I’m no longer Jack the lad: Early nights, his first dog, a baby on the way… Jack Whitehall reveals why he’s glad he’s left his roguish past behind
- Jack Whitehall reveals how cavapoo Coco has prepared him for parenthood
- READ MORE: Jack Whitehall is set to become a father for the first time as girlfriend Roxy Horner announces she is expecting a baby following tragic miscarriage
As many parents will testify, guilt often comes with the territory when you have children, but even so, Jack Whitehall’s feeling it early.
‘I do feel bad. The baby hasn’t even been born yet, and it’s going to be a punchline before it’s even entered this world,’ he muses.
The news that Jack is set to become a father emerged last month when he and Roxy Horner, his 31-year-old model girlfriend of three years, announced her pregnancy on social media.
In a feat of immaculate comic timing, it came as he embarks on his new stand-up tour – aptly called Settle Down – in which Jack, 34, addresses his drift towards what he calls the ‘grown-up’ business of a life partner, a mortgage and a dog, the latter an adorable cavapoo called Coco he and Roxy adopted in 2021 and with whom he’s quite clearly smitten.
‘I was not a dog person, then we got this dog and I love and care for this dog so much, it’s ridiculous,’ he reveals.
Jack Whitehall, 34, (pictured with cavapoo Coco) will become a father for the first time in September. The news coincided with the start of his new stand-up tour, aptly titled, Settle Down
‘It brought me round to the realisation that maybe I’m ready to have a kid, even though having a kid I imagine is going to be considerably harder than having a dog that is a glorified accessory.’
He’s certainly about to find out: September’s arrival will bring a new frontier of responsibility for a comedian and actor whose self-professed comic schtick is, as he puts it today, ‘foppish man-child’.
Little wonder he’s in equal parts excited and daunted. ‘There’s the fear of taking on that amount of responsibility and whether you’re going to be up to it,’ he says.
‘Equally I’m really looking forward to having someone else in my life that’s the sole focus of it and will put everything else in perspective. I’m flitting between all of these different emotions on a daily basis. It’s incredibly exciting.’
Baby news was still some way off when he first started writing the tour, and he admits to a degree of ambivalence about talking about this new life chapter on stage.
‘I am a bit torn,’ he confides. ‘Though I’ll probably let some stuff slip. When you’re a comedian, whatever the great or traumatic moments in your life, after a while you start thinking, “Oh well, that’s new material.”’
Either way, the show was already a farewell to youth from a man who admits that some of the clichés of middle age – early nights, just the one sensible glass of wine, using coasters – have crept up on him.
‘There’s a little bit of connective tissue to some of the previous shows I’ve done, anecdotes of drunken high jinks and all that.
Jack says having Coco brought him round to the realisation that he was ready to have a child, but he’s not expecting fatherhood to be a walk in the park
‘But this is a show where I’m closing a chapter on that period of misadventure and being self-aware of that as well – that those stories, as you get a little bit older, become a little bit tragic.’
Misadventure is probably a bit strong, even if his 15-year career in the public eye has attracted the odd tabloid headline, from the almost obligatory cocaine scandal (he was pictured taking the drug on a night out in Manchester in 2010, later calling it a ‘stupid thing to do’) to a crass gag about the late Queen catching a urinary infection two years later.
Then again, you forget how young he was when he started out: he was only 19 when he started performing stand-up at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and just shy of his 20th birthday when he presented the first week of Big Brother’s Big Mouth back in 2008, launching a TV career that’s included playing pompous trust funder JP in Channel 4’s Fresh Meat, teacher Alfie Wickers in his self-penned Bad Education and bookish Barnaby Walker in Bounty Hunters.
It’s a prolific CV, but he admits to some regrets about his earlier material. ‘There are routines I look back on that make me cringe a bit, and that’s not the type of comedy I want to be remembered for,’ he says.
‘I think I got put on TV far too soon. I didn’t really know who I was as a person, let alone as a stand-up comedian.
‘I hadn’t really worked out the parameters of what I wanted to be putting out there into the world. I was doing a lot of that growing up when I was on television too.’
Ironically, he knew what he didn’t want to be seen as – the former public school boy with impeccable upper-middle-class credentials that he is.
The eldest of three children, Jack was raised in leafy southwest London by theatrical agent and TV producer Michael and his actor wife Hilary, who are now enjoying no small success of their own, courtesy of their much-loved podcast The Wittering Whitehalls.
Jack’s girlfriend, model Roxy Horner, 31, announced her pregnancy on social media in May. The pair met in Australia three years ago, but their relationship didn’t get off to the best start when Jack took the vegan model to a Chinese restaurant decorated with dead ducks for their first date
Michael’s clients have included Daniel Day-Lewis and Judi Dench, and what Jack wryly calls his ‘thesp-adjacent’ childhood involved the appointment of Nigel Havers and the late Richard Griffiths as his godfathers, the former popping into the hospital shortly after Jack had come into the world, clad – naturally – in a dinner jacket.
‘He was handed some gloves, because the gynaecologist thought he was the father.’
Jack admits it took him a long time to embrace his background. He was educated first at London prep school Tower House, alongside Twilight star Robert Pattinson (for years, Jack would joke about his resentment at Pattinson getting all the best roles in the school plays), then Marlborough College, the alma mater of Catherine, Princess of Wales, although they didn’t cross over.
But on stage he tried fervently to conceal this privileged upbringing, adopting anything from what he calls ‘sub-Danny Dyer Mockney’ to the persona of a beat poet called Jasper.
‘I tried lots of different guises, mainly because I was desperate not to expose myself as a public school boy,’ he says. ‘The pivotal moment in my career, as a comedian, was when I realised that the way to unlock it was to just own it and send it up.’
The comedy climate is arguably far more sensitive these days, and he says he’s warier now when writing material.
‘I do interrogate my jokes more, but that’s not necessarily a result of the times we live in as much as the fact that I’m a bit more mature; I don’t want to write jokes that are going to age badly, and I don’t want to punch down.
‘The thing that allows me to rest easier is that I’m not particularly a shock comic and I don’t do much on politics or culture wars.’
Jack says that he thinks more about his jokes these days, but he doesn’t put it down to the times we live in so much as the fact that he’s more mature than when he started out aged 19
Alas, there’s not much he can do about his dad, whose joyfully unfiltered take on the world was demonstrated in their hit TV series Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father. Now Michael’s got his own podcast, in which taking the mickey out of his children comes with the territory (in one episode, Jack’s mum reveals she used to sneak his girlfriends out of the house to avoid his dad’s scrutiny. ‘A lot of girls,’ adds Michael wryly).
‘If I get cancelled it’s probably going to be something that comes out of his mouth, not mine,’ says Jack.
‘I’ve unwittingly tethered myself to a man who is essentially a human hand grenade and he’s careering around the breakfast TV circuit with no self-censorship whatsoever.’
This is all said with love: the Whitehalls are an incredibly close family, and the senior branch are ‘over the moon’ about becoming grandparents again (Jack’s younger sister Molly has a two-year-old daughter, Peggy).
‘It definitely came into the decision of when to have children,’ Jack says. ‘Thinking we don’t want to wait too long, because we want grandparents there.
‘My dad left it very late in life to have kids, and I’d always thought I would be like him. But then I met the right person and knew that Roxy would be a wonderful mum. Things change and your attitude changes.’
Jack has certainly had his share of high-profile romances. After his six-year relationship with his Fresh Meat co-star Gemma Chan ended amicably, he had rumoured dalliances with TV presenter Kirsty Gallacher, actor Kate Beckinsale and pop star Dua Lipa.
It’s quite the romantic CV, although since he met Roxy in early 2020 while touring in Australia, those Romeo days are behind him.
Even though Jack has won Hollywood acting roles, including the part of a young father in the 2016 film Mother’s Day with Julia Roberts, he says stand-up remains his first love
After an inauspicious first date – he took the vegan model to a Chinese restaurant decorated with dead ducks – the two seem blissfully happy.
Their time together has not been without its troubles: Roxy suffered the heartbreak of a miscarriage last year, and she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a lifelong condition, after dramatically collapsing at the 2021 Brit Awards.
The pair ended the night in A&E, which Jack, in typically dry style, now describes as ‘making for a different vibe of after party’.
Jokes aside, it’s clear he feels fiercely protective of her. ‘She’s such a trouper,’ he says. ‘She’s had to adjust her life, but she’s been amazing. And with the pregnancy it’s even more difficult.’
Roxy is the one person who has power of veto over his material. ‘I let her know if I’m doing a story about us or being indiscreet about our relationship in any way,’ he says.
‘Although sometimes I like to try a joke out in a venue first to see if it gets a laugh before I run it by her, which is maybe a bit naughty.’
He says stand-up remains his first love, even though he’s done pretty major big-ticket items elsewhere. He hosted the Brit Awards for four years, but stepped back last year saying he didn’t want to outstay his welcome.
‘I had a lot of fun, but towards the end it did feel a bit like diminishing returns in terms of getting away with it and not upsetting too many people – other than some of the fans of Little Mix.’
Jack joked that part of the reason he has grown his hair long in the style of one of his heroes, the late actor Alan Rickman, is because he’s keen to be cast as a villain
That’s a reference to a crude joke he made about the girl band’s appeal to fathers while hosting the 2019 event. It led to a social media pile-on by the group’s fans.
‘Don’t upset the Mixers is what I learned from that,’ he says. ‘They are very vociferous.’
Hollywood has beckoned too: in 2021 he appeared in family comedy Clifford The Big Red Dog and he stars alongside Big Little Lies’ Shailene Woodley in futuristic romcom Robots, which arrives on Prime Video on 7 July.
But Shailene isn’t the first big-name leading lady Jack’s shared the screen with: in his first Hollywood role, playing a young father in the 2016 film Mother’s Day, he acted with Julia Roberts.
The movie was the last from veteran filmmaker Gerry Marshall, creator of Happy Days, who died shortly after filming.
‘He gave me this wonderful pep talk and told me he had a tradition where he’d sign a dollar bill and give it to the actor before their first close-up,’ Jack says.
‘He’d done that since Happy Days. Julia Roberts was there and she talked about when she got her first dollar bill and how she still has it. I’ve got mine in my office at home.’
While he appreciates his stints in LA, he says he couldn’t live there long-term. ‘I prefer being able to dip in and out. I miss my home comforts, the draw of my family.
‘And I miss weird things too… pints at 5pm on a Tuesday, Nando’s, seasons. I even miss The One Show; the soothing calm of watching Alex Jones introduce a segment on the menopause.
‘I love the way Brits cut you down to size too. The last time I came back to Heathrow the guy at border control said to me, “What’s with the hair?”’
The hair in question is certainly much longer than usual, sprouting from under his baseball cap.
‘Part of the reason I’ve grown it out is because I really want to play a villain,’ he says.
‘One of my heroes is Alan Rickman and so I thought if I look like him in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, someone might see it and think they could have me playing the bad guy doing a really over-the-top Eastern European accent.’
There are more pressing issues at hand, though. He has yet to learn to drive, and with a baby imminent the pressure is ratcheting up. ‘I’ve been putting it off for so long,’ he says.
He gets ready to leave, at which point I ask if he knows whether he’s having a boy or a girl. He does – but he’s not about to tell anyone. ‘There must be the odd thing I keep sacred,’ he says with a smile.
- Jack is touring the UK now with his stand-up show Settle Down. Tickets: www.jackwhitehall.com.
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