21:49 GMT, 29 June 2012
Television presenter Melanie Sykes and I have never met, but I’m already quite familiar with the intimate details of her love life.
I know, for instance, that her new, much younger boyfriend has sent her a photo of himself naked in the middle of a field wearing only a leaf to cover his modesty; that she calls him Jack Rabbit; and that she’s fallen for him ‘hook, line and sinker’.
How do I know Because their affair, as the lovely Mel concedes, is a modern-day romance: she met Jack Cockings, 26, on Twitter in April and the two, who began a relationship a few weeks ago, have shared their flirtatious tweets and photos with an avid internet audience ever since.
'I really didn't mean to offend anyone – I just got carried away,' said Melanie Skyes on her rather risqu Twitter courtship
Indeed, the running commentary on their love life became so explicit at one point – they appeared to be texting while in the throes of passion – that her friend, comedian Alan Carr, weighed in, imploring, ‘Will you two just get a room!’
Now I’m here sitting next to her I can see why Jack’s first message to her was an incredulous, ‘No way are you 41! Marry me’ But the conundrum remains: why did she choose to share their cheeky courtship with a global audience
‘Oh, I don’t even consider the people who follow me on Twitter as fans. They’re friends, my community.’ I point out there were 34,000 of them – and now there are a lot more – agog to read the next instalment in the saucy saga of Mel and Jack. ‘It was just giddiness, banter; silly fun,’ she says.
‘Nothing rude was actually happening, we were in different counties at the time. And I didn’t mean to offend anyone because I’m not an offensive girl. I’m nice! If I did upset anyone, I’m really sorry. I just got a bit carried away.’
We’re used to seeing Mel in a far homelier context, either chatting on the sofa with Des O’Connor in the TV show they used to share or in the ITV kitchen co-presenting that feast of celebrity chit-chat and cooking, Let’s Do Lunch, alongside chef Gino D’Acampo.
She and Gino are back for a second series this summer, and will welcome a celebrity guest to each show. While he cooks a dish which has special memories for the star, Mel will elicit the juicy gossip about their life. Chris Moyles, Peter Andre, Carol Vorderman and Alan Carr – with whom she used to co-present a Radio 2 music show – will be among those appearing.
Having a laugh: Melanie pictured with new beau Jack
Nothing mumsy about that outfit: Melanie posted snaps of herself wearing sexy lingerie
Mel, the mother of two boys – Roman, ten, and Valentino (Tino), eight – was divorced from their father, Sicilian-born actor Daniel Caltagirone, in 2009.
Her new man Jack, who was raised in Dorset, runs his own roofing contracting company, dabbles in stock broking and has a five-year-old son. He and Mel may seem like an unlikely match, but she says, ‘I’m extremely happy, and vice versa. He’ll come to see me and still have roofing bitumen on his hands. I don’t care. I’m not interested in fame.
'Although I’ve been out with famous men (former Bros singer Matt Goss and actor Max Beesley have been past liaisons), I also dated a guy who sold motorised scooters. So it’s nice that Jack’s a working man. It feels like the real thing, for sure.’
The age gap does not perturb her remotely; in fact, she’s drawn to younger men.
‘Some older men find my independence threatening. Younger men don’t. It’s a generational thing. It’s quite a big ask for a man to be with someone as insanely independent as me, and younger men have the confidence. My ex-husband was two years younger than me. I’ve always gone out with younger men. They’re more fun and love to have a laugh.’
Would she consider marrying again
‘I don’t think it’s necessary, but who knows’ she smiles. ‘But I do know I definitely won’t have any more children. I’m done. All my energy is for my sons.’
Mel, who is resolutely Northern and
still speaks in her native Lancashire accent, is jokey and chatty and
exceptionally beautiful – caramel skin, thoroughbred limbs and a
dazzling smile. She maintains her toned physique by working out three
times a week with a personal trainer.
‘I don’t run because I’ve got a
dodgy knee,’ she says, ‘but I cycle, skip, row and box – oh, and I’m
doing some bum-building at the moment, because I’ve got a really flat
bottom.’ She complements this regime with a low-carb diet, and has
become so passionate about health and fitness that she’s launching her
own range of Ellesse gym wear and nutrition products, Active Woman.
It was just giddiness, banter; silly
fun. Nothing rude was actually happening, we were in
different counties at the time… I just got a bit carried away
Would she consider having work done on her face ‘No-o!’ she cries.
‘I can say that without any fear of going back on it. My nana was beautiful into old age; my mum looks good for her years, too. And I always want to look like me. Forever. The only thing I’ve started to do is dye the odd grey hair.’
Relaxed good-humour is her metier. She gained a reputation, in her first TV role as a showbiz reporter on The Big Breakfast, for drawing out the most intransigent of celebrity interviewees with her easy charm.
‘My secret weapon was always getting
people talking. I only failed once, and that was with Bruce Willis at
Cannes. My seven minutes with him got cut down to three and a half. And
he was a bit drunk, to be honest. He didn’t say anything of interest.
On Today With Des And Mel, which she co-hosted with
O’Connor for three years until it was axed in 2006, she avoided the
standard promotional interview – the plug for a book or film – and set
about ‘having a laugh’ with her celebrity guests; evolving the signature
style that won her the Going Out With Alan Carr gig on Radio 2. But she
doesn’t take all the credit for her success, saying she learned from
‘I’ve been so
blessed with my co-presenters,’ says Mel. ‘Des was hilarious and such a
true professional – he was the veteran in that partnership – and even
funnier off air. Alan was a riot. We just bounced off each other. There
was no substance, just fun. But he’s a very intelligent person and when
he comes to dinner he’s a great conversationalist. He’s very
knowledgeable about art. Now I’m working with former The Only Way Is
Essex star Mark Wright (on ITV’s couples challenge show My Man Can), I’m
the old pro. Mark’s been brought up so well. He’s so polite and willing
to learn; lovely to be around.’
She has always been picky about work and
turns down more jobs than she accepts. ‘Reality TV I don’t want to do
it. I’ve said no to everything: Dancing On Ice, the jungle, Strictly –
although I was tempted with that. But I can’t dance. I’ve got zero
rhythm; my body’s too stiff for ballroom, and anyway it’s embarrassing.
All that gyrating. Yuck! I’d rather be presenting.’
Family figure: The presenter is mother to two boys, Roman, ten, and Valentino (Tino), eight
Gino D'Acampo and Melanie on the set of 'Let's Do Lunch With Gino And Mel'
Mel was born and raised, the daughter of an Anglo-Indian mother and Lancastrian engineer father, in the Manchester suburb of Mossley, and although she has lived in London for more than 20 years, she gravitates towards friends from similar backgrounds: her four closest friends (two of whom are childhood mates) are all ‘northern lassies’.
At school she ran the gauntlet of bullies who taunted her for her boyish figure and lanky legs.
‘I was very thin and flat-chested; a late developer. I didn’t wear a bra until I was 16. I’ve always had a happy disposition but I absolutely hated school,’ she says.
Leaving with little idea of what she wanted to do, she fell into modelling. She came to the nation’s attention in 1996 as the sassy lass in the Boddington’s beer adverts who looked exotic but asked in resonant northern tones: ‘’Ere Tarquin, are your trollies ont’ right way round’ She says, ‘That character was me, actually. I knew it was good, authentic, and two weeks after the advert aired I was asked to do screen tests for TV.’ The Big Breakfast came next, and everything followed on from there.
I was very thin and flat-chested; a late
developer. I didn’t wear a bra until I was 16. I’ve always had a happy
disposition but I absolutely hated school
She still seems utterly down-to-earth
and unaffected: she won’t fritter away her money on designer clothes: ‘I
can’t justify the price tag!’.
She is clearly a loving and devoted mum
to her boys, the younger of whom, Tino, is autistic.
She points out that
she has worked very little in the past two years because she was
dealing first with the aftermath of her divorce – she and Daniel remain
friendly and he is a hands-on father – and then with the problems
attendant on Tino’s condition. She tried to find a private school which
would take him, but none would. ‘So now he goes to a brilliant state
school and I’ve managed to get him one-to-one help,’ she says.
‘Tino was diagnosed at two,’ she explains. ‘He was very quiet; he appeared to daydream, and at first we thought he might be deaf. When I was told he was autistic it was a blow. The only knowledge I had of the condition was from the film Rain Man (in which Dustin Hoffman plays an autistic savant). I sought help immediately, because early intervention is vital. I took him to a private clinic where they helped to push him out of his habitual and ritualistic behaviour. But he has difficulty making eye contact. When he says “hello” and “goodbye” you have to remind him, “You must look at people, Tino”. His obsession is trains. I buy him proper train-spotters’ DVDs and we read about trains together.
The ex: Melanie was married to Daniel Caltagirone from 2001 to 2009
‘He may never be independent, but that’s all right because I’ll always be around to love him and care for him. But of course he may surprise us all, and actually I hope one day he’ll fall in love; that someone will love him for the amazing little fellow he is.’
She points out that she has made another close friend on Twitter aside from Jack – another mother who has an autistic son – and the two of them have been to Liverpool to hear Temple Grandin, the high-functioning autistic author and inventor, speak.
‘I like to go and listen to people talking about their areas of expertise,’ she says, ‘and I’d like to talk about autism too. But I’m terrible at public speaking! I just get really nervous. I did when I started as a showbiz reporter, too. I’d be physically ill before live shows. So scary!’
It’s hard to imagine Mel being so consumed with nerves. She possesses a nice mix of earthiness and elegance.
Her mango-coloured jeans are from Topshop; her perfect complexion is inherited from her mother, a professional cook, and she has her father to thank for her refreshing lack of hauteur. It still sums her up, really, this amalgam of approachability and impossible glamour.
Perhaps it accounts, too, for those injudicious tweets. Mel Sykes can be outrageously daft one minute and utterly down-to-earth and sensible the next.
Let’s Do Lunch…With Gino And Mel starts on Monday 9 July, weekdays at 12.30pm on ITV1.