the early stages of her relationship with David appear to have been as traumatic as that of her alter ego Nessa’s star-crossed affair with Smithy.
For he was – at the time – apparently happily married with three teenage children.
Miss Jones spoke publicly about the episode for the first time last year, when promoting her first novel Never Greener.
The book was about an actress who has an affair with a married man, although she insisted that ‘nobody in the book was based on anybody in my life’.
She was also at pains to stress how much she has enjoyed being a stepmother to Mr Peet’s three children, once declaring that she’d experienced ‘all the joy of motherhood without the pain of childbirth’. Since hitting the big time, Miss Jones has been at pains to remain in the city she calls home, and rarely appears on the celebrity circuit, often stressing that she feels more at home jogging in Cardiff’s parks and shopping in her local Tesco.
However, she made an exception in order to pull together the Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special – jetting to Corden’s luxurious home to work on it in conditions of utmost secrecy.
‘I had to keep inventing reasons why I was going to Los Angeles to see my friends. We couldn’t be pictured together because the whole world would start thinking, ‘Oh yes… Gavin & Stacey is back’. We said absolutely nothing to anyone,’ she recently recalled.
Initially, the project floundered. Indeed, by February they had decided that their early scripts were so ‘awful’ that it was time to pull the plug. However, over a final meal, they came up with an idea to ‘save’ the show.
Was that scene the proposal no one saw coming – Nessa goes down on one knee to ask Smithy to marry her in a cliffhanger ending?
‘When we did our first read-through it just wasn’t working. We just stopped everything. It was a horrible feeling… it felt absolutely awful,’ Miss Jones said.
‘We both had to admit it was over. So we sat down to dinner with our partners after making the decision to stop. Obviously the mood wasn’t great, and we had this very pedestrian conversation as we sat around the table. But within two or three hours, we’d worked up that exact pedestrian conversation into this perfect Gavin and Stacey scene.’
Was that scene the proposal no one saw coming – Nessa goes down on one knee to ask Smithy to marry her in a cliffhanger ending? No one is saying, but the show has become the most-watched Christmas TV special since Wallace and Gromit wowed the nation in 2008.
It wasn’t the first time that Miss Jones has turned imminent disaster into triumph. Raised in the Welsh seaside town of Porthcawl, as the youngest of four children – mother Hannah was a local doctor while father Richard, a solicitor, worked at a nearby steelworks – Miss Jones got the showbusiness bug as a teenager at the local comprehensive.
She played Eliza Doolittle in a school production of My Fair Lady alongside fellow pupil (and future co-star) the comedian Rob Brydon.
After graduating from Warwick with a degree in theatre studies, she trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff before moving to London during the early 1990s in an effort to make it as an actor, only to end up earning a crust as a clerk at Kensington and Chelsea Council.
Despairing that she’d ever make it, she was days from returning to Wales to train as a solicitor when she landed a role in Dick Whittington.
Ruth Jones as Nessa and James Corden as Smithy in the original series which first aired more than a decade ago
The show has become the most-watched Christmas TV special since Wallace and Gromit wowed the nation in 2008
It wasn’t exactly the big time – Miss Jones played a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and was also required to shift scenery – but the job did allow her to gain an Equity card.
From there she began to land a succession of well-regarded character roles, playing (among other things) a lesbian barmaid called Myfanwy next to Matt Lucas’s ‘only gay in the village’ in Little Britain, Steve Coogan’s girlfriend in his BBC sitcom Saxondale, and Peggy, a gobby northerner in the 1999 British film East is East.
Fame took a long time to arrive, though. Indeed, it’s a measure of the slow-burning nature of her career that, when she won a British Comedy Award in 2007, almost two decades after she’d started out, Jones was proclaimed ‘best newcomer’.
After Gavin and Stacey, which was mothballed in 2009 after three hit series and a 2010 New Year’s day special, things changed dramatically.
She and Mr Peet set up a production firm specialising in Welsh film projects, making the hit show Stella in which she takes the title role, for Sky.
She’s also hosted a BBC Radio Wales chat show, Sunday Brunch, and will publish a second novel next year. As for her many fans, they are for now awaiting news of alter-ego Nessa’s tangled love life.
Yesterday, as viewers digested the Christmas special’s cliffhanger ending, Miss Jones was quoted saying there is ‘room for more’ episodes of Gavin and Stacey. It can only mean that Cardiff’s most famous resident may soon be flying off to Hollywood all over again…