A ripple of excitement crackles around the room as the two round cushions that will soon become Daisy May Cooper’s new bum are fluffed, plumped and preened, and then packed into her black sequined ballgown. She is about to recreate a shot from Kim Kardashian’s notorious “break the internet” photoshoot, swapping champagne for ketchup, and in a couple of minutes, she will have to work out how to stand at the correct angle for a tray of chips to balance on her bum. Fittingly, the Beyoncé/Destiny’s Child playlist that has been on shuffle throughout the day has landed on Bootylicious.
Cooper turns her head, looks down, and laughs. Her laugh is phenomenal, huge, a long, loud hoot drawn out into a throaty cackle. “Let’s just go for it!” she shouts, with a few more swear words thrown in. To say she swears like a sailor doesn’t do it justice; she swears like a naval fleet. The makeup artist rubs oil on to the tops of her arms to make them look shiny. “Fuckin’ ’ell,” she says, taking it all in, and lets out a wry chuckle. She seems utterly at home.
These days, this is all par for the course. In front of the camera, Cooper moves the ketchup bottle this way and that, getting the angle just right. Her face shifts and stretches into the perfect comedy grin, or grimace. She squeezes the bottle. The sauce starts to drip from her long black gloves.
When you get inside the celebrity circle, you realise nobody knows how it all works! Everybody’s just showing off to the people on the outside
She is, she explains, a little bit hungover, not that you’d know it from her energy levels. Last night, she went to David Walliams’ 50th birthday party. She was chatting, drunkenly, to Michael McIntyre, when she saw that John Bishop had picked up his chair and moved it away from their table. What she hadn’t noticed was that she was loudly talking through an exclusive live performance by Elton John. “I didn’t realise he was on stage! I was just nattering away,” she cackles. “I thought, surely, they’re just playing music through the speakers?”
For someone who spent many years trying to break into a seemingly impenetrable industry, nights like that suggest she’s very much an insider now. When she was trying to catch a break, she spent a long time wondering how it all worked. “But when you get to the inside of the circle, you realise that nobody knows! Everybody’s just showing off to the people on the outside,” she says. How does it feel now she’s on the other side? “I mean, it’s all just bollocks,” she grins.
Until she was 30, Cooper was a struggling actor, sharing a mattress with her younger brother Charlie in their parents’ house, in their home town of Cirencester, Gloucestershire. The family were living in poverty. There were payday loans, evictions and regular trips to the pawn shop. The siblings scraped a living as night cleaners in an office block, while the auditions that Cooper had expected to get after three years at drama school failed to materialise.
Daisy and Charlie invented characters and stories to keep themselves amused during shifts. These creations would become Kerry and Kurtan Mucklowe, and their story the award-winning, smash-hit mockumentary This Country. The comedy, which began in 2017 and ended just three years later, followed Kerry and Kurtan as they meandered aimlessly around their rural village in the Cotswolds, bored, broke and stuck in a rut. It was the sort of show that inspired people to shout its lines at the people who made it; Kerry’s mother, also voiced by Cooper but never seen, had a particular way with the word “tomato”.
Now, aged 35, Cooper is a star. Post-This Country, she has continued acting and writing, is a reliable regular on comedy panel shows, and is huge on social media for posting short clips, which range from the homely to the surreal. Now, she is about to release her autobiography. Unsurprisingly, it’s hilarious. More of a surprise is how tough a road she had to travel to get here.
“Comedy’s always been in my bones,” Cooper reflects, back in her ordinary clothes, a floaty floral dress and sandals. We are pushed together in a tiny box-room office above the photography studio. Cooper swings around restlessly in a swivel chair. “I love making people laugh. It’s my favourite thing to do in the whole world.” I can tell; my face hurts after spending the afternoon with her.
One million people follow Cooper on Instagram. They will have seen the saga of the sea captain, a scammer who messaged female celebrities requesting money, to whom Cooper replied, faux-earnestly, trying to strike up a relationship. He finally stopped talking to her when she pretended she was on a flight to meet him. “I felt really sad! I miss the guy.” They will also have seen her trolling her publishers about whether she could write about an ex-boyfriend’s bent penis. In a meeting she seemingly secretly recorded, she argues with what appears to be complete seriousness that she doesn’t think she’s asking for much. She also posted a clip of a phone call of her publisher telling her off about it, which led her to briefly deactivate her Instagram in protest. The drama concluded with a statement to Metro: “Penguin have offered to let me dedicate the book to my ex-boyfriend’s wonky knob. I have accepted and we have made up,” she said.
“I still feel like I’m 15 years old, and I’m in the back of a classroom,” she says. “My publishers remind me of really annoying substitute teachers, trying to tell me what to do.” She has a perpetual air of barely suppressed mischief, as if she is constantly trying to behave herself but knows she won’t be able to. “The wonky cock thing, the way they spoke about it … the seriousness … I was like, are you joking? They just get so cross with me.”
I don’t understand how I keep making the same mistakes, and why I’m not growing up to be a responsible adult
Is the penis still in the book?
“I’ve made sure it is,” she says, triumphantly. “My wrist aches so much, because I had to sign so many. I thought, I don’t know any other job where somebody’s got to draw 20,000 wonky dicks.”
You’ve just drawn them in?
“Absolutely, mate,” she giggles.
On the page that’s dedicated to TV presenter Ben Shephard? (The inscription says that she thinks he’s fit.)
“Yes.” Then her face drops. “Oh, shit. People are going to think that… … Oh God. I didn’t even think about that! This is how much of a fuck-up I am.”
Cooper calls herself this a lot. I ask her if she means it fondly. “Well, I mean. I don’t understand how I keep making the same mistakes, and why I’m not growing up to be a responsible adult. It’s like I’m flypaper for just completely embarrassing myself.”
Why does she think that is? “I don’t know. I don’t think. I don’t think about the consequences of things. I just act in the moment, and then I fuck up, and then I feel like a twat. Hahaha! People just seem to function really well, and I don’t get it. It’s like, what is your secret? How do you swim through life so effortlessly?”
She was offered “a life-changing amount of money” to write her life story. “I said, absolutely, I’ll do it. But it’s like selling my soul, because I’ve had to admit to all the most vile, horrendous, embarrassing things that have happened in my life, that my parents are going to find out about.”
Some of the stories have already been aired. Cooper is a regular on comedy shows, and her episodes are usually must-sees. On Would I Lie to You?, she told a true story about slipping crushed-up sleeping pills into her parents’ drinks so she could sneak her teenage boyfriend into the house. She went viral in 2017, when This Country was new, for telling Romesh Ranganathan about the time she accidentally auditioned to be a stripper. Although she warns Ranganathan that it is hard for her to talk about it, she can barely breathe for laughing, as the horrors of her disastrous attempts at pole-dancing become clear. In the book, the same anecdote is obviously painful.
“It was such a bleak time,” she says, now. She had moved to London after an acting summer school and had no work, performing or otherwise. The audition was a last-ditch attempt to earn money for her long-overdue rent on a crowded room-share in Shepherd’s Bush. “All these bad things were happening and it was never-ending. I’ve never felt so humiliated. I just felt like nothing. It was that bad. I mean, it’s hilarious, but it was depressing.”
At points, her story is heartbreaking. She nods. “But at least now there was a purpose for those really awful times. I feel like [writing the book] has been quite therapeutic in a way, because, had I not written it, had we not become successful, then those bits would have just been really sad. But it was such a hard journey to get here. It was tough.”
She hopes that her book might provide some solace to anyone else going through a similar situation, as other autobiographies did for her. “I read Peter Kay’s autobiography a lot, and James Corden’s. The most important thing is that you have to talk about it, because it gives people hope, and inspires people to change the situation. There’s just so much we need to change about this country.”
Cooper was born in Basingstoke, Hampshire, in 1986, and grew up in Cirencester with her mother, Gillian, and her dad, Paul. Charlie was born three years after her. When she was tiny, her parents took her to a specialist to see if it was right that their small daughter claimed to have voices in her head. The doctors said there was nothing wrong with her. She scared her classmates by making up a school ghost, in horrifying detail, and, when the parents of other pupils complained, the headteacher had to call a special assembly to tell them that it wasn’t real. “I would have either gone into this industry or become like [the serial killer] Jeffrey Dahmer and been absolutely terrifying,” she says, laughing.
When she was about six, her aunt Alison died in a car crash. In the years that followed, her mother would take Cooper to psychic nights, to see if they could make contact. “That’s mad! No wonder I was so messed up,” she says. “Normal kids go to the cinema or go bowling, not to talk to the dead.”
Every day at Rada, somebody tells you how shit you are, how ugly you look, how you’re never going to make it. It was hard
Cooper has two children herself. Her daughter, Pip, is three, and her son, Jack, is one. She is currently going through a divorce from her husband, Will Weston, a landscaper she met on Tinder in 2015 and married in 2019. “He’s an amazing man, but we’re just not compatible,” is all she will say about it. She has stepped back from social media, partly for personal reasons and partly because she’s so busy. But for a time she would post hilarious clips of her daughter, who was briefly convinced that her name was Buckbeak, a hippogriff from Harry Potter. “My poor daughter, I know,” she laughs. “Poor Buckbeak. Maybe that’s not right, as a parent, to plaster your kids all over Instagram. But they’re part of my life, and I have to share her with the world. She’s so funny.”
“I’d like to think that I’ve learned from my parents’ mistakes,” she says. “But I’m just doing pretty much exactly what they did to me. Terrible! You just do what you can, as a parent, and try and get through it. As long as your kids feel loved and listened to, that’s the most important thing.” She very much felt that way when she was growing up. “I felt so supported. And I think that’s what people couldn’t understand, why my parents never said to get a normal job and do something that isn’t a million to one, like doing comedy on television.”
By the time Cooper left school, she knew she wanted to be a performer. Her parents took out a credit card to help pay for a summer acting course in London. She stayed in the city for a few months afterwards, but hated it – it was the stripping audition era – and moved back home, where she applied for drama schools. She was eventually accepted by Rada for a three-year degree.
Recently, Anthony Hopkins cautioned aspiring actors against drama schools, saying they were a waste of money, calling the teachers “failed actors who set themselves up as gurus”. Cooper is scathing about her time at Rada. “I felt like I had no control,” she says. “Every day, you’ve got somebody telling you how shit you are, how ugly you look, how you’re never going to make it in the industry. You’re doing 15-hour days, then going back and doing homework and reading loads of scripts. It was hard.”
I know everyone in Cirencester from school. If I try to book a table at a local pub, I drop my name and they do not care. It’s great
She was desperately miserable, but she stuck out the full course. Charlie dropped out of his own university course and went to live with her on her floor for most of the final year, which seems to have helped her get through it. Why didn’t she quit? “Fear. Complete fear. Because we knew we had the agents who would come after three years, and, if I left, I wouldn’t get to do the showcase. That’s what kept everybody there.” Would she advise young, aspiring actors to go to drama school? “No. I would actively discourage them.”
How can working-class children, or people who aren’t connected, get a foothold in an industry that is so reliant on nepotism and contacts? “Just write yourself something, which is what we did. Write your own story, because everybody’s got a story to tell. Write truthfully, and send it to every production company you can. You can find them on Google.” She says they’ll warn you they don’t read unsolicited scripts, but it’s a lie. “All agents read them, because they don’t want to miss out on the next Fifty Shades of Grey or Harry Potter. They’re desperate for the talent, and they make out like it’s this great big ivory castle and you’ve got to go through thorn bushes to get through it.”
After the Coopers sent off their early scripts for This Country, it spent years being developed, rewritten and remoulded to the tastes of different production companies and channels. In one iteration, Kerry and Kurtan were not cousins but love interests. They made a pilot for ITV (“Horrendous,” Cooper says) but the channel decided not to go ahead with a series, and they were dropped by their production company. It sounds like a blessing now, but at the time it felt like a catastrophe, not least financially. Money had always been tight for the family, but it was getting tighter and tighter. The book is brutally honest about what it is like to live in poverty in the UK; Cooper felt it was important to be frank. “Really important,” she nods. “Because you’ve got no self-respect. You’re always on the back foot, so you can’t even have normal relationships. Even friendships, because you can’t afford to meet for coffee.”
She felt a pang of recognition when she watched the film Parasite, about a poor family who go to work for a wealthy one. “It was just what our family was like. Especially at the beginning, where they’re all trying to get wifi in the house. It was so chaotic. You’re just trying to get through to the end of the day. And that’s what’s amazing about money. Money gives you choices. Money gives you self-respect.”
After ITV dropped them, Cooper persuaded Shane Allen, then the director of comedy at the BBC, to give them a go, and Allen said yes to the version of This Country that the Coopers had always wanted to make. In its brief existence, the series picked up five Baftas, and Cooper would often appear on red carpets in outlandish outfits. There was the Swindon Town FC kit fashioned into a ballgown, and there was the bin bag made by her mother, complete with dustbin-lid hat and rubbish attached to the train. On that occasion, she gave the money she would have spent on a gown to a food bank. “Yeah, but also, I knew that none of the paparazzi would know who I was, and I wanted to get in the papers, so I was just a massive show-off,” she laughs.
Being successful has completely changed her life. When she first had money, she “went nuts”. “I was living like I was Rockefeller, it was ridiculous. I need to buy a house because I just spunk the money all the time.” Success meant that she and Charlie could help the whole family. “Our cousins, our aunties, our uncles. We’ve managed to sort everybody out. Do you know how amazing that is?” But she hasn’t bought herself a house? “No!” she cackles, though she says that Charlie has. The book is a testament to the siblings’ closeness. How is their relationship these days? She laughs. “Never see the bastard. He’s got a really good-looking girlfriend, he’s bought himself a lovely house in Stroud, and he never replies to any of my text messages.”
Charlie, she says, isn’t interested in showbiz events or awards ceremonies. “He will not go to any now. I’ll only go if I have a plus-one that I want to show off to,” she says.
Cooper lives just outside Cirencester. “I don’t want to be anywhere else on earth,” she says, warmly. “I know everyone there from school. The duck race!” In her village, there’s a tradition to race plastic ducks every Boxing Day. “It sounds like I’m just saying it to be quirky, but it is the best event I’ve ever attended. It’s amazing.” Many of the characters in This Country were based on people they knew from home. They must be proud of it? “Well, they were in the beginning, and now nobody gives a flying fuck,” she chuckles. “Even if I’m trying to book a table at a local pub, I drop my name and they do not care. It’s great.”
The next few months are looking busy. There’s the book, and then a comedy thriller she is writing with her friend Seline Hizli, whom she met at Rada, about a toxic friendship. They film next month for the BBC. I ask her whose career she would like to emulate. “Everybody’s,” she says. “Michaela Coel, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. I want to go to the States and absolutely rinse it, like James Corden, and buy my own private jet.” The US version of This Country, called Welcome to Flatch, is coming out soon. “Basically, they said to me, let’s do the US version of This Country. I said, how much work do I have to do? They said, just put your name to it.” She laughs. She and Charlie read the scripts, she says, but essentially they left the Americans to it. “I said, do whatever you want and I’ll take the money.”
She has just finished filming the revived quizshow Never Mind the Buzzcocks, in which she is a team captain, and she has loved every second. On one episode, she had to captain a team comprising her, Shaun Ryder and Bez from Happy Mondays. I can only imagine the chaos. “I was sitting there thinking, I cannot believe I get paid to just fart about,” she says, happily. “I am living my best life.”
• Daisy May Cooper’s Don’t Laugh, It’ll Only Encourage Her is published on 28 October by Michael Joseph (£20). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.