By Louise Gannon
Between a successful TV comeback and her marriage to football star Frank, CHRISTINE LAMPARD has little to complain about – apart from one thing…
There are some things you cannot control,’ says Christine Lampard, née Bleakley. ‘And life is about being happy with what you have.’
It is the end of a rainy afternoon in London and the Northern Ireland-born television presenter is explaining how, at 38, she has found a contented balance between her career and her role as wife of ex-England footballer Frank Lampard and stepmother to his two young girls.
On paper, life is pretty perfect for Christine. She lives in a beautiful house in London; she is blessed with a dark, limpid beauty and an enviably slim figure she does little – bar the odd gym class – to maintain. Her weeks are filled with mornings on the television (she is a regular presenter on ITV’s Loose Women and a stand-in on Lorraine), dinner dates with her husband and walks in the park with their havanese Minnie.
She is not, however, allowed to be completely satisfied with her life, because after an eight-year relationship and nearly two years of marriage to Frank, she is constantly asked the Baby Question. Christine is far too polite to get cross, but she refuses to let herself be put under pressure.
‘I think women are never allowed to feel that everything in their world is OK – if they are not worried about something then they should be. I am always being asked when I am going to have a baby. Everyone seems to be fascinated by my body clock. As far as I am concerned, my attitude is that I will wait and see what happens. I’m not pushing myself, I’m not getting stressed or unhappy. I’m a believer in what will be will be.’
Last year there were reports that she and Frank were considering IVF. Christine shakes her head. ‘That isn’t something we have thought about. I know friends who have torn themselves apart and jeopardised their relationship because going through IVF was so traumatic and I don’t know if I could do that to myself or to Frank. I’m not one of those women who was thinking about babies at the age of 18 and when I first met Frank it wasn’t on the agenda. If it happens, it happens, but right now all is well in my world as it is.’
Her ‘world’ includes ten-year-old Isla and Luna, nearly 12, whom she describes not as daughters but as ‘my gorgeous little girls’. They spend half the week with their mother, Frank’s Spanish-born ex-fiancée Elen Rivas, and half the week with their father and Christine. Theirs is a relationship that has borne the sweetest fruit, as illustrated by the very emotional wedding speeches the girls gave when Christine and the former Chelsea star married in Knightsbridge, London, just a few days before Christmas in 2015.
Christine nods. ‘Being a stepmother wasn’t something I had ever envisioned happening to me. Disney has done a brilliant job of making out that all stepmothers are evil, but when you find yourself in that situation, you make the best of it.’
Christine and Frank met at an awards ceremony in London a year after he had split from Elen. Christine had been single for nine months following the end of a three-year relationship with entrepreneur Mark Beirne. At the time she was television’s latest golden girl, having been plucked from virtual obscurity (she began working for BBC Northern Ireland at the age of 20 and presented BBC Two daytime show Let Me Entertain You in 2006-7) to front The One Show with Adrian Chiles when regular host Myleene Klass went into early labour.
‘I got a call in the morning asking if I would co-present the show that night,’ she recalls. ‘My first instinct was to say no, because I was terrified by the idea. I’d done a few little films for them and that was it. But they were desperate and as I was thinking “no, no, no” I heard the word “yes” coming out of my mouth.
‘It was rather crazy. I arrived that day, did the show and never went back. I hadn’t left Northern Ireland before and I remember walking around Shepherd’s Bush thinking, “I can’t do this. I have to go home.” I was lost in my thoughts and when I looked up, I’d walked into a card shop. There was a card in front of me that said, “Jump and the net will appear.” I bought it. It still hangs on my wall – it has become my motto for life.’
We return to the subject of Frank and the girls. Again, Christine decided to take a leap of faith. ‘When we first got together, it was very much me who was the one holding back,’ she says. ‘I knew Frank was special early on, but I held off meeting the girls for a year because I wanted to make sure that it was serious, that we were going to be together. I wanted to get everything right. I didn’t want them to have to go through “hello and goodbye”.
‘When we finally met, I wanted it to be gradual. I went to Frank’s house with a friend of his who pretended I was with him. The girls put on a fashion show, which I loved. They were tiny – just three and five – but I remember very clearly chatting to Luna about her dress and her hair. A year or so later she told me that both of them had known I was with their dad. It was a very good lesson – you can never fool a child.’
In the intervening years, Christine’s personal life has taken a definite upswing while her career – which went from The One Show to Strictly Come Dancing and a 2010 win for best TV presenter at the Cosmopolitan Ultimate Women of the Year Awards – has taken something of a hit. Christine is upfront about how things went horribly wrong after she and Adrian left The One Show, which made their careers, for ITV.
Their 2010 defection came with a reported £4 million contract for Christine and the launch of ITV’s new breakfast show Daybreak. But the show was panned by viewers for being, she remembers, ‘awkward’, ‘messy’ and a ‘nightmare’. Viewers left in droves and 14 months later the pair were replaced, initially by Dan Lobb and Kate Garraway and later by Aled Jones and Lorraine Kelly.
As the fallout raged in the tabloids, Christine glided into presenting Dancing on Ice alongside Phillip Schofield, refusing to get drawn into the conversation. There were even conflicting rumours of both an affair and a feud between Christine and Adrian that had brought about their downfall. (Adrian later blamed himself for the poor ratings and said that Christine should have been kept on.)
‘Oh, it was all nonsense,’ she says now with a shrug. ‘It got very messy and I remember Frank getting upset because he thought I was upset. I remember telling him: “We’re still here. Let’s just move on and smile about it. No one has died; it’s just showbiz. Let’s focus on our lives.”’
Now they are married, their lives, she says ‘are getting better and better’. After their wedding they spent a year in New York when Frank joined New York City FC, then came home in February after he announced his retirement from the game.
‘New York was one of the best years we’d ever spent together,’ she says. ‘I thought I would miss home, but I flew back and forth for work and it was like being on holiday. It was just Frank and me on our own for months until the girls came in the holidays. I walked through Central Park for hours every day and we’d spend afternoons in bars eating chicken wings and hot dogs and drinking Blue Moon beer while watching the football. When the girls came we had a great time going to the Rockefeller Center and the museums. I made memories there that I will take to my grave. It was the first time that Frank and I spent Christmas together because in Britain football players have a match on Boxing Day, but in the US they don’t, so that was very special.’
There is depth to Christine that is often missed in the glamorous photographs of her at various charity events (‘on most days it’s jeans or sweats’). She has navigated the politics of morning television, the ex-partner (she and Elen have a ‘very civil’ relationship) and football. ‘I knew nothing about it when I first met Frank. Like Luna and Isla, I was one of two girls. My dad was into music; football didn’t feature. But I’ve grown to like it and got to know other players and their wives. It’s about people, at the end of the day – being friendly and having a chat.’
Christine does like to chat. ‘Honestly, I will talk to anyone,’ she says. ‘It’s the way I grew up. I’m happiest with a cup of tea in my hands, sitting at a kitchen table.’ Ask how she and Frank spend their time and she says they spend hours talking.
They have, she says, talked a lot about his retirement, what he is going to do next and how he will deal with not playing the game that has ruled his life for decades. ‘Frank is a big thinker and he was aware it could hit him hard,’ she says. ‘As a footballer he was incredibly ambitious and passionate, and he will miss that. But he’s poured so much of that into taking his coaching badges now [he wants to be a football manager]. He believes he was very lucky to play until the age of 38 and all he wants now is to help young, talented kids come through. He’s good with people, he’s smart and he’s enjoying doing the badges. We’re also enjoying hanging out together, cooking, eating out, being with the girls and our dog. I wanted one for years and I finally managed to persuade Frank to get one. Now he’s completely obsessed.’ (Her phone pings throughout the shoot as Frank sends cute pictures of Minnie.)
Much of Christine’s attitude was formed in her early days in Northern Ireland. We move on to this subject as she reflects, several times, on the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London. ‘Manchester hit me hard because on another clock we could have been at the concert. Frank played for Manchester City and the girls love Ariana Grande so we 100 per cent could have been there. It just got me. All those kids. This absolute insanity.’
Christine grew up in Newtownards, 15 miles from Belfast, during the Troubles. ‘My life was shaped by it,’ she says. ‘There were soldiers on the streets. One of my earliest memories is being scooped out of the bath by my mum because soldiers were banging on the door saying there was a bomb. When I was 14 I was playing outside with friends when a car bomb went off [July 1993 in Roma’s Bar] about a mile away and I was covered in dust and bits of rubble. It ripped the heart out of the entire community; it was devastating.
‘My dad [Fred] was a drummer in a band. He was managed by Louis Walsh, who I knew growing up. But his work was mainly playing in pubs, and back then the pubs were a big target for the IRA. I had panic attacks as a child and couldn’t sleep until Dad came home. I’d wait at the window and pray for the phone not to ring with someone saying there had been an incident. My mum would always be calm and tell me that life is life and our job is to make the best of it we can. But having grown up with that, I view what is happening now with so much horror. It changes the way I think and the places I go. It’s always on my mind. I wept when I heard about Manchester. It makes me so aware of how lucky I am to have what I have.’
The core of Christine is family. She is happy to continue to fit her plans around Frank, Luna and Isla. She has, this year, worked once more with Adrian Chiles on a new Ireland-based show called Friendship Test, where the pair uncover the beauties of Ireland and the power of friendship over religious and cultural divides.
‘It was great to work with Adrian again,’ she says. ‘There was a lot of me showing him around this beautiful country and us falling into our old partnership. He would arrive on set grumpy and I would laugh him out of it. He had a lovely time. There was lots of seeing my friends and family as well. Adrian and I never lost touch; we speak every week. He will always be part of my life because he’s a mate.’
Most of Christine’s friends are girls from school and university (she read politics at Queen’s University Belfast but quit before graduating to work for the BBC), along with her stylist Angie Smith, whom she met on her first ever shoot. But she is closest to her younger sister, Nicola, 35, who gave up a career in finance to work as a Unislim leader after shedding seven stone at 19 by following the slimming club’s regime. ‘My sister and I have always been incredibly close,’ Christine says.
As teenagers, Christine was naturally slim – as she is now – but Nicola’s weight was out of control. ‘There was never any question of me having a go at her or being smug about it,’ she says. ‘But it taught me how judgmental people can be about weight. I felt incredibly protective of Nicola. There are reasons that people put on weight: it could be that you are unhappy or ill, but it’s nothing to do with anyone else. One night we were out together and were standing in the loos. A woman came in, looked at the “size 22” label that was sticking out of Nicola’s top and tucked it in, saying, “You don’t want to be letting people see that now, do you?” My poor sister sank. I was boiling over with rage, but I didn’t want to make it worse by having a row. It makes you aware of how nasty people can be.’
Nicola credits her sister for helping her lose weight but Christine shakes her head. ‘It was all her. I just encouraged her. She did it herself for herself and almost 20 years on she’s still slim. She puts me to shame because she’s so big on health and exercise, and I’m the one hiding under the covers when it’s time to go to a gym class. She’s the living embodiment of making the best of yourself. She inspires other women, Frank adores her and she is definitely a lesson to me.’
Christine checks her phone. Another picture of Minnie pops up on her screen and she laughs. ‘Everything is about perspective. How can you not be happy when you see that?’