When teen pop sensation Billie Piper married TV and radio star Chris Evans, 17 years her senior, many feared it was the beginning of the end.
Billie – then just 18 – had found instant fame at 15 as the youngest ever singer to enter the charts at No1 with her debut single Because We Want To, in 1998.
Her success, and the punishing schedule that came with it, had led to a mental health battle and an eating disorder.
She once admitted collapsing after living on “just Diet Coke and Marlboro Lights” for days.
And her relationship with Virgin Radio breakfast DJ Evans, then 35, had developed in a whirl of parties and lengthy drinking sessions.
But while the marriage that took place 20 years ago this month may be long over, Billie definitely is not.
Instead, her trajectory took her from pop into a successful acting career – culminating in Rare Beasts, a film out this month which Billie, now 38, wrote, directed and stars in.
Looking back on her marriage to Evans, Billie has no regrets.
She says: “It felt like a very healing time – although the world looked upon it as reckless, which is so ironic, isn’t it?
“It’s crazy to think when I was at my happiest as a teen, everyone thought I was at my saddest.”
Far from being her downfall, she credits the relationship with energising her lust for life and the urge to chase her dreams.
Two decades on, her successful move into acting has won her multiple awards.
And the life experiences that others feared would finish her have instead become the bedrock of her craft.
Drama series I Hate Suzie – which Billie co-created and starred in and which echoes some of those same struggles – has just won her a BAFTA nomination for leading actress.
Rare Beasts is likely to be equally well received when it hits screens this month. It is a study of dysfunctional love, with Billie playing troubled mum Mandy, whose mantra is “love and respect yourself.”
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When she meets damaged-goods Pete, also searching for self-worth, she battles to make sense of her life.
It is a journey that is again familiar territory to Billie.
She and Evans separated after three years, and she later married actor Laurence Fox – with whom she has two sons aged 12 and nine.
That ended five years ago, and Billie has a two-year-old daughter with current partner, Tribes frontman Johnny Lloyd.
After spending years juggling her determination to succeed with her busy family life, she told podcast Changes with Annie Macmanus the film is “about what it costs to be a woman”.
Speaking of her motivations last month in another interview, she spoke of her “obsession with outdoing myself at every juncture”.
Billie said: “This morphed into an eating disorder, then later into an addiction to work. Now, being aware of that means I can, to an extent, do something about it.”
Raised in Swindon, Wilts, Billie attended the Sylvia Young Theatre School and landed a spot on the ITV kids show Scratchy & Co. At 14 she got a record deal and went on tour.
After her debut single came six more chart hits, including No1s Girlfriend and Day & Night. She has described it as “the most punishing schedule ever”.
At 15 she was living in her own two-bed flat in Kilburn, north London.
She said: “I went to work for 18 hours a day, got home, got food from the garage and watched EastEnders.”
After she appeared as a guest on Evans’ Channel 4 show TFI Friday, he wooed her with a £110,000 silver Ferrari filled with roses – even though she couldn’t drive. The pair became famous for their all-day booze benders.
Just five months later they wed – eventually withdrawing from the public eye to travel the world.
Evans taught Billie to pursue what she really wanted in life, shielding her from those with other agendas for her.
She said: “I felt I was living out my uni years or something – we spent a great deal of time travelling and drinking, meeting people I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.”
Calling it “a really important moment” in her life, she added: “I’ve a lot of fond memories, a lot of love and warmth there.”
When they returned she gave up her pop dreams to switch to acting, winning acclaim for her first major role, in the BBC’s Canterbury Tales.
And despite the collapse of her marriage, her TV career went from strength to strength.
When Doctor Who was rebooted in 2005 she found huge success as the companion Rose Tyler – first alongside Christopher Eccleston and then with David Tennant.
That led to a string of other roles, including the raunchy Secret Diary of a Call Girl. But it was motherhood that had the most profound effect on her.
Billie said: “It’s been the biggest, most affecting change ever.
“So much of my experiences of childhood, all my own issues, weren’t recognisable to me until I had kids. It felt like a journey back into my childhood, recognising things I had no idea about.”
It also helped nurture her talent. In 2017 she won the Olivier Award for Best Actress for the Spanish play Yerma at London’s Young Vic.
Two years later, the year her daughter was born, she was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress for the Netflix series Collateral.
Being a mum also opened her up to therapy.
Billie said: “It’s being aware I’m behaving a certain way, being overly critical of myself or living for someone else. My inner workaholic is still there – so is that white noise at 3am. It doesn’t change who you are.”