Billie Piper: ‘I Feel Like I Can Be Honest About Who I Am Now’

Billie Piper knows a thing or two about navigating the highs and lows of fame…

Billie Piper - Guy Lowndes for Grazia

by Paul Flynn |
Published on

It is now an astonishing 26 years since Billie Piper first appeared in public life, a teen-pop icon who, at 15, became the youngest debut British number-one singer in chart history. There is an affectionate corner of British culture that will be forever Piper’s. Whenever she smiles her big gobstopper smile it feels as familiar and recognisable as a close family member’s.

Today, she’s here to talk about Scoop, the forthcoming Netflix dramatisation of the Prince Andrew Newsnight 2019 interview fiasco, in which, should you need reminding, the eighth in line to the throne addressed his involvement with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein while being grilled by Emily Maitlis. ‘It’s not necessarily about Epstein,’ Piper clarifies. ‘It’s about the women who brought this moment to our screens and how fucking amazing they are.’

Piper stars as Sam McAlister, the former Newsnight interview booker who engineered one of the most toe-curling embodiments of bad PR in living memory. ‘What we saw is the car crash,’ she notes. ‘We never saw the journey to the car crash. And that’s what this is. It’s the moment-to-moment of how we got to this thing.’

Scoop will be another mass market moment for Piper in a career littered with them. ‘I obviously really loved the music days and the Doctor Who days,’ she says. But I feel like I’m most myself in my work now... I feel like I can be honest about who I am, what I feel, what I imagine, what kind of artistic person I am. I don’t want to hide that stuff.’

This was not always the case. ‘So much of my childhood famous years and then into Doctor Who was... be good, behave well, be a good role model, don’t say dark things, be sunny, don’t smoke, all that stuff.’ This was never who she was. ‘It didn’t align with where my thoughts were. My thoughts were way darker than that.’ She thought recently about picking up the Britney Spears autobiography. ‘But I couldn’t.’ All that “be a good person” stuff was just a way of saying, “Don’t be human.”’ She picks up. ‘There was a lot of “be a good girl”, particularly, that I really fucking struggled with.’

Billie Piper Grazia
Photo: Guy Lowndes. Billie wears Coat, £1,590, Stella McCartney; bralette, £175, and knickers, £195, both Cashmere In Love; ring, £535, 886 The Royal Mint.

For Piper, part of the appeal of Scoop was the Netflix factor. ‘I feel like it will get a lot of heat because of the subject matter,’ she says. ‘And because of Netflix’s huge reach. It’s nice to be on a show that people will watch.’ Prior to filming Scoop, at the start of 2023, Piper had been on an intense schedule, personally and professionally, co-writing and starring in two seasons of I Hate Suzie, writing and directing her first feature film, Rare Beasts, and having her third child. ‘I Hate Suzie is my passion. I couldn’t be more proud of a piece of work. And probably never will be. But not many people saw it. They didn’t. So, I’ll be interested to see what it looks like to have that access to viewers.’

She was particularly delighted with the memorable wig the costume department fashioned for her. ‘That wig was £11,000.’ Another perk of the Netflix dollar: budgets. ‘If there’s a bad wig in a drama it will take you out of it immediately. That’s an immediate pass for me.’

Piper got to know McAlister during the making of Scoop, a woman she describes as ‘the unsung hero in it, really. Maitlis obviously did a phenomenal job, but it was Sam who was hustling, ping-ponging between those two huge institutions, the BBC and Buckingham Palace.’

McAlister told Piper something astonishing during filming. ‘What was amazing to me, when we were talking to Sam in the research stages, was that [Prince Andrew] offered some of those answers in the pre-interview. So, he’d gone through it. It wasn’t like he was caught in the moment. He had thought those answers through. And they thought, well, that’s fucking gold, but he’s unlikely to say that in the interview. And then he fucking said it.’

On the royal family themselves, Piper remains ambivalent. She was partly brought up by a royalist grandma who’d take her to London from her home in Swindon to see the Trooping the Colour, ‘And I – god bless her soul – I hated all the royal events but it was my access to London.’

Like I Hate Suzie – at which Piper threw everything she’d learned about fame – Scoop unpicks the mechanisms of modern media. ‘It’s just been such a massive part of my life that I hard relate with it. And I am interested in it. Especially now. It feels different now: journalism, fame, entertainment. It feels frightening. And so broad. And the potential for it to go wrong is so great that there’s a lot of great drama in that. It’s serving up stories on a plate.’

Pop psychology might suggest she’s unpicking some of the tabloid encroachment that has made her own life so wildly familiar to audiences, from a precociously young age. ‘I mean, I sort of know a fair bit, historically, about what would go into exposing a celebrity. Because there was shitloads of it. I discovered that in the music industry until the early noughties. But [Prince Andrew] is someone who is accountable, so it feels slightly different.’

With no small irony, while promoting Scoop – a story purposefully making a point of centring women’s experiences – media attention shifted to one of her ex-husbands. This is ground she would understandably rather not re-tread. ‘I don’t want to talk about Laurence [Fox],’ she says.

Home for Piper is still London, but she thinks there may be change afoot. ‘I’ve just lived it very hard in London,’ she says with a smile. ‘I’ve really rinsed this town. This place will eat you if don’t make a change at some point. There’s always a fork in the road, at some point, with your life in London. And you have to make a choice with it. Are you going to let the city take you down or are you going to get out? Or make a change. I’ve got the kids, so it feels like a very different place from what it was.’

Motherhood is her biggest preoccupation. I ask if she thinks she’s a good mum. ‘Yeah, I do. I don’t think I’m perfect. I haven’t always felt like that. But it’s the one thing that’s the most important to me. I don’t know why that would be remarkable, but it felt like it’s the most important. I love my career. But it’s secondary.’

Turning 40 a couple of years ago didn’t bother Piper. ‘Not particularly.’ She likes the clashing combination of wisdom and resignation that ageing affords you. ‘I like resignation. I was on holiday recently with a group of friends, for a 50th, and there was no peacocking, for the first time. Our bodies had really changed and we’re all weathered in different ways. We’re so different from how we were in our twenties. There’s something kind of sad about that. But mostly really beautiful.’ And there’s that smile.

Stream ‘Scoop’ on Netflix from 5 April

Photographs: Guy Lowndes. Styling: Lucy Walker. Hair: John Macpherson using Davines. Make-up: Mona Leanne at The Wall Group using Tom Ford Beauty. Nails: Abena Robinson. Digital: Oscar Eckel. Lighting: Chester Lewis. Stylist’s Assistants: Gavi Weiss, Joey Yip. Style Intern: Frankie Martin.

Top image: Billie wears bralette, £175, and skirt, £295, both Cashmere In Love; necklace, £560, Rachel Boston

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