Mistaken identity has been at the heart of romantic drama since Shakespeare was holding a quill and, judging by the joy on Emilia Fox’s face, it’s still a hot plot today. When the actress first met her new partner he thought the woman expertly debating psychopaths and serial killers on a true-crime podcast must be an armchair detective.
But no, it was the Silent Witness star drawing on expertise she’s acquired during her 18 years playing forensic pathologist Nikki Alexander.
One proper introduction, one Thameside dog walk and one homemade supper of spaghetti carbonara later, the couple were falling head over heels and contemplating a future together. It had taken just three weeks.
‘We both knew something had changed from that moment on,’ says Emilia, 47, of her first date with TV production company boss Jonathan Stadlen, 44. ‘It’s something you could only hope would happen.
Emilia Fox, 47, (pictured) speaks about her relationship with TV production company boss Jonathan Stadlen, 44. The Silent Witness star explains how it nearly all went wrong after their first meeting when she mistook what Jonathan meant by rowing
‘I did hope. Of course I hoped. But you don’t know. And yet it is real. It’s this!
‘It makes the very ordinary bits of life feel like the most extraordinary. I’m the luckiest girl in the whole world. He is an incredible man.’
They’re not engaged but she confirms they are ‘sort of living together’, switching between their respective west London homes. And, as they celebrate their first anniversary together, Emilia is unafraid to be open about their plans for the future.
‘It’s a life-changing thing when you fall in love like this, and I look forward to a day-by-day lifetime of discovery with him. You can never say for definite, but I feel so hopeful. There has been no doubt or hesitation.’
Emilia pictured here with Jonathan. With Stadlen, she hopes she’s found something enduring. They’ve come a long way since the day Jonathan, who runs independent TV production company Knickerbockerglory, turned up to watch Emilia record her podcast If It Bleeds
Their dogs even get on. Emilia’s two long-haired miniature dachshunds, Dolly and Clive, have blended into a pack with Jonathan’s Jackapoo, Sailor. ‘Miracle of all miracles,’ Emilia sighs happily, ‘the dogs like each other too.’
Goodness. For a woman who’s done her damnedest to keep her life as a single mother to daughter Rose, 11, on an even keel, these are bold sentiments.
But she’s so relaxed about her relationship she’s even happy to share the story of how it almost all went wrong after that first meeting. ‘He said, ‘Would you like to come for a walk? Or would you like to go rowing?’ And I was like, ‘Rowing? ‘ I thought he meant professional rowing, with a scull.
‘And I’d just had a hernia operation. I was thinking, ‘No, I definitely can’t do rowing, that will be verrry disastrous.’
Relationships can end, not because anyone has done wrong, but because it’s not meant to be forever
She tells the story with an actor’s comic timing, in the mellifluous voice that makes her a soughtafter narrator of audio books ranging from Agatha Christie mysteries to Peter Rabbit. ‘So we went for a walk. Then we had supper together. And then that was cool. Yeah…’ and she grins a big foxy grin.
She’s equally cheerful about her work. The 25th series of Silent Witness is about to launch and she’s already busy filming the 26th, ensuring the show keeps its crown as the longest-running crime drama currently airing anywhere in the world.
The forthcoming series is going to be a headline-grabber for two reasons. First, it sees the return of Amanda Burton as Professor Sam Ryan, the forensic pathologist around whom Silent Witness was created back in 1996.
(So long ago it was the year of Dolly the Sheep, the Spice Girls’ debut and Diana and Charles were about to finalise their divorce.) Second, in this series Nikki seems set to have a love affair with her friend and Lyell Centre lab colleague Jack Hodgson, with whom she’s been flirting since his arrival almost a decade ago.
Emilia in the new series of Silent Witness. The 25th series of Silent Witness is about to launch and she’s already busy filming the 26th, ensuring the show keeps its crown as the longest-running crime drama currently airing anywhere in the world
Series 24 ended with a kiss between Nikki and Jack (played by Northern Irish actor David Caves) which caused a fan frenzy on social media. Emilia’s staying quiet about what happens next, but the opening episode of the new series sees them, ahem, heading into a hotel room together.
‘It’s interesting when a friendship turns into a relationship. There’s a sweet awkwardness to it,’ she admits.
‘So, I wonder, are intimacy coaches such as those who supervised the sex scenes on Normal People and Bridger ton at work on the venerable Silent Witness too?
LAURENCE WILL ALWAYS BE FAMILY
One of Emilia’s cousins is actor Laurence Fox. He made his name in the Morse spin-off Lewis but is now a controversial and outspoken right-wing political activist, and seems to be perpetually involved in some social media ding-dong.
Asked about this pivot away from acting, Emilia says, ‘Laurence is my cousin. We are family.
‘I don’t want to ignore that. Everyone has different opinions, that doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything.
‘Whatever he chooses to do in his career doesn’t affect the way I feel about him as a family member and I think it’s important to make that distinction.’ It’s an elegant answer, managing to be both non-critical and non-committal.
One of Emilia’s cousins is actor Laurence Fox (pictured)
‘Emilia’s a nswer is deeply revealing, demonstrating just how far the TV industry has evolved in these post-MeToo years.
‘There was an intimacy coach on set for the first time, but not for Cavesy and me because we know each other so well, and can communicate with each other. There was one for the actors doing the post-mortems.’
(She means playing the cadavers.) ‘It’s a very, very vulnerable position, being in a studio on a mortuary slab with lots of people walking around you.
‘It felt like a respectful thing to introduce. We’ve always used modesty cloths but it’s nice that actors are asked how they feel, having a crew around them.
‘The label ‘intimacy coach’, we associate it with people doing sex scenes, but it’s just as exposing when you have to show bits of your body. I know. I’ve experienced it.
‘When you’re lying in the middle of nowhere and half your clothes have been shredded, it’s nice to feel there are people who care.’
Emilia is quick to say she’s never felt vulnerable in any of her roles. ‘I’ve managed to get by, I’ve been fortunate.
‘I can see if it’s not respectful, how wrong that can feel. And I think we’re catching up in this business, trying to look after people better.’
It’s not just in the hiring of intimacy coaches that Silent Witness – now more than 200 episodes old – is uber-modern. The explosive opening of series 25 examines a Covid-era issue, health passports and the pricelessness of a nation’s health data.
It’s barely been rolling a quarter of an hour before Jack asks Nikki, ‘Something smells off, are we being had?’ You can smell the coming conspiracy.
The 2022 version of Sam Ryan, Silent Witness’s most famous alumnus but absent from our screens since 2004, has whiteblonde hair, an expensive dark suit and bold red lipstick. The message is clear: she’s gone from lab to boardroom and is prospecting in the goldmine of personal health records.
Like a dead body on Nikki Alexander’s slab, she won’t be yielding her secrets without a bit of detective work.
Emilia and Amanda have never appeared in Silent Witness together before but they do have an odd family connection – Amanda once played Emilia’s brother Freddie’s mother in another crime series, ITV’s White House Farm in 2020. It’s a reminder of the reach of the Fox acting dynasty.
Emilia is the daughter of actors Edward Fox (The Day Of The Jackal and A Bridge Too Far) and Joanna David (Pride And Prejudice, Rebecca). Freddie is an acclaimed stage actor and starred as Mark Thatcher in The Crown.
Emilia’s uncles are the actor James Fox and theatre and film producer Robert Fox, and she has cousins who act.
Emilia married into another acting family when she wed Jared Harris (son of Richard Harris) in 2005. They separated three years later before divorcing in 2010.
Rose’s father is the actor, film-maker and peace campaigner Jeremy Gilley, Emilia’s partner from 2009 until 2011. There was also an on-off relationship with chef Marco Pierre White from 2012 to 2016.
Now, with Stadlen, she hopes she’s found something enduring. They’ve come a long way since the day Jonathan, who runs independent TV production company Knickerbockerglory, turned up to watch Emilia record her podcast If It Bleeds, It Leads with criminologist Professor David Wilson, while researching a new project of his own.
Therapy is my mental exercise, just like I care for my body. It’s dealing with work, with history, with childhood…
Being in a relationship with someone who understands her industry without the complication of being on the red carpet himself clearly seems to work. And Emilia has also found a deep joy in the blurring of their families, introducing her own child to his three teenagers.
‘I think it’s interesting for kids that they have to take on a whole other family,’ she reflects. ‘You have to make sure it’s done in the best way, but Jonathan’s children couldn’t have been more kind and welcoming to Rose and me.
‘Rose adores Jonathan and I find it enormously helpful. To see the reflection of another parent close and alongside you, well, you learn all sorts of things and it’s lovely to feel supported from within the house, to have advice, someone to talk to.
‘Being able to discuss what’s ahead of me in the teenage years!’ She cites her partner’s experience of looking at senior schools for his own children, a quandary currently facing her and Rose, by way of practical example.
‘I don’t think I’ll ever cut a matriarchal figure and I certainly wouldn’t want his children to feel that I was in that role,’ she goes on. ‘I am alongside, I am supportive.
‘They have their wonderful mum and their amazing dad and I’m running beside that in the same way that Jonathan is not a father to Rose, she has her dad. Luckily, I think there’s a very mutual understanding of that.’
Emilia has also come to rely on her boyfriend’s support as she navigates mid-life in a business that imposes near-impossible demands on older women. ‘This is an industry that looks at you up close and personal in every aspect of your life.
‘It’s very judgmental. People are assessing what you look like, what you’re wearing, what you’re in, whether that’s successful or not successful, when I’d just like to feel happy about getting older.
‘Jonathan says getting older naturally is the most beautiful way. That’s what he likes and it’s very confidence-giving.
‘I’ve always wished they could find a way of sort of ironing one’s face. Look at me – if I’d had a full-on facelift, I’d be asking what went wrong.’
Not really. Today she’s lit by happiness as well as being blessed by those Fox family genes.
She made a commitment to physical exercise four years ago and has been taking care of her mental health since long before it was fashionable. ‘Therapy is my mental exercise, just like I care for my body.
Emilia made a commitment to physical exercise four years ago and has been taking care of her mental health since long before it was fashionable
‘It’s dealing with history, with childhood, with work. I’ve done all sorts of 360-degree looking at my world, my life, my parenting.’
She credits it too with creating the context for her new relationship. ‘There is nothing wrong with relationships not working out.
‘They can end, not because either one of you has done something wrong, but because it’s not meant to be forever. That’s OK. But it’s very helpful to find out what you’re looking for.’
She means how you recognise ‘The One’ if he shows up when you’re least expecting him, another centuries old trope of romantic drama. As for Jonathan, he didn’t recognise Emilia because he’d never seen Silent Witness. ‘
And I still fell for him,’ she jokes. ‘Actually I think that’s exactly why I fell for him.
‘I’m glad he’s never seen a single episode and I really hope he doesn’t because he knows me for me, not who I am on screen, for a character I’m playing.
‘He’s proud of the work I do, I know he is because he tells me. But it means more to me that he’s known me for myself, every step of the way.’
- Silent Witness returns on Monday at 9pm on BBC1