Christine Bleakley: Why 2012 is going to be a great year for the TV star

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“I haven”t had time to think about the wedding in any detail yet,” says Christine

Christine Bleakley ushers me to one side and whispers sotto voce in my ear. ‘This isn’t about me, I really want it to be about her.’ The presenter nods her head in the direction of the glamorous blonde with a fabulous figure and legs to die for who is having eyeliner applied by a make-up artist. Christine, despite being the nation’s darling and engaged to Premier League footballer Frank Lampard, has a reputation for being down to earth rather than a diva, but even by her standards, it’s a rather magnanimous gesture. Not least because the blonde could give her a run for her money any day.

‘Really’ I murmur, doubtfully. ‘What about your little sister, Nicola The chubby one who lost seven stone, the one starring in your new fitness DVD Where is she’

‘That is my sister!’ She bursts into peals of laughter and, to my mortification, shares the joke with Nicola, who hoots with amusement. I can’t see how I missed it: the pair sound so alike that even their parents can’t tell them apart on the phone, and there’s a strong family resemblance, too. But whereas Christine is TV-studio slim (cameras are notoriously unforgiving of even the most modest of curves) with an angular face, Nicola is less muscular, softer, and – arguably – all the prettier for it.

Frankly, if they mounted an eyes-and-teeth coup d’tat of the TV schedules tomorrow, every viewer in the land would tune in from 6am. But Nicola, 30, who is two years younger than Christine, has no broadcasting aspirations. The Bleakley work-out DVD collaboration only came about after a long struggle with her weight. In her teens, Nicola was drawn to the sort of junk food her classmates were eating – but while they stayed slim, she piled on the pounds. As her self-esteem declined, she began comfort eating, her calorie intake soared and her weight ballooned.

‘I was in denial, telling myself I was a size 14, although my trousers were two sizes larger and
I wasn’t able to button them up. /12/20/article-2076568-0F3C527300000578-896_306x359.jpg” width=”306″ height=”359″ alt=”Christine and Nicola as schoolgirls in County Down” class=”blkBorder” /> Christine with her fianc, Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard

From left: Christine and Nicola as schoolgirls in County Down; with her fianc, Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard

It was while at university studying business that Nicola, who is married to Johnny, a fireman, finally decided to do something about her weight. She signed up with Unislim, an Irish slimming club that features personally tailored diets, and started taking exercise; walking at first, then jogging and running. With each pound she lost, her confidence grew, and in just one year she shed seven stone. At the age of 22, she was crowned All-Ireland Unislimmer of the Year. Although she went on to pursue a career as a bank manager, last year she gave up her desk job in order to work for Unislim in Northern Ireland, where she still lives, and pursue her new-found passion for nutrition, health and exercise.

In their DVD, the sisters, who are joined by a fitness instructor, have such a warm rapport that it makes the exercises very watchable. There’s nothing fancy about the moves, which are broken down into body areas – upper arms, core muscles, legs and so on – culminating in the Bleakley Blaster, a short but intense full-body work-out. ‘I’m so proud of Nicola,’ beams Christine. ‘It’s easy to lose weight if you have a chef and a personal trainer; Nicola did it the hard way, the way most women do it. She’s an absolute inspiration.’

‘I’m so proud of Nicola. It’s easy to lose weight if you have a personal trainer; Nicola did it the hard way, the way most women do it’

Wags might point out that over the past few weeks, Christine has gone one better by shedding 250lb of surplus podge – namely Adrian Chiles. But the Northern Irish presenter, who spent an uncomfortable few months immersed in a raging torrent of speculation, gossip and backbiting about her short-lived stint on Daybreak, refuses to be drawn on the subject of the Brummie. The pair, who were such a success on The One Show thanks to their chemistry (Chiles appeared comically smitten with winsome Christine), famously defected to ITV and were heralded as the saviours of the channel’s breakfast show, but were then axed – bizarrely, just at the point when ratings were rising.

‘Stories that we were dropped out of the blue just aren’t true,’ insists Christine. ‘The reality is a lot less dramatic. After a year of getting up early I still wasn’t used to it and, to be honest, I was ready to move on to something else. Adrian and I had been in talks with the producers for quite some time before any announcement was made; and for me to be given an amazing role in Dancing on Ice was perfect.’

It’s evident that Christine’s solid upbringing has given her roots as well as wings. She and Nicola were raised in Newtownards, County Down, by their accountant mother and musician father. They attended the province’s leading girls’ grammar school, after which Christine began a politics degree at university, before dropping out and joining the BBC. Initially she was involved in production, on the other side of the cameras, but was talent-spotted and promoted to a front-of-house role on BBC Ulster. Far from being a flash in the pan, her long track record has given her a shrewd insight into the realities of working on-screen – and the tribulations as well as triumphs that can entail.

But won’t she miss Adrian The de facto divorce from her work husband must surely be a blow ‘Adrian only lives five minutes away so we see lots of each other, and at more sociable hours of the day.’ Which must make him less grumpy ‘Not necessarily.’ She chuckles affectionately. ‘With Adrian there are no guarantees of anything.’

‘I am conscious of my shape and I like to feel fit, so Frank and I go
running together’

At present, Christine’s gaze is firmly focused on her new role as co-presenter of Dancing on Ice, alongside Phillip Schofield. ‘I’ve been watching the show for years so to be presenting it is a dream come true,’ she says. ‘I love a bit of glitz and glamour, so this is right up my street, and Phillip is great to work with. He’s also apparently quite good on skates, which makes me I think I’ll have to get a bit of practice in, so I know what I’m talking about.’

Having acquitted herself well on Strictly Come Dancing in 2008, two years later she waterskied across the English Channel in an hour and 40 minutes for Sport Relief, proving incontrovertibly that she is both glamorous and game, something her ITV bosses are eager to capitalise on.

At least two peak-hour series are being developed in order to allow Christine to shine. But perhaps most important of all, 2012 is bringing a winning new partnership of a rather more personal nature. Christine is due to marry her fianc Frank in her native Northern Ireland this summer and wedding plans are surely well under way. Aren’t they

Nicola before her dramatic weight loss

Nicola before her dramatic weight loss

‘You must be joking!’ she quips, rollingher eyes. ‘I haven’t had time to think about the wedding in any detail yet.’ Maybe not detail, but you can share a teaser or two, surely So, Christine: town or country Froufrou meringue or cathedral chic Coach and four or celestial flock of doves What’s it to be ‘I have no idea. None,’ she shrugs, with an air of helplessness. ‘Apart from the fact I can categorically say there will be no livestock present. I have a hunchthat when we decide on a venue the mood and feel of the place will dictate the style of dress.’

A hunch Brides don’t go on hunches! You’ve not even decided on a venue You have no soft-focus visions of your dream frock, encasing your Pippa Middleton derrire ‘Blimey, I’m not sure I can rival that,’ she says doubtfully. ‘Christine!’ I cry. ‘You must do better! You’re going to have to build up a better head of steam if you’re going to be hissy-fitting over the corsages by April,
micro-managing the page boys and screaming abuse at anyone who dares look at you sideways.’

‘I don’t think so! That’s really not me,’ she laughs. ‘I honestly don’t care whether the napkins match the colour of the bridesmaids’ dresses, I just want a low-key, relaxed day surrounded by the people I love. Or at least I think I do – all my friends used to dream about their wedding day from childhood, but I never did so I haven’t got much to go on. Although never say never – in a couple of months’ time I could surprise myself by emerging as a crazed, monstrous bridezilla.’

‘Strangers would comment on my weight – Christine always sprang to my defence’

It’s an unlikely scenario, but, to use an Andrew Lloyd Webber phrase, love changes everything, and the sparkle in Christine’s eye easily matches the huge (and I mean huge) 120,000 solitaire rock on her finger. The couple are the epitome of togetherness. ‘Like all women, I am conscious of my shape and I like to feel fit, so Frank and I go running together near my flat in Southwest London, which is by the Thames. Thankfully, Frank isn’t competitive with me, or I’d be left trailing behind. When I was on Daybreak he was so wonderful, completely changing the pattern of his days so that we could spend time together, even though I was up at 3am and in bed by 10pm, so it’s nice for him that my body clock is back to normal.’

Her body image appears to be as balancedas her body clock, and Christine is pragmatic rather than angst-ridden about her perceived shortcomings. ‘I don’t do short skirts or low tops, because they just don’t suit me, so I keep those parts of me covered up.One of the aspects of presenting that you have to come to terms with quite early on is the amount of interest viewers show in your clothes and hair – you might get emails and tweets telling you how big your armslook. Or you might see a picture of yourself in a magazine wearing an outfit you really liked, with a big thumbs down or an X beside it because it was a “fashion faux pas”. You have to keep it in perspective,though, and to be fair, most people are really nice.’

Christine is excited about the challenges of the year ahead

Frank, who has two daughters by his ex-fiance, Spanish model Elen Rives, is said to be keen to have more children soon, but Christine insists that they both want to enjoy married life for a while first. ‘We’re very contented and taking things as they come and there’s no pressure – or desire – to rush things. Children change your life so we just want to be a married couple for a bit before that.’

Frank, moreover, can congratulate himself on the fact that for all his bride-to-be’s career ambitions, she is also a born homemaker. ‘I’m slowly turning into my mother,’ she shrieks with mock horror.
‘I love cleaning and dusting and adding little touches to a room, such as fresh flowers, pictures and ornaments. Ironing It makes me so happy. I could be a Stepford wife.’

Hardly. For all the media sniping that she lacks gravitas, there is an irrepressible feistiness about Christine that, I suspect, would preclude a life of dedicated domesticity. Appearing on our television screens isn’t merely about ego: ‘I recently interviewed John Cleese and I found myself thinking, “I am the luckiest girl in the world.” I still get so excited by the amazing people I meet, and I always surprise interviewees because I will make sure I’ve read their book or watched their film before I speak to them. It’s only professional– and, frankly, polite – to do your research.’

She’s clearly excited and impatient as she surveys the challenges of the year ahead. It looks
as though 2012 could be Christine’s year. But if she ever does feel like teaming up on the breakfast sofa again with a ratings-winning kindred spirit, she could do a lot worse than pick up the phone – and give her sister Nicola a call.

Christine Bleakley: The Workout DVD is out now on 2entertain