From pop sensations to TV’s new It-couple, Rochelle and Marvin Humes have a seemingly charmed life. But, they reveal to Louise Gannon, their marriage has weathered a secret pain.
You can’t miss the significance of today’s date. Shops are stacked with ‘Best Dad in the World’ cards and Instagram is abuzz with affectionate posts. For many years, though, Father’s Day meant nothing to Rochelle Humes. ‘Having a dad was just something I never knew,’ says the multi-platinum-selling pop star, hit TV presenter and children’s author. ‘I didn’t realise how much I was missing until I got married and had children of my own and saw how much their dad means to my girls.’
Rochelle grew up with few memories of the man who gave her half her DNA. As a child, she had barely any contact with Jamaican-born Mark Piper, who walked out when she was three years old, and Rochelle grew up sharing her mother Roz Wiseman’s surname. Though she credits petite, blonde Roz with making her childhood secure, she felt alienated from her Jamaican roots, and had to struggle with her own identity as a mixed-raced girl growing up in an all-white family.
This year, though, Father’s Day has a different emotional charge and not just because Rochelle’s daughters – Alaia-Mai, six, and Valentina, two – have been busily planning treats for their own very hands-on dad, the former pop star and Capital DJ Marvin Humes. More significantly, there has recently been a sense of closure since Rochelle met her two half-sisters Lili, 23, and Sophie, 20, as well as half-brother Jake, 23.
The meeting was instigated when a friend of Lili – the Love Island star Kem Cetinay – approached Rochelle out of the blue at a Christmas party and dropped a bombshell: ‘He said: “I saw your sister the other night and she wants you to get in touch with her,”’ remembers Rochelle. ‘He gave me Lili’s number and took mine.’
Eventually the sisters messaged and arranged to meet but Rochelle’s story has no fairytale ending. There was no heartwarming reunion with her biological father, but it is clear that finding her siblings has helped her lay the ghosts of her past to rest and to move on from wanting her dad in her life. ‘Meeting up with them felt like the missing piece of the puzzle. It was nerve-racking but it’s made me so happy,’ she says. ‘When we sat down, all I could think was that my dad must have some pretty strong DNA because it wasn’t just the way my sisters looked, it was the way they spoke, the way they moved – everything about them I recognised from myself. They always felt bad because they’d had my father in their lives but I told them I didn’t want them to feel that. They were my brother and sisters and we didn’t need to involve parents. We told our daughters Alaia and Vali they had two more aunts and an uncle. It’s become a bigger family, which has been wonderful.’
Marvin remembers a conversation with a builder who had been working on their house a few months prior to the half-siblings’ meeting. ‘He asked if everything was OK with Rochelle because he’d seen her in a local bar and she’d completely blanked him,’ he says. ‘I was confused because she hadn’t been out that night, but this guy was sure it was Rochelle. What was so weird [when we met] was how they all looked exactly like Roch.’
Rochelle does seem genuinely happy to have her half-sisters and brother in her life, but the return to her family roots has been traumatic too, and it’s clear how much she has relied on Marvin to get through it. ‘I knew about Rochelle’s situation with her dad from the very first time we talked properly around ten years ago,’ says Marvin, whose own happily married parents have been together since the 1970s. ‘It made me sad because my family is everything to me.’
Their upbringings notwithstanding, the couple have a lot in common. Both came to fame on the back of successful pop careers. Rochelle, now 30, was just 12 when she became a star in pop band S Club Juniors and went on to become a household name in girl band The Saturdays. Marvin, 34, was in a band called VS as a teenager before joining the award-winning JLS. Now the pair are in demand as TV and radio presenters. Parallel careers aside, both place a high value on loyalty and friendship – as demonstrated by their very public outpouring of love for Marvin’s former JLS bandmate Oritsé Williams after he was found not guilty of rape last month (Oritsé had been accused of attacking a woman in a hotel room after a gig in 2016).
Rochelle and Marvin both paid tribute to Oritsé’s dignity. As Marvin wrote in a touching Instagram post, ‘I’m just so proud of the way he conducted himself during what has been the most awful time… He is so strong and I know he can’t wait to start his life again now.’
Rochelle captioned a photo of her and Oritsé together with, ‘This here is our brother, one of the kindest, most gentle, thoughtful men I know. We love you so much and I’m writing this crying so many happy tears, it’s over.’
Rochelle is known for her down-to-earth work ethic and sunny personality – both traits she attributes to her mother, retired paramedic Roz. But for years Rochelle had few opportunities to seek out the quirks and features she inherited on her paternal side. Roz’s second daughter, Emily, now 26 and working for the NHS, is fair-skinned like her mother (Emily’s father passed away three years ago) and Rochelle has always been grateful that family friend and former England footballer Paul Ince – who also has a Jamaican father – was often on hand to show her something of her roots. She refers to him as ‘uncle’ and he walked her down the aisle when she married Marvin at Blenheim Palace seven years ago.
It was when Rochelle became a mother that she began to feel overwhelmed by Roz’s courage in the face of her father’s desertion. ‘My mum never said a bad word about my dad and always left the door open for him to see me,’ she says. But it wasn’t until Rochelle was 15 that he made contact. ‘He wanted to see me because his mother had died and he put a letter through the door. We spent some time together but it didn’t go well. I was young, it was difficult…’ Her voice trails off.
By then Rochelle knew he had a new young family but after that one meeting there was no more contact between her and her father.
The estrangement from her dad, she says, is particularly painful when she sees the closeness between Marvin and their own daughters. ‘It used to make me happy-sad because Marvin and I talk about our girls all the time, and having someone matching your level of love for your child is just extraordinary – and yet that is something my mum never had with me.
‘Sometimes Alaia will run up to me and say, “Mummy, Daddy keeps kissing me, tell him to stop,” and I just say, “Honey, you are so lucky, Daddy loves you so much. Just let him kiss you if he wants to, there’s plenty of time to have embarrassing dad moments when you are a teenager and he’s dad-dancing at your parties!”’
Rochelle has taught herself to look on the positive side of life. It’s an attitude that has stood her in good stead in her career. When Holly Willoughby stepped in for Ant McPartlin on last year’s I’m A Celebrity, it was Rochelle who was asked to fill her shoes on This Morning. She and Marvin are currently presenting a primetime Saturday night TV show together, The Hit List – a sort of Name That Tune in which teams compete to win £10,000 based on their musical knowledge. ‘It’s a real scream-at-the-telly show for all ages. And it’s about music so it’s our home territory,’ says Rochelle.
It must have been daunting covering for Holly, the highest-profile female presenter on TV. ‘I was nervous,’ Rochelle admits, ‘but I had a blast.’ She interviewed Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May. ‘I asked Theresa, “Does your husband ever just want you to give up and have a nice life?” She hesitated and I thought she was going to open up and say “Yes…” But then she snapped into PM mode. I actually felt sorry for her because she was under so much pressure. At the end I gave her a big hug which was really awkward as she just stood stiff with her arms straight down by her sides. I thought: “OK, Roch, let go now. Too much.”’
The successful partnership between Rochelle and Marvin goes far deeper than their estimated £9 million fortune or their £1.7 million mansion in Essex. Marvin was determined to marry Rochelle from the moment they spoke after a concert in Dublin where they had both played. He chased her relentlessly (‘I didn’t play it cool’) but Rochelle was having none of it: ‘I was determined not to fall for him. I’d just come out of a not-great relationship [with footballer Darren Randolph, whom she dated for four years] and I told him I didn’t want to go out with a guy in a band who has girls chasing him around everywhere.’
Marvin – the middle of three brothers – is far more serious in person than his public persona would lead most to believe: ‘The instant I met Rochelle, I knew she was the woman I wanted to be with. I also knew I had to show her I would be a man who would always stand by her side,’ he says. ‘I wanted to give her absolute security. We also both had this same work ethic which came from our parents. My dad has worked really hard as a chef but he is all about his family.’
Becoming a mum herself has made Rochelle far more conscious of her ethnicity – which was the reason she wrote her bestselling children’s book The Mega Magic Hair Swap. ‘Alaia was four when she started asking me why her hair wasn’t all blonde and swishy like her friends. I called my mum who said, “This is history repeating itself.” I was exactly the same at that age and then when Mel B came along with the Spice Girls when I was six or seven I became completely obsessed because she had hair like me and I could be her when we danced in the playground.
‘I told Alaia I had the same hair as her as a child but all the products I’d put on it over the decades had removed the original curl. So I set about going back to natural soft curls, spending a fortune on coconut creams. The moral of the book is be comfortable in your own skin and don’t try to change yourself.’
Rochelle insists that she isn’t harbouring issues around her estranged dad. ‘I still don’t have a relationship with my father but that no longer bothers me at all because I have Jake, Lili and Sophie.’
As for Marvin, I ask him which of his achievements makes him proudest and he doesn’t hesitate: ‘Being a dad. Being a family man.’
The Hit List is on BBC One on Saturday evenings