'This is the happiest I have been in a really long time'
Casualty star Lee Mead tells Gabrielle Fagan how his love for his five-year-old daughter still connects him with ex-partner Denise van Outen
Moving on is rarely easy after the emotional trauma of a break-up, but Lee Mead’s happy to reveal that two and a half years on from the end of his marriage to Denise van Outen, he’s finally ready to look for love again.
“Getting through the divorce was painful of course. I don’t want to go into detail, because it’s personal, but like any split, it was hard and you need time to just find yourself again and I think I’ve done that now,” declares the 34-year-old actor, who’s currently playing nurse Ben ‘Lofty’ Chiltern in Casualty on BBC One.
He’s previously admitted that when he initially got the role in 2013 — just two months after the couple announced the end of their four-year marriage — the programme’s demanding schedule helped distract him from the turmoil. “It was a great help that often we were filming 12 hours a day, as it kept me busy,” he said.
Admirably, he and actress and TV presenter van Outen apparently avoided acrimony and, after what he calls a “transition period”, the couple who divorced last year, have stayed friends. They co-parent their five-year-old daughter, Betsy, and even reportedly holidayed together recently.
“We have a beautiful daughter, she’ll always be a marvellous connection between us, and I’m very close to her mum,” he explains. “No-one wants to go through divorce, but sadly it happens. It’s hard, but you have to put the issues of why you split aside, so you can put your child first. Above all, we both adore Betsy and want to make sure we give her the best in life.”
There’s a sense that everything’s in harmony, both personally and professionally, for Mead, who has just bought a flat overlooking the beach in his home town, Southend-on-Sea in Essex.
“I can honestly say this is the happiest I’ve been in a long time and I feel ready to share my life with someone again,” he says. Van Outen (41) has found new romance with Eddie Boxshall, a 42-year-old commodities trader from Essex, who she’s dated since summer 2014.
“It’s wonderful to have a lovely home by the sea where I can bring Betsy and which is near my parents. Putting down roots again and being in an area where I grew up feels really good. I’m pleased too that Denise is happy. Eddie’s a really nice guy and I like to think that Denise would like me to meet someone and be happy too.” They first met when she was a judge on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s talent show, Any Dream Will Do in 2007, which Mead won.
Mead went on to play the title role in Webber’s revival of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and has since starred in Wicked, Legally Blonde: The Musical and The West End Men.
“Some people can move on very quickly after a split, but we’re all different and for me, it’s taken this length of time,” he explains. “For a long time I’ve focused on being a parent, as fatherhood means everything to me — it’s my priority as well as a joy — and working and just giving myself time to heal.
“I don’t know whether mending a broken heart is the right description, but going through the emotions is certainly a process, and for us it was also played out in public in the media. That was difficult.”
Currently on a break from Casualty (he’ll return next year), Mead recently toured with his latest album, Some Enchanted Evening, and is back on the road with it in October. In May, he will play eccentric inventor, Dr Caractacus Potts in Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang in a six-month touring production.
“Betsy is so excited that I’m going to be in Chitty because I’ve told her she can drive the car,” he says. “Although it might confuse her a little as I have to keep reminding her I’m not a nurse in real life because of Lofty!
“I ring her every day and spend as much time with her as I can, usually at weekends and when I’m on breaks from filming, I love doing the school run. She loves singing, especially if she’s with her friends, but it’s too early to tell if she’ll follow in her parents’ footsteps. All we want is for her to be happy and do what she loves when she grows up.”
Mead takes well-justified pride in his success since his Any Dream Will Do win. “The thing about talent shows is that nine times out of 10, winners and runners up vanish without trace after a couple of years. My biggest fear was that I’d have a moment as Joseph and then get forgotten and not work again,” he confides.
“But I’ve worked really hard, often doing two or three jobs at once, and although I’m quite a humble guy, I’m proud that it’ll be 10 years next year since winning, and in that time I’ve built a solid career.
“Playing Lofty is amazing and the public just seem to have connected with him. In the past, people greeted me with, ‘Hi Lee’ or, ‘Hi Joseph’, but nowadays it’s always, ‘Hello Lofty’ which I take as a real compliment.”
Sharing his own time with someone special is next on his ‘to-do’ list, but Mead insists he won’t “rush into anything” and unashamedly describes himself as “an old-fashioned romantic.”
“I believe in what’s often regarded today as ‘uncool’ chivalry and manners. I absolutely adore and love women - most of my closest friends are women,” he says.
Reflecting on his past, he vows he has “had some hard moments, but I have no regrets. I think everything happens for a reason and you can learn from every experience. It’s important that the next person I meet shares my values, because if you don’t share those things, it can be an issue.”
Lee Mead’s Some Enchanted Evening album, featuring interpretations of romantic songs from the golden age of Hollywood musicals, is available on Amazon and iTunes.