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'I am only squeamish in real life, not on TV'

Best known for her family connections and tumultuous love life, Emilia Fox is back with the 19th season of Silent Witness. She tells of drinking wee with Bear Grylls and her dream of writing a children's book

By Ella Walker

For someone who has played a pathologist on primetime television since 2004, Emilia Fox's threshold for all that is icky and bloody is strangely skewed.

"My mum had a really badly cut finger recently and has 21 stitches in it, and I simply can't look at that," she says with an embarrassed laugh, and yet, experiencing the process of post-mortems doesn't phase her in the least.

"It's a real eye-opener for why I think Silent Witness is so interesting," she muses. "You become so riveted by what the pathologists are doing, working through the body to find the cause of death, that it stops you from being squeamish.

"So I'm a mix of being quite squeamish in real life and not so squeamish at work!"

The 41-year-old actress, who has also starred in Merlin and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) is returning once again as Dr Nikki Alexander in the 19th season of the BBC crime drama.

This time around, the series opens with a psychological thriller that sees Nikki "thrust into her own personal nightmare", and in subsequent episodes will feature the fatal shooting of a teenager by armed police and raise questions over the fragile freedom of prisoners out on life licence.

"I think Silent Witness is strong at showing off the diversity of human nature," says Fox on the show's enduring appeal. "What's always kept me interested is that it's a crime show with a bit of a difference. I find it quite educational, the medical side of it."

As for her character, with the cases getting darker, "so does Nikki's internal world and she becomes completely isolated from the rest of the Lyell team", explains Fox. "As her work life begins to crumble, her personal life begins to crumble at the same time."

Off-screen, Fox's own personal world has often been in the spotlight, partly because, being the daughter of actress Joanna David and actor Edward Fox, she comes from a thespian dynasty.

Her uncle James Fox, and cousins Jack (Fresh Meat) and Laurence (aka DI Hathaway in Lewis), are all actors, and it is well documented that, as a child, Emilia remembers handing out sandwiches at one of her parents' parties with Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston.

Then there's her love life, which has seen its turbulent moments. She dated comedian Vic Reeves, fashion designer Toby Mott, married British actor Jared Harris, and is now in a relationship with celebrity bad boy chef, Marco Pierre White - although the relationship is not something she is willing to discuss.

What has remained stable is Fox's attachment to Silent Witness. It has dominated the last 11 years of her life, and, as a series, will celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2016. Can she imagine ever leaving the show?

"It's a very lucky thing to be able to say that I enjoy going to work, and while I still enjoy it, I would stay with it," she answers, carefully.

With Silent Witness taking up seven months of her year, she has the other five free "to do other things" and "stay stimulated".

At the beginning of 2015, that meant signing up to Bear Grylls: Mission Survive.

Fox, as well as singer Jamelia, former England rugby player Mike Tindall and her cousin Laurence, were dropped into the jungle and challenged to survive.

"It was an adventure and that was why I agreed to do it in the first place," says Fox. "It was an opportunity you rarely get in life, to do something completely different, to see the Costa Rican jungle. I also can't believe I jumped out of a helicopter!"

Not all of it was helicopters and beautiful scenery though - in one episode, Fox had to drink her own wee ...

"You just get on and do it," she says matter-of-factly. "It sort of helped being an actress. We get told to do things in stories and scripts that you wouldn't get asked to do in other walks of life. When it came to being on Bear Grylls and they were like, 'drink your own wee', it was like, ok, just get on with it."

Although both Fox family members got kicked out in week four (Emilia for a "negative attitude" and Laurence for "trench foot and acting rashly"), the actress has always been quite outdoorsy. She's a keen gardener and is committed to a healthy lifestyle.

"I would like to do much more exercise but I have a five-year-old to run after so that keeps me quite fit"

Fox's film career ratchets up with family weepy Mum's List, in which she plays Kate, a mother of two young boys who is dying from breast cancer, opposite rising star Rafe Spall.

"That's a very, very special film," she gushes, explaining that it's based on a true story and the best-selling book by St John (Singe) Greene. "It was just an absolute joy to film. It's a very emotional story obviously because the family are still very much with us. And being a mother myself, it was emotionally challenging."

Fox has a daughter, Rose, now five, from a brief relationship with actor Jeremy Gilley. The pair split up in 2011, shortly after Rose's birth.

"It was very easy to access those emotions because putting oneself in that position, having children myself, I found it very easy to feel what I think (Kate) must have felt," says Fox quietly.

Not all her work is as upsetting. She's currently working on a documentary on Victorian botanist Marianne North, and is starring in The Carer alongside Anna Chancellor and Brian Cox. She also has high hopes of penning a children's book too.

"Having a small child, it's so much a part of our routine, reading at night before bed, it's something I'd love to get into more," she says passionately. "That's something that I really, really want to do with my life."

Watch this space.

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