For a while, Gavin And Stacey star James Corden looked invincible – until his subsequent sketch show with Mathew Horne was panned and he discovered London’s bar and clubbing scene. The father-of-one tells Sarah O’Meara how he turned it all around, as his autobiography is released.
“The person I look back on I don’t really recognise as me,” says 33-year-old James Corden in a thoughtful, reflective voice, sounding absolutely nothing like his cocky alter ego Smithy from Gavin And Stacey.
Remembering times of partying, drinking, ignoring phone calls from his family and being rude to his agent, he’s still embarrassed about letting the hype go to his head.
“I wasn’t in AA or anything. I just got a bit lost. I was heartbroken and a little bit famous... and that’s a bad mix,” he says, momentarily allowing his childish grin to break through the introspection prompted by his new autobiography May I Have Your Attention, Please?
The past decade has been a rollercoaster, Corden admits. After landing a part in West End musical Martin Guerre aged 17, he went on to star in ITV’s Fat Friends – where he met future Gavin And Stacey writing partner Ruth Jones – was cast in the National Theatre’s international tour of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, which ended in a film adaptation, and then created and starred in seminal comedy Gavin And Stacey, a series that garnered a level of public devotion not seen since the likes of The Royle Family.
For its 2010 finale, the Gavin And Stacey show he co-wrote with Jones pulled in 10 million viewers.
Backstage though, as television’s chubby golden boy explains in new book, he wasn’t happy. And Corden fans probably won’t need an autobiography to tell them why.
Riding high on a crest of professional success, when mediocrity hit it was a bitter blow. His sketch show Horne & Corden, debut film Lesbian Vampire Killers, and even James Corden’s World Cup Live, an apparently harmless ITV presenting gig, were labelled as drivel by critics. And Corden is nothing if not honest about why he failed to deliver the goods.
“Trying to write a TV show, or be in things and be good, and going out all the time, are mutually exclusive. You just can’t do them both.
“You feel like you can, because you’re still handing in the work – it’s just not very good. Not to say it’s awful, but it’s not good enough.”
As well as the heady rewards of fame, Corden was also struggling with being single for the first time, after his nine-year relationship with Shelley finished in 2007, and his Gavin And Stacey co-star Sheridan Smith ended their ‘turbulent’ affair two years later as he finished filming Gulliver’s Travels.
So Corden rented a fancy north London flat with Mamma Mia’s Dominic Cooper, and his socialising took on an epic quality.
“At one point, for about two weeks, all Dom and I had in the fridge was some vodka, a bottle of pink vitamin water and a Lindt chocolate bunny,” he writes.
Soon his conscience, and his family, came to make their feelings known.
After his parents made an awkward, impromptu visit, terrified by reports in the papers of him falling out of clubs and bars, their worried looks were enough of a rebuke.
“There were no 12 steps, it was as simple as saying I’m going to stay in, and I’m not going to kiss anyone unless it could be ‘someone’.
“Of course I didn’t always stay true to that – but it worked on the whole,” he smiles.
That’s a huge understatement. Corden’s now in a steady relationship with charity worker Julia, has the lead in One Man Two Guvnors, transferring to the West End this autumn, and is the proud father of six-month-old Max.
“It was my birthday yesterday, and me and Jules ate sushi and watched Breaking Bad. And we didn’t even finished the second episode. The baby started murmuring, we were asleep by 9.50pm.”
While he and Cooper are still best friends their mutual party days are behind them, for now.
Another friend he’ll never lose is Ruth Jones. “The truth is, if you get to sit in a room with her for a few hours a day, it’s the luckiest place in the world to be.
“She’s the most amazing company, coupled with an incredible creative mind. And when I was sort of, you know ...” he stops and laughs ruefully about his partying days. “Well, one time I turned up at Ruth’s at six o’clock, fell asleep on the sofa and didn’t wake up until nine o’clock the next day. She’d put a blanket on me.
“It’s the absolute truth that for a couple of years she was absolutely my only constant. My anchor.”
Corden is still learning to reconcile the highs and lows of his career.
Today, he looks slimmer, and admits to having a personal trainer, but an even leaner silhouette seems unlikely at this stage.
“Sandwiches are amazing - they make me believe in God,” he says. “They can only have been sent by a supernatural being bigger than all of us. And cake. And as much as I love a fruit salad, it’s never the same.”