Professor Brian Cox talks about religion, alien life and the Reithian ideals behind his new TV series
'I'm a Manchester academic. I don’t do TV because I want a career in the media,' says Prof Brian Cox Photo: BBC
By Matthew Stadlen
7:00AM BST 07 Oct 2014
Once he was a scientist who used to be a rockstar, now he’s a rockstar scientist. So successful have his TV programmes become that Professor Brian Cox is more in the limelight now than he ever was as a member of the chart-topping D:Ream in the Nineties. “I was playing keyboard so I was always at the back,” he tells me, when we meet to discuss Human Universe, his cosmology series starting tonight on BBC Two.
Early last year, Sir David Attenborough himself hailed Prof Cox as his heir apparent. “If I had a torch I would hand it to Brian Cox,” said the giant of natural history programming. Time will tell whether Prof Cox can scale Sir David’s broadcasting heights, but he already has two things that the 88-year-old lacks: a professorship and a No 1 hit.
Prof Cox is returning to our screens to ask profound questions about our existence. Why are we here? How did the universe make us? What made the universe? The series is, he says, a love letter to the human race. “During the shooting I realised that we are rare and therefore valuable and quite remarkable and worth celebrating.” In the first programme, he takes us on a fast-track journey from monkey to the space station.
Tall but slight, Prof Cox is a youthful 46, though his trademark fringe is beginning to grey. He was born in Greater Manchester to parents who worked in a bank and was privately educated at Hulme Grammar School in the Eighties. He excelled in physics but got a D in his maths A-level (he was “more interested in New Order and the Smiths”). Today, he lives in London with his wife, the American television presenter Gia Milinovich, their five-year-old son and her son from a previous relationship.
The Wonders of the Solar System, in 2010, was the TV series that tipped him over the edge into mass appeal, and since then he has fronted, among others, The Wonders of the Universe and Stargazing Live.