Emilia Fox: ‘I am weirdly obsessed with cleaning products’

The actor, 42, on being part of an acting dynasty, what makes her angry and why she finds painting garden furniture so satisfying

I’ve played Dr Nikki Alexander in Silent Witness for so long I could have trained to be an actual pathologist by now. After viewing my first autopsy I thought: “Is this what it’s all about?” You end up on a slab with people you don’t know looking, literally, inside you.

Growing up I had no idea people saw the acting profession with bright lights around it. My parents [actors Edward Fox and Joanna David] are down to earth, private people, but others expected us to live a lifestyle seen in magazines. Friends were very disappointed when they came to visit.

I was a fish out of water at secondary school in London. I was playing the cello and getting picked up by my mum while other girls were at the bus stop with their skirts hitched up, going clubbing.

Three things make me angry. People who moan. People who are lazy. And people with bad manners. My grandmother always said: “Manners maketh man.” I slightly rolled my eyes at the time, but she was right.

I had no burning desire to be an actress. I just enjoyed doing plays as a hobby. While studying at Oxford I got a part in the TV series Pride and Prejudice as Georgiana, Mr Darcy’s sister. It seemed nicer than waitressing. I can remember talking to Colin Firth about the books I was studying.

I put an unhealthy amount of pressure on myself academically. My parents gave me love and stability in my education and I was trying to say thank you. When I got offered another part, in the TV series Rebecca, I was just relieved I had now found a way to earn a living.

My daughter Rose teaches me to live in the present. Children don’t live in the future or the past. They live in the absolute now. The more times you put away whatever is distracting you, the better it is for both of you.

Nobody can wear a suit like my dad. He still wears the same clothes he wore for The Day of the Jackal and Edward and Mrs Simpson. He thinks a man should wear a proper suit on a walk to the post box.

I am thrilled to be a working mother. I think less about being a single parent [her relationship with Rose’s father, the peace activist Jeremy Gilley, ended in 2011] and more about being a working parent. I hope Rose will one day think it was good to have a working mum.

I tend to get everything in order in the house except my own existence, which is chaotic – whether that be piles of paperwork or just climbing into bed at night and finding my clothes still lying there from two days earlier.

The simplest things in life make me happy. Eating pizza in the local pub. Painting my house. I am weirdly obsessed with cleaning products and vintage furniture, too. Painting the garden furniture is so satisfying.

I can’t bear the thought of saying goodbye. I am sure this is about being a parent. I have never come to terms with the emotional side of death.

Emilia Fox is an ambassador for this year’s Investec Derby. Visit investec.com/derbyfestival

Mark Bailey

The GuardianTramp

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