The truth is, my husband was married when I met him,’ says Ruth Jones carefully. ‘So in that sense there was an overlap.’
The writer and star of Gavin & Stacey and Stella rarely talks about her love life, but one question is unavoidable today. She’s an award-winning, very famous actress who is about to publish a debut novel – about an award-winning, very famous actress who has an affair with a married man. Twice. So is she writing from life?
‘The book is not based on my experience in that regard,’ insists Jones. ‘Affairs cause a lot of pain, they’re not something one aspires to do. You don’t aspire to cause pain to people in their life.’
Of course not, but it’s still true that Jones met her husband David Peet, a producer, when they were both working on a comedy pilot in the Nineties. She was single, he had a wife and three daughters. ‘I had an affair, in that sense. I can’t believe I’ve just said that to you!’
‘I’m not Nessa, that’s for sure,’ says Jones, before proving she can harden her otherwise soft South Wales lilt and summon the character in an instant with an, ‘Oh! What’s occurrin’?’
She laughs nervously, because this is unusual territory for Jones. There are more unguarded moments to come as she talks about her first kiss, her close partnership with Gavin & Stacey co-star James Corden and how the deaths of her father and a dear friend have left her reeling but determined to enjoy life.
But first Jones is adamant we understand the motivation for her book, Never Greener. ‘Nobody in the book is based on anybody in my life,’ she insists. ‘Of course you have to ask. But my imagination is quite ferocious, in that I can imagine the worst possible scenarios.’
And what entertainingly awful scenarios they are, as her character, Kate, blows in and out of the life of an older, married teacher, Callum. Kate has returned to her old school as guest of honour, a Bafta winner (like Jones, who won hers for Gavin & Stacey), and finds Callum, who she’d had an affair with in her 20s. The affair begins again, with passionate but potentially disastrous results.
So if Never Greener is not based on her and David, what was the inspiration? ‘I must have an obsession with first love and what that does to people. You make a bit of a fool of yourself, especially if you’re older and you’re thinking, “This is the person I should have been with.” Instead of looking at what you’ve got in the here and now.’
Who was her first love then? ‘Probably David Cassidy! No, I wish I had one. I can remember my first kiss though, and that was unsuccessful. Our teeth bashed against each other and I thought, “Oh no, is that it?” Even my first kiss was a comedy drama!’
So is the novel: easy to read and full of laughter – and truth. Callum’s wife, Belinda, has a lot to forgive him for. Would Jones do that in real life? ‘When we were younger, me and my friends used to go, “What would you do if you found out your boyfriend had been cheating?” And we’d say, “Oh, that would be it, over straight away.” But as you get older, life is more complicated. Particularly if kids are involved. I love that Belinda doesn’t forget, but she does forgive.’
Jones met her husband David Peet, a producer, when they were both working on a comedy pilot in the Nineties. She was single, he had a wife and three daughters
Would she be able to forgive her husband if he strayed? ‘Could I? Yes, I think so. But would I? It depends on the circumstances, doesn’t it?’
I wonder how much of her is there in Kate? ‘I was never that glamorous actress, so maybe there’s an element of wishful thinking on my part in terms of her acting and her work. But I would hate to be her.’
Kate lives on little more than air and alcohol, and pedals her exercise bike furiously in the early hours in a bid to stay thin and young-looking. ‘That’s a really common thing, isn’t it? Especially for people on TV. If you have a particular image, you’ve got to take care of how you look.’ Jones has lost four stone in recent years, but says she did that simply by restricting herself to 1,500 calories a day rather than going on a faddy diet. Now 51, she lives away from the showbiz spotlight in Cardiff with David. Together they run a company called Tidy Productions, whose biggest hit has been the sitcom Stella.
Jones was with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre before appearing in the ITV comedy drama Fat Friends. During breaks in filming, she got to know her co-star James Corden, and together they created Gavin & Stacey, the story of two lovers: one from Essex and the other from South Wales. They didn’t play the leads but Corden and Jones stole the show as Smiffy, a lovable rogue, and Nessa, a leather-clad trucker with a heart of gold and a stack of outrageous stories about the famous men she claimed to have bedded.
Little Britain, Matt Lucas as Dafydd and Ruth Jones as Myfanwy. Jones is hugely successful in her own right, having also appeared in the movies Emma and East Is East
‘I’m not Nessa, that’s for sure,’ says Jones, before proving she can set her face, harden her otherwise soft South Wales lilt and summon the character in an instant with an, ‘Oh! What’s occurrin’?’
Now Corden is a big star in America, with his own nightly chat show. I interviewed him for Event recently and found him homesick. ‘Is he though?’ asks Jones, like a big sister who knows her little brother can be a bit over-dramatic. ‘Or is it just time to come home now?’
There was talk of a Gavin & Stacey film, is it happening? ‘There was never going to be a movie. Something I said was taken out of context. I was asked whether James and I will ever do anything together again and I said, “I hope so, I really love writing with him.” That still stands. We’ve never ruled it out.’
Will all those much-loved characters return to the small screen one day? ‘We always said, “Oh, we could write a special.” But we last did Gavin & Stacey in 2010, so we’ve been saying that for a long time. It still hasn’t happened and there aren’t any plans. And, let’s face it, if we wrote a Gavin & Stacey special it would get slated by a lot of people who would go, “Oh God, why did they bother?”’
Ruth Jones (Nessa) and James Corden (Smithy) together they created Gavin & Stacey, the story of two lovers: one from Essex and the other from South Wales
When was the last time she spoke to Corden? ‘We’ve talked a lot on the phone. There’s always a specific time of day, about four in the afternoon, when he is driving.’ That’s morning in LA, when he told me he flips through the contacts on his phone to see who he might call on the way to work.
‘James’s phone book? Man, that must be amazing,’ says Jones. ‘You look at my phone book – there’s nobody famous in it!’ For a moment it sounds like she envies Corden’s Hollywood life.
‘No. I sometimes wish I had the desire for America and the whole celebrity thing, but thank God I don’t. It must be awful if you want that and it doesn’t happen. I love living in Cardiff. Don’t forget, I’m 13 years older than James, we are at different stages of our lives.’
Ruth lives away from the showbiz spotlight in Cardiff with David. Together they run a company called Tidy Productions, whose biggest hit has been the sitcom Stella
Jones is hugely successful in her own right, having also appeared in the movies Emma and East Is East, hosted a BBC chat show and acted in series from Little Britain to Tess Of The D’Urbervilles. She has a two-book deal now and is planning another sitcom.
‘I’m very content with my life – my ambition is just to stay healthy. I lost my dad in July. He was 89. He went suddenly. It was really tough. I miss him terribly.’ Her voice catches and she flicks away the beginnings of a tear.
‘Then one of my best friends died in January. We were at university together. I’ve dedicated this book to her. Things like that change your outlook. Who gives a f*** whether you’re in some big film and stuff? I don’t want to be worrying about work,’ she adds. ‘I’m in a fortunate position. I’ve got another book to write. I just hope for my family to be content and happy, you know? That’s the main thing for me. And I’m very happy.’
‘Never Greener’ by Ruth Jones is published by Bantam Press, priced £12.99. Offer price £9.74 (25% discount) until April 15. Order at mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0844 571 0640, p&p is free on orders over £15