Poor nepo babies, scorned for being born into a life of wealth and privilege through no fault of their own. In the words of Donald “my father gave me a small loan of a million dollars” Trump: SAD!
While the bare-knuckle fight initiated by New York magazine continues across the pond, we’ve looked closer to home at a phenomenon so deeply embedded in British acting that it predates the existence of Hollywood as an institution. After all, we have pavements older than America. That makes nepotism here old – entrenched, even. But the British nepo baby? Well, it’s a little more hush-hush and a lot more complicated.
A study on class by LSE in 2021 explored why the middle class descendants of working class people go on about it so much, even – especially – if they're now minted. At a time when “brand identity” is everything, many feel the need to craft a narrative of struggle – and it’s not just about money. (Everyone with a Pinterest wants more of that.) As Elle Hunt notes in the longread that accompanies this list, it’s the elusive cultural and social capital that comes with privilege and wealth that’s truly priceless.
Here's our non-exhaustive look of how those connections map out. For the sake of our sanity, we've excluded certain people you might think of as dead certs because they’re not technically in TV, film or theatre like their parents, grandparents, or great-great grandparents (you’re welcome, Matt Healy). Instead, consider this a starter pack that shows just how deep the nepo rabbithole goes. Try not to let the class ceiling hit you on the head on the way out.
The Establishment set
The children of these showbiz insiders have either been around the block and appeared in everything from Marvel franchises to, well, Harry Potter – or their parents have (see: Tilda Swinton’s ill-advised role as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange).
Some don’t even just have one parent in the industry – they also have well-placed family friends, with Daniel Radcliffe (son of literary agent Alan and casting agent Marcia Gresham) getting an introduction to HP producer David Heyman via his dad.
With lineages littered with establishment honours (Rafe Spall’s dad Timothy got an OBE in 2000, Swinton was given a recent nod on the Queen’s honours list), the only technical outlier here is Jeremy Irons, who said he’d turn down a knighthood – although marrying into the Cusack family, an Irish acting dynasty, should be more than enough to qualify him and his son Max as part of the establishment set.
The under the radar ones
These actors – and one filmmaker – have become successes on both sides of the pond, but their journey to transatlantic fame has been gilded by parents in the biz. Tom Sturridge’s parents are Emmy-nominated director Charles Sturridge and actor Phoebe Nicholls, who appeared in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man. Kate Beckinsale’s father is best known for his starring role in iconic British sitcoms Porridge and Rising Damp, while Tom Hardy’s British Comedy Award-winning screenwriter dad Chips Hardy ended up co-creating BBC One drama Taboo with him. Duncan Jones, meanwhile, may have opted for a more low-key last name when it came to directing Moon and Warcraft, his dad is the inimitable David Bowie, who starred in everything from Labyrinth to Zoolander.
The ‘Bridgerton’ babies
Shonda Rhimes’s Netflix Regency romp may have injected more diversity into the stale period drama genre, but its cast features not one, but two bona fide nepo babies. Phoebe Dynevor’s parents are actor Sally Jane Dynevor MBE and Emmerdale scriptwriter Tim Dynevor. Oxford graduate Calam Lynch, who counts Jeremy Irons as his uncle and Max Irons as his cousin, is the son of RSC actor Niamh Cusack and Tony Award-nominated actor Finbar Lynch.
The new generation
The saying goes that blood is thicker than water, and the parents of these kids are proving that by bringing them to the workplace. Oscar winner Kate Winslet starred alongside daughter Mia Threapleton in Channel 4 drama I Am Ruth, while father and son Jude and Rafferty Law appeared in the lockdown short film The Hat, which also happens to be the directorial debut of Darren Strowger, the boyfriend of Jude’s ex Sadie Frost. (Iris, presumably, was too busy modelling for Dior Beauty, though she took some out to play punk icon Soo Catwoman in the 2022 Pistol mini-series. Brother Rudy, gasp, has also acted.)
Other zoomers to watch out for include House of Dragon’s Ty Tennant, who has already expressed an interest in playing the third Doctor Who in his family, after his dad David and his granddad Peter Davison; and Nico Parker, currently picking up buzz in The Last of Us and no doubt impressing her showbiz mother (Thandiwe Newton) and father (Ol Parker).
Schools and colleges
These days, you can’t toss an Ozempic syringe in Hollywood without hitting a British actor who went to a private school, or, as they like to call themselves, ““independent schools””. From there, entry to Oxford or Cambridge is all but a shoe-in – though that may be slowly changing – while the “arty types” with fewer A*s head off to Central Saint Martins. The average cost of attending a private day school starts at £15,000 a year, according to the Independent Schools Council. Boarding schools like Harrow – attended by Benedict Cumberbatch and Laurence Fox – will set you back an average of around £37,000 a year.
Dad’s on TV!
Hell’s Kitchen, Richard & Judy, Have I Got News For You – the background noise of a million pre-Netflix nights spent fighting with your parents for the remote, and now the kids of Gordon Ramsay, Richard Madeley and Ian Hislop are out in the world making a name for themselves. Chloe Madeley blazed the trail by presenting Big Brother’s Big Mouth before pivoting to fitspo influencer, while former Strictly star Tilly Ramsay posts dad-and-daughter TikTok cameos (you gotta do what you’ve gotta do right?). Will Hislop – he of the “feminist fuckboy” Twitter sketches – takes after his dad, Have I Got News For You captain Ian Hislop, proving the comedy apple never falls far from the nepo-tree.
There are nepo babies and then there are nepo dynasties. Crowns and coronations aren’t involved, but they may as well be. The Foxes boast multiple showbiz generations, beginning with actor Hilda Hanbury in the late 1800s, while the Redgrave dynasty spans a whopping five generations and intersects with yet another name on this list – The Sandman star Tom Sturridge, whose maternal grandfather Anthony Nicholls acted alongside multiple Redgraves.
The Hammersmith connection
Are you a monied parent looking for the best place to raise your child for showbiz fame? Look no further than Hammersmith, West London, where houses sell for an average of £1.4m and the local St Paul’s Girls’ School educated both the late Natasha Richardson and her sister Joely Richardson of the Redgrave dynasty. Fees will set you back £9,000 a term.
Acting can be a family affair in more ways than one, with siblings going into the same field as their parents. Does it get awkward around the dinner table if one is more successful than the other? Emma Thompson’s sister Sophie, the daughter of formidable British actor Phyllida Law, said it “wouldn't occur to me to compare”. Alfie and Lily Allen, the children of TV hellraiser Keith Allen and Shaun of the Dead producer Alison Owen, embraced it with roles opposite each other in the 2019 Beanie Feldstein comedy How to Build a Girl – though starring in an incest scene opposite Alfie in Game of Thrones got a hard no from Lily.
Honourable mention: The Beckhams and the Royal Family
You can’t have a list of nepo babies without mentioning the two British families guiltiest of it: The Beckhams and the House of Windsor. Posh and Becks may have come from humble beginnings, but their children have followed them into showbiz with, uh, varying results – while Harry and Will are perhaps the greatest example that nepotism is baked into the very fabric of British society.
Check out our accompanying longread: “American Nepo Babies Have Nothing on the British”.