An ugly spat over the kids: The lowdown on the Christmas Day tug of war between an England football star”s ex, their children and Christine Bleakley
On paper at least, it was supposed to be the picture-perfect Christmas — the handsome multi-millionaire footballer and his beautiful, TV presenter fiance playing beaming and bounteous hosts to a family gathering in their plush Chelsea townhouse.
In preparation for the big day, Christine Bleakley had braved the West End crowds with her sister Nicola to pick up some well-chosen last-minute gifts for her boyfriend Frank Lampard and his two adorable young daughters.
Christmas Day itself was scheduled to begin with the ceremonial unwrapping of the gifts — for Christine, from the England and Chelsea star, a chic Burberry outfit and a classically elegant Chanel handbag.
The relationship between Elen Rivas (left) and Christine Bleakley (right) has been getting increasingly frosty
Then, Miss Bleakley had planned to entertain the girls while her mother Mina took charge of the vast open-plan kitchen to prepare the festive lunch.
No doubt, playing Yuletide happy families with her rich husband-to-be and his children was intended as the perfect antidote to the humiliation of her recent sacking from ITV’s disastrous Daybreak.
What Bleakley hadn’t allowed for, however, was Lampard’s angry and tempestuous ex throwing a well-timed hand grenade into her meticulously-laid plans.
On Christmas Eve, after trying and failing to make contact with her daughters by Lampard — Luna, six, and Isla, four — to wish them Happy Christmas, their mother, Spanish model Elen Rivas, went on the offensive.
Miss Rivas, who is on holiday in India, took to Twitter to accuse the footballer of deliberately stopping her from speaking to her girls.
But it was for her replacement, 32‑year-old Bleakley, that she reserved her most withering putdown.
‘You would have thought the girlfriend would have a little maternal understanding,’ she wrote scathingly.
“Frank (Lampard) would have babies in the morning,” said Christine
And having lit the touchpaper, Miss Rivas was able to sit back and watch from afar as her successor for the soccer star’s affections saw her perfect Christmas blow up in her face.
‘It spoilt the whole wretched thing for Christine,’ a fuming friend of Bleakley’s told me this week.
‘Imagine putting all that effort into making a lovely day for her family, Frank and the kids, and seeing it poisoned like that.
‘Christineis devastated. It was the first time she and Frank had his daughters onChristmas morning, which was a big deal for her.
“Heaven knows, it’s noteasy being a stepmother, particularly at this time of year.’
Infact, so furious was the former The One Show presenter that she logged on to her own Twitter account earlier this week to launch a fightback.
‘I’dhappily set the record straight, but really don’t think Twitter is the place to do it when children are involved,’ posted Bleakley rather bluntly.
However, she conspicuously ‘retweeted’ supportive messages on the social networking site, including one from a friend, saying: ‘Looks like someone’s up to their old tricks again, telling lies!’
Another asked: ‘What mother would leave her kids at Christmas in the first instance’
The gloves, it would appear, are well and truly off. And what has really riled Miss Bleakley and her lover, friends of the couple revealed, is that they insist the girls’ mother did actually speak to them on Christmas Day as planned.
‘What Elen has said is rubbish,’ one told me.
‘The truth is that, unlike what’s been claimed, Elen didn’t actually ring trying to talk to her kids.
“Instead, she woke Frank by texting him from India at 3 o’clock on Christmas morning to tell him she wanted to speak to her girls.
‘Apparently, she hadn’t realised there’s a five-and-a-half-hour time difference! Frank and Christine simply didn’t want to wake the children up in the middle of the night.
‘But Elen has made out she wasn’t allowed to speak to her kids at all, which is nonsense. In fact, she spoke to them at length on Christmas Day. Christine feels they’ve been totally stitched up and portrayed as this evil couple.’
Elen was engaged to Frank for seven years, before they split up in November 2008. “She still hasn”t come to terms with losing him,” said a friend
Whatever the case, there is clearly no love lost between the two women.
So what has brought on this outbreak of festive hostilities
Mutual friends say the relationship between the Chelsea midfielder and Miss Bleakley on one side and the 36-year-old Miss Rivas on the other has been getting increasingly frosty.
For her part, Elen, who was engaged to the sportsman for seven years, before they split up in November 2008, is said to have had her hackles raised when she learnt one of her daughters had begun referring to Bleakley as ‘Mummy’.
Last month, in a sign of the depth of bad feeling, Elen retweeted a cryptic message sent to her by a well-wisher which read: ‘Hmm, wonder which mole is related to suspicious timing of nasty tweets Your kids are lucky to have one stable parent like you.’
Understandably, perhaps, the perceived slight has not gone down well with Lampard, 33, or Northern Ireland-born Bleakley, who got engaged while on holiday in Los Angeles in June.
Likewise, they are said to be angry that Rivas has reportedly ruled that Luna, who is known by her middle name Coco, and Isla, cannot be bridesmaids at the couple’s planned wedding next summer.
Indeed, it would seem that it is all the talk of their impending nuptials that has, in part at least, led to the current bitter state of affairs.
As one of her girlfriends told me: ‘Elen still hasn’t come to terms with losing Frank. At the time they split up, she thought it was what she wanted, but the simple fact is she still loves him.
‘Despite all the friction, she’d have him back tomorrow. But, unfortunately, he’s with someone else and it’s really hard for her to see him so happy.
‘It’s also bittersweet that her girls get on so well with Christine. Of course, any mum wants to see her kids happy with her ex’s new partner, but it’s still a wrench to know another woman is looking after them, especially at Christmas.’
Elen. who is in India at the moment, took up Indian mysticism last April
In fact, it is her attempt to come to terms with her upset over the upcoming wedding plans, say her friends, which led an emotional Rivas to spend the Christmas and New Year period on a three-week journey of self-discovery away from her children.
She flew to New Delhi on December 16, and on arrival, booked into a spartan ashram for a period of meditation and yoga.
After that, she and a girlfriend plan to backpack from the north to the south of the country. It is not, it goes without saying, your classic WAG holiday.
But Rivas, who says she took up Indian mysticism last April, has been keen in recent weeks to pass on her new‑found theories about spiritual enlightenment to her online followers.
Her posts are routinely littered with homespun homilies. Take, for example, this missive on the human experience, posted just before she jetted out of the UK: ‘The most important relationship of all is with myself. I need to connect deeply with myself.’
Or this: ‘Calmness and tolerance are like air conditioning in a hot room . . . benevolence and good wishes for others are a beautiful gift we can give anyone.’
Her apparent Zen-like state has not, evidently, stretched to a karmic sense of goodwill towards Bleakley and Lampard.
Earlier this year, the Spanish Rivas, who admits to be being ‘fiery and passionate’, said of her former partner’s new girlfriend in an interview with the Mail’s Weekend magazine: ‘I don’t really know her, but if she is ever unkind to my girls, I’d knock her down.’
Her relationship with Lampard has been no easier. When she and the 150,000-a-week football ace separated, they initially claimed the split was ‘mutually amicable’.
But soon, the break-up degenerated into open warfare.
First, Miss Rivas went public with claims she and her daughters, who she and Lampard have joint custody of, had been left homeless while Lampard stayed on in their 8.5 million West London home.
‘He is so heartless,’ she said at the time. ‘He’s moved on and is seeing other girls. I cry to him on the phone, but I get nothing from him, no emotion, just blank. He’s a b*****d.’
Lampard, who has been capped by England 90 times, was forced to ring a London radio presenter, who accused him of being ‘weak and scum’, to defend himself live on air by saying he was buying a 2.85 million home nearby for his ex and their children, which they have subsequently moved into.
Meanwhile, in March, Miss Rivas claimed publicly that the player was attempting to evict her 98-year-old grandmother from an apartment he owns in her native Barcelona.
Friends of the footballer, who was twice accused of cheating on Elen during their relationship, claimed he had merely asked her to take over the mortgage payments on the 290,000 property.
For his part, Lampard, via his lawyers, reportedly instructed the glamorous Rivas — who appeared as a contestant on the last series of ITV’s Dancing On Ice and has been attempting to carve out a career in the media — not to drag their daughters into the short-lived but publicity-generating relationship she began with Jordan’s former husband Peter Andre earlier this year.
Matters may not have been helped by Bleakley recently revealing that her fianc is desperate for them to start a family of their own.
‘Frank would have babies in the morning,’ she told Weekend magazine earlier this year. ‘Having children is the most important thing I’ll ever do.’
Even so, you have to feel sorry for Christine, particularly as this latest row comes at a time when she is throwing all her efforts into reviving her faltering career.
She will replace Holly Willoughby as Phillip Schofield’s co-host on Dancing On Ice in January, less than two months after being unceremoniously dumped from the station’s morning show Daybreak.
Her sacking, along with fellow presenter Adrian Chiles, over plunging ratings marked the couple’s swift demise from one-time darlings of the airwaves.
Miss Bleakley, with her down-to-earth Ulster charm, had risen quickly to the status of national sweetheart when the couple presented the BBC’s evening magazine programme The One Show.
But her stock has fallen rapidly since she was accused of money-grabbing by her Beeb bosses when she announced she was defecting to its commercial rival in a 4 million, four-year deal last year.
At the same time, she was caught up in a damaging row with her agent John Noel, who had helped make her a star but accused her of sacking him by text.
Given the need for her upcoming stint on the skating show to breathe new life into a career that had stalled, the very public row with her boyfriend’s ex is a distraction she could do without.