Gogglebox's Steph and Dom open up about fight for epileptic son's cannabis treatment
It's a brave decision to open up one's family life to the public – but former Gogglebox stars Steph and Dom Parker have done just that in their one-off film, Steph And Dom: Can Cannabis Save Our Son? Gemma Dunn finds spoke to them
G&T in one hand, dachshund in the other, Steph and Dom Parker quickly proved to be nothing short of TV gold on Channel 4's Gogglebox.
Taking to their famous yellow sofa, the Kent B&B owners (or the 'P****d Posh Couple' as they branded themselves) left viewers in stitches with their banter and witty critiques of the week's biggest and best telly.
But now, more than two years since their last appearance on the reality show, the husband-and-wife duo, who have since gone on to host their own radio show, are about to reveal a whole new side to them, one they've opted to keep out of the limelight until now.
Steph And Dom: Can Cannabis Save Our Son? is a film that charts their battle to help their 18-year-old son Max, who suffers from severe epilepsy and autism.
In recent months the pair have been given new hope with the increasingly effective use of medical marijuana/CBD being shown to control or even eliminate the deadly seizures which blight Max's life. But they, just like thousands of other UK families, are currently being refused this treatment.
Simply, it was time to find out more, explains Dom.
"We've known about [medicinal cannabis] for about eight to 10 years," begins the 54-year-old. "But what it needs is somebody to go and do a bit of investigation on it, to find out why the government are so scared."
The insightful documentary follows Steph, Dom and their two children, Max and 15-year-old daughter Honor, at home and on their travels across the UK and the US to meet other families who have been prescribed cannabis oil.
But considering this is the first time the Parkers have publicly documented their son's condition, the decision to make the film wasn't taken lightly.
"We thought, 'Well, hang on a moment. That's exposing our private lives, which we've strived very hard to keep private, for our children's sake'," Dom recalls.
"So we thought about it for about 48 hours; and we felt if there was one good thing that could possibly come out of Max's suffering and his disability over all these years, then perhaps this is the reason he was given to us.
"The combination of time, our notoriety, his condition, his age, the product coming to the market, the fact it's all over the press..." he continues. "If this is Max's legacy, that we have helped pushed this along, and saved one life or improved one life, then all that he's been through, and we've been through, will be worthwhile.
"And actually, it would be wrong not to do it."
Having been diagnosed with 'infant spasms' when he was just four months old, Max was initially given daily injections to cure his condition. But his seizures started again when he was four.
So severe have his episodes been since, he now has a mental age of six; and as Steph explains in the film, his family face the heartbreaking truth that his disability is indeed life threatening.
Do the family believe cannabis may be the antidote they've been waiting for?
"For us, personally, we don't expect this to be the cure-all or anything like that for Max," Dom explains. "We think it's too late for him. I would love to be disappointed on that front, but we're pretty sure the damage to his brain has been done, either by the epilepsy or the drugs he's been on."
"[But] we hope it might reduce his seizures. And if it does, then that will be an utter bonus, because if it reduces his seizures, then it reduces the chance of his dying from sudden unexplained death and epilepsy."
One stand-out moment in the film is the Parker's meeting with Billy Caldwell, the Castlederg boy who made headline news in Britain and Ireland after his medicinal cannabis oil was confiscated after his return from Canada, and his mother, Charlotte.
"The bit that smacked us about the face was [seeing Billy cuddle his mum]," he admits. "It's probably all that we're hoping for, for Max, because I know he really doesn't like to be touched. So if I want to cuddle my son, I've got to go, 'Max, give daddy a hug. Quick hug, quick hug, squeeze,' and it's over. He'll back off.
"Steph has had one hug in her life from him," he continues, his voice breaking with emotion. "So we both understood exactly the benefits of the drug, even if it was just that. So that was the moment."
It must be frustrating then, that cannabis, a potential helper, isn't necessarily within reach.
"When you understand living with epilepsy, then you probably start to look at the medication in a slightly different way," says Dom.
"And when you realise that your child is taking some severely mind-altering drugs, drugs that you can sell on the streets of London for quite a lot of money, and they're looking to give you an oil which is basically a stinging nettle without the sting in it, you would sit there and go, 'For God's sake, give it to the child!'
"What difference does it make even if he does get a bit high?" he cries. "Look at the quality of his life!"
How do they keep smiling through the hardships? Humour, Steph suggests. And Dom agrees.
"It's an exceedingly good medicine for everything, even if you're not sick," he says. "Max has a great sense of humour, Honor has a great sense of humour, and as a tiny little family of four, we have a lot of laughs together," he quips.
"And as I keep saying, 'If the good Lord gives you lemons, make brandy sours! You can't spend all your life moping about, otherwise I would have shot myself a long time ago!"
:: Steph And Dom: Can Cannabis Save Our Son? airs on Channel 4 on Monday, January 28.