Laurence Fox said his new album helped him cope with the split from his actress wife
He had viewers in stitches when he appeared on the celeb series of the Channel 4 show alongside his cousin Emilia Fox over the summer. Sitting on the sofa, he famously drooled over Nigella Lawson as they watched Nigella: At My Table and joked he wouldn’t mind doing the spaghetti game, inspired by Disney cartoon Lady and the Tramp, with the voluptuous TV chef. “People recognise me weirdly from Gogglebox nowadays,” chuckles the star. “I get a lot of Gogglebox attention, especially at the airport. This one guy came up to me, and I joked, ‘Which one of my great dramas do you want to discuss?’ and he said, ‘Nah, mate, you’re that bloke from Gogglebox’.”
The 41-year-old actor is in an ebullient mood having come straight from rehearsals for a forthcoming tour in support of his second album, A Grief Observed. He is tanned and refreshed after a week’s half-term holiday in Corfu with his sons Winston, 10, and Eugene, seven, and speaks happily about the challenges of parenting and getting over his divorce.
He shares custody of the boys with former wife, Billie Piper, and it is soon apparent Laurence has come through the worst of the bitter split.
The couple married on New Year’s Eve in 2007 and ended their eightyear marriage in 2016. They were granted a decree nisi on the grounds the marriage had “irretrievably broken down”. At the time, Laurence described the split as having “derailed” him and admitted the custody battle had caused panic attacks and insomnia.
He said: “For six months I found it hard to sleep. I was in therapy for a while and it helped me cope with feeling raw. ” But writing and recording his latest album, he says today, helped process the fallout from his divorce and find a more positive frame of mind. “The album is chronological. The first song I wrote three-and-half years ago when the divorce came through, to the last song, recorded just three weeks ago, and it charts the downs into the ups,” he explains.
“I was down and now I’m coming up again and I’m hoping I won’t have to do that down bit again – at least for a while. Divorce is hardcore… it is f***ing hardcore actually. At the time, I had that dazed look of ‘What the f*** just happened here?’ “I was only all right after about two years and the bit I found hardest is I don’t see my kids as much.”
Clearly a doting dad, Laurence admits: “In order to be a semi-decent parent, you have to know you’re not a very good parent and try to improve on your parenting.
Laurence with his ex-wife Billie Piper
“All of this namby-pamby parenting is a complete waste of time and the kids turn into spoiled brats. I try to restrict time on my kids’ devices because that tablet comedown is a killer. You think it’s doing you a favour but it’s just making them quiet.
Then you take it off them and they go mental. Modern schooling seems to be that ‘everyone gets a part’ and life isn’t like that. Not everyone gets a prize!” Laurence is determined not to send his sons to boarding school after he was expelled from Harrow, one of the most prestigious private schools. “I’m not sure what private schools have nowadays other than making good contacts,” he muses.
“I didn’t like being away from my family. It didn’t suit me but my eldest brother loved it and my little brother loved it.
“I was a complete brat as well. I got expelled, but they did let me back to take my A levels.”
Laurence is one of five siblings, the son of James Fox and his wife Mary, and thus part of a theatrical dynasty. His uncles are the actor Edward Fox and producer Robert Fox. His cousins are Emilia and Freddie Fox, both also actors.
His family, who live close together in south-east London, were key to surviving his divorce.
Laurence with his Inspector Lewis co-star Kevin Whateley
“My extended family are very together,” he says. “It was great to have that support network. You have to have someone to hold it all together for a bit. Everything is working for me now, though, and I feel very blessed.
“Even when you go through dark times and think, ‘God, this is the end of the world’, the world that replaces it is better than the one you were in. Nothing good comes without a bit of pain and it takes a while to go, ‘This is great’.” The dashing actor is involved in a new romance but is reluctant to divulge too many details.
“After what happened, it did put me off dating,” he says candidly. “I didn’t date anyone for a year. I tried once or twice but it didn’t work and then, after a year, it did and now I have a girlfriend.
“As a dad with kids, I get on better with women who have kids because life changes when you have them. I want to hang out with somebody who understands what it’s like to have zero sleep ever.”
Laurence admits it’s a fine balancing act looking after his boys, filming and recording his music but if he relies on one thing, it’s his trusty motorbike.
“I balance it with great difficulty but I have a motorbike for that sole reason to get me to and from work.
“When I was in a play in Bath, rather than see the inside of a Travelodge, I would dash home after the performance. The following morning I’d wake up, do the school run, have a nap, get back on the bike and drive to Bath.”
Laurence with cousin Emilia on Gogglebox
While this might sound a bit reckless, he admits his tempestuous streak has occasional got him in hot water.
“Filming can be a 12-hour day so yes, I like to keep people on their toes and play pranks,” he smiles.
“I can also be very direct. I was playing Charles de Gaulle in a play a few years ago and this heckler started shouting out that certain parts of the dialogue were historically inaccurate. It turned out he had a back operation and was really mashed on painkillers and had been drinking before he watched the play.”
Laurence told the audience he wouldn’t bother telling the story because the rude theatregoer had ruined it. Then stormed off stage.
He recalls: “I’m not hugely proud of my behaviour and it was about two days after I found out I was getting divorced, so I wasn’t in the perfect frame of mind.
However, I stand by it. I could have dealt with it better… but I could deal with most things better.”
Whenever Laurence doesn’t have his head in a script, he is either writing or recording music – and later this month will be seen presenting a gong at the National Lottery awards.
“Music is a massive passion of mine and so it’s never a chore,” he states simply. “You never know, I might be on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury next. You’ve got to keep plugging away, haven’t you? That’s what I’ve done in life and it’s served me well so far.”
A Grief Observed by Laurence Fox is out now