The ex ex factor: How Billie Piper’s recent split from husband number two highlights the rise of the double divorce

Billie Piper with first husband Chris Evans, 16 years her senior. Three years after marrying in Vegas, the couple split

Billie Piper with first husband Chris Evans, 16 years her senior. Three years after marrying in Vegas, the couple split

2016 has been a bad year for second marriages. Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, 32, joined the ranks of the ‘double divorcées’ in January when she announced that her 18-month marriage to French restaurateur Jean-Bernard was over.

The separation raised few eyebrows, given that the couple had married within mere months of meeting – and it was reported that neither could speak the other’s language.

Similarly, few were shocked by the recent news that St Trinian’s actress Talulah Riley, 30, was divorcing tech billionaire husband Elon Musk, 44, for the second time. 

Theirs had always been a fitful relationship. 

When they got engaged in 2008, Elon had walked out on his ‘starter wife’ Justine (her words) six weeks earlier. He married Talulah in 2010 but by 2012 they’d divorced – only to marry each other again 18 months later. On 21 March this year, they confirmed that their (second) marriage was over.

Later that week, the break-up of Billie Piper, 33, and Laurence Fox, 38, caused rather more surprise. To many – and probably to Billie herself – this marriage had seemed the real deal. 

At 18, Billie had made her mistakes with her own ‘starter marriage’ – her whirlwind Vegas wedding to Chris Evans, 16 years her senior. 

After marrying in 2007, Billie and Laurence recently announced their separation on his Facebook page

After marrying in 2007, Billie and Laurence recently announced their separation on his Facebook page

Three years later, the couple split and it was an older, wiser woman who walked up the aisle with Laurence in a traditional church wedding in 2007. 

The pair went on to have two sons, and announced their separation on his Facebook page. ‘Laurence Fox and Billie Piper have separated. No third parties are involved.’

It isn’t hard to find other high-profile women who’ve lived through the trauma of divorce not once, but twice – Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet, Madonna, Heidi Klum. 

Others, such as Drew Barrymore, are heading for divorce number three. Jennifer Lopez described her third divorce, from singer-songwriter Marc Anthony, as ‘devastating and awful’, the ‘biggest disappointment’ of her life.

In fact, more people than ever are experiencing the trauma of the double divorce. 

In the UK, almost a fifth of those whose marriages broke down in 2013 were already divorcées, nearly twice as many as in 1980. 

Marrying for a second time requires a huge leap of faith, and a belief that you have learnt from mistakes and this time got it right. 

Yet the statistics suggest otherwise – at present, 31 per cent of second marriages in the UK are doomed to failure.

The impact can be hugely destructive. 

Numerous studies have found that multiple divorces have a lasting impact on mental and physical health, for women in particular. 

One study from Duke University, which tracked 15,827 men and women, found that women who divorced once raised their heart attack risk by 24 per cent, while women who divorced twice almost doubled their risk. (In fact, for women, two divorces carry a heart attack risk on a par with diabetes or high blood pressure – even remarrying doesn’t reduce it.)

Psychotherapist Wendy Bristow is not surprised.

Few were shocked by the news that St Trinian’s actress Talulah Riley, 30, was divorcing tech billionaire husband Elon Musk, 44, for the second time. Theirs had always been a fitful relationship

Few were shocked by the news that St Trinian’s actress Talulah Riley, 30, was divorcing tech billionaire husband Elon Musk, 44, for the second time. Theirs had always been a fitful relationship

‘All divorce is damaging, but most people who get divorced twice find the second one much harder,’ she says.

‘When it happens the first time, it can be written off as a random event – a one-off, unlucky occurrence – or maybe you feel you know what went wrong and you’ve learnt the hard way. If your second marriage fails too, it starts looking like a pattern. 

'There’s more shame, stigma, embarrassment. Second time round, it can really feel like the problem is you.’

This was certainly true for Eleanor, an editor, now 57. 

‘Even 20 years later, I still don’t talk about my second marriage,’ she says. ‘It’s a sign of how devastated I was that I can’t remember much of it either. I’ve blanked out as much as possible.’

Given that Eleanor’s first marriage was far longer – she was with her first husband for 12 years and her second for less than one – you might expect the first break-up to pack the biggest punch. Not so.

‘You doubt yourself far more second time,’ she says. ‘I felt such embarrassment. 

'As a woman, I’ve found that you’re judged by your relationships – not your career, not your solo achievements, but how you do as a wife or mother or daughter.

'I felt a complete failure. I didn’t want to face the world.’

And when she did, the response wasn’t helpful. 

‘People were much more judgmental than when my first marriage ended,’ says Eleanor. 

‘Everyone was telling me what I’d done wrong and what I needed to do next. One friend said that I needed to be single for the next ten years. It felt critical and hurtful.

‘My mum was so supportive when my first marriage ended,’ she continues, ‘but not the second time. 

'Even years later, when I mentioned some man I’d met, she turned round and said, “Does this mean I’ve got to go through it all again? Been there, done that, worn the T-shirt!”’

With hindsight, and years of therapy, Eleanor can see that her doomed second marriage had its roots in her first one – as is often the case. 

Cheryl with her first husband Ashley Cole

Cheryl with her first husband Ashley Cole

‘My first husband left me when I was 36 in a shocking way,’ she says. 

‘He upped and left with half an hour’s notice. I was so driven by pain – and also my biological clock – that I married on the rebound.’

In retrospect, she can see that there were glaring red flags – for example, that her new partner still lived with his mother. 

‘We were incompatible but I turned a blind eye to every flashing light. It was like, “See, everyone? Everything’s all right! This person is in love with me!”

‘My first husband was a workaholic perfectionist so I went for the total opposite. 

'I told myself he was so different, this marriage was bound to have a different outcome,’ she continues. 

‘Instead, I found myself married to someone who was lazy and who immediately gave up his job so I could support him.’

This drive to avoid a pattern by plumping for the opposite of your first partner is not uncommon. Cheryl Fernandez-Versini could be a case in point. 

Her first showbiz wedding to Ashley Cole couldn’t have been more different from her second secret ceremony in Mustique. While Ashley was a household name, Jean-Bernard was unknown in the UK, a ‘jetsetter’ who ran a pop-up bar in Cannes.

Drew Barrymore is another example. With two short-lived marriages behind her, the former wild child’s decision to marry art consultant Will Kopelman seemed driven by a yearning for stability and children rather than love or compatibility.

Drew has admitted that Will, the wealthy son of former Chanel president Arie Kopelman, appealed to her ‘pragmatic sides’. 

‘He was someone who was always reachable on the phone, someone who was a classy human being, someone who has this incredible blueprint of a family that I don’t have,’ she said. 

‘It was falling in love with his family, being ready to have a family of my own and thinking if I had a family with this family, it would be really wonderful. 

'Sometimes there’s just a time to go for it with a good person.’ Though the couple married in 2012 and have two daughters, they, too, recently announced their split.

It’s a pattern that divorce coach Sara Davison sees all too often. 

While Ashley Cole was a household name, Jean-Bernard was unknown in the UK

While Ashley Cole was a household name, Jean-Bernard was unknown in the UK

‘Many of my clients come for help after their second divorce because it really hits hard,’ she says. 

‘You can often see that the break-up was actually caused by the one that went before. 

'The client was so traumatised they went into a panic and rushed headlong into the second marriage. 

'Sometimes, they essentially marry the same person again and again, trying to make it work out this time – such as going for a succession of “bad boys” – or they’re so desperate not to repeat their mistakes that they go for someone utterly different, but still utterly wrong.’

The biological clock is also a common driving factor. 

‘A woman whose first marriage ends without children may not feel she has time to hang around, so she goes for the first possible candidate,’ says Davison. 

And for ‘second-time-arounders’ who already have children, the challenge of step-parenting and merging of families can be another stress which makes divorce a more likely outcome.

Davison advises anyone reeling from a second divorce to take a long time out to heal and reach a deep understanding of any behavioural patterns and past mistakes. (To put it in perspective, an extensive survey by law firm Slater and Gordon found it took divorcées an average of four years to feel emotionally back on track.) 

Wendy Bristow agrees this is crucial. ‘Do everything you can to get properly over the second divorce,’ she says.

 ‘It may take a very long time – try hard not to resent it.’

Eleanor was single for eight years after her second divorce. It meant missing the chance to have children – and instead focusing on building a life she loved. 

‘I never thought I’d marry again,’ she says. 

‘It’s a cliché but when you’re not looking for someone – when you’ve genuinely come to terms with what you have and made a life you enjoy – you meet the love of your life.’

Tom, also divorced twice, was lodging with Eleanor’s close friend when they were introduced. 

‘In the early days, it was nice that we had both been divorced twice – so we could hardly say, “Oh, I’m not sure about you!” There were lots of jokes at the wedding, such as, “I’m pleased to be here.

'I come to all of Tom’s weddings!” By then, we could giggle about it – though at one time it wouldn’t have been funny.’

The statistics suggest that the key factor in predicting whether a second or subsequent marriage will be successful is age – the older you are when you remarry, the less likely you are to divorce.

‘Age is a wonderful thing,’ agrees Eleanor. ‘Tom is 66, I’m 57. We’ve both learnt a lot – and also know you have to grab happiness while you can. 

'I wake up every day and feel so grateful for everything. It really is third time lucky!’




There’s more shame second time – that’s a hard emotion to handle as it makes you extra sensitive. Be very protective of yourself. Don’t engage in long talks about what has happened if someone is critical – only discuss it with people you trust not to be hurtful.


Make sure you have the right people on side. It might be a good lawyer, a financial adviser or a caring friend.


What are the patterns, what are the mistakes? It may take years – and this is a time when therapy can really help. Family therapy may also benefit children if they have been through two separations.


You may feel angry – but beating yourself up never helps and can slide into depression. Treat yourself kindly – imagine you’re talking to someone you love. How would you help them learn lessons but stay positive?


It sounds brutal, but when you’re no longer reeling from the shock, try to see this as a chance to take stock and redesign your life.



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