Belfast Telegraph

A happy husband on TV... but James Nesbitt blames work for the break-up of his marriage

BY MAUREEN COLEMAN

He is currently starring as the hapless but doting dad of four who keeps coming a cropper on holidays.

But the domestic bliss image James Nesbitt portrays in his series of Thomas Cook holidays ads is far from reality for the popular actor.

It came as no surprise to many when the 48-year-old Coleraine star confirmed the end of his 19 year marriage at the weekend.

He admitted the break-up came after the 'daunting' experience of uprooting his family to relocate to New Zealand to film The Hobbit.

Now it seems that the upheaval has been a contributory factor to the breakdown of a marriage which lasted almost two decades but also had its troubles.

Nesbitt split from his wife Sonia Forbes-Adam amid reports that his hectic work schedule and his move to the other side of the world to play Bofur in Peter Jackson's big budget movie were to blame for the split.

In an interview in 2011 Nesbitt said his family found the move to Wellington a huge struggle to begin with and that his two young daughters Peggy (16) and Mary (11) even accused him of ruining their lives.

After living in the capital city for four months, he said the girls had eventually settled and had grown to love the place. But he said it had been tough at the time.

"I mean, it's quite daunting, the move for the family for a year – but we've been made to feel so welcome," he said.

He added: "Kids at a certain age don't necessarily want to be dragged to the other side of the world."

A spokesman for the couple confirmed the split, saying: "James and Sonia are living separately and have been for some time. They are on the best of terms and ask that the family's privacy be respected."

A friend of the couple told a newspaper: "There have been no affairs or cheating. They simply made a rational decision to separate and have actually been living apart for quite a few months now.

"Obviously, their primary concern is for their children. Jimmy has moved out but is close by and sees the girls all the time."

Although the couple – who met on a world tour of Hamlet in 1989 – were married for almost 20 years, their relationship came under scrutiny when tabloid reports in 2002 alleged that the twinkly-eyed charmer had cheated on his wife. At the time, Nesbitt's fame was reaching a peak on the back of his Cold Feet success and he was beginning to branch out into movies.

First of all, a 22-year-old legal secretary claimed to have had a passionate fling with him, saying he'd spent £250 a week on cocaine, as well as claiming that he'd had an affair with Cold Feet co-star Kimberley Joseph. There were also rumours of an affair with a former Miss Ireland.

Speaking after the tabloid exposures, Nesbitt said: "It was never anything to do with my wife. Any time I did anything like that, there was drink involved.

"I don't think I did anything sober. When you suddenly become successful, the change is enormous, financially and in terms of recognition and the way people treat you. I found that hard to deal with. I just regret the hurt it caused my family."

He also paid tribute to the support she had shown him throughout their marriage and his acting career.

In a separate interview he said: "Sonia's always been there when I need it and she certainly did make sacrifices. She stopped acting when I got a lot of success. I thought that might create tension but she's been an enormous support.

"She's got her own life, which is the main thing, because constantly living in the shadow of a famous husband would be a nightmare.

"I've always been a family man and count myself as one of those who are lucky to have the comfort of a family."

Nesbitt is a popular figure in Northern Ireland where he is involved in charity work as well as acting initiatives. Although his married life saw him settle in England, as well as significant time working in New Zealand, Nesbitt is a regular visitor here.

During filming of The Hobbit, Nesbitt lost his mother May to Alzheimer's, returning to County Antrim for her funeral and to look after his father Jim. Speaking at a conference in Belfast attended by hundreds of the world's leading dementia doctors and scientists, he spoke of the traumatic impact of the illness and the relief of his mother's 'release'.

"As I flew back from New Zealand to bury my mother it occurred to me that no matter how harrowing her loss was and how keenly it will always be felt, there was, nevertheless, a sense of relief, that my father, sisters and I could say a final goodbye after the longest goodbye and relief that my mum had finally been released," he said.

"It is a shocking disease."

Nesbitt, who is chancellor of the University of Ulster, is also involved with the charity WAVE and is an ambassador for UNICEF.

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