While Girls Aloud star Cheryl Cole has cast herself as the princess in the tower; Ashley will be the recipient of the least sympathy in a public separation since Ike Turner — or at the very least Heather Mills.
The fairytale villain received his comeuppance yesterday teatime as the Ashley and Cheryl marriage — a multi-million-pound conflation of sport, ambition, dubious miming and good looks — reached its grisly denouement.
Ms Cole (26), a chart-topping singer and talent show judge regarded by some as the nation's favourite celebrity, decided to publicly eject her cheating husband from their £6m Surrey mansion.
It caps a bad month for the 29-year-old England footballer who, although regarded as the best player in the world in his position, has now broken his ankle and, seemingly, his marriage.
Ms Cole's announcement that the couple are to separate was prompted by reports that an image of his genitals was sent by text to another woman. There was also a grainy image of him in unflattering white Y-fronts.
Ms Cole's appeal to an audience of women in their teens and twenties jumps demographic boundaries and goes beyond the mere construct of music publicists and showbusiness journalists.
For fans, she represents the dream ascent from a tough council estate to international stardom.
She has successfully projected an image of herself as real — combining her working class upbringing with teary outbursts as she eliminates contestants from The X Factor — and flawed: she assaulted a nightclub toilet attendant in 2003. She is therefore “human” in the peculiar logic of showbusiness.
She tapped into a popular vein of opinion by denouncing footballers' Wags (wives and girlfriends) as “just as bad as benefit scroungers... These women have nannies, they don't cook or clean and never do a day's work. What kind of aspiration is that?”
The Coles' comparative standings in the public eye have completely reversed since 2003. Back then, Cheryl Tweedy, as she was, had been plucked from a Newcastle-upon-Tyne estate by Simon Cowell and plonked in the band Girls Aloud, who topped the charts but were renowned at that stage more for their fake tan than lyrical acumen.
Her career was soon threatened when she was arrested and convicted of the actual bodily harm of a nightclub toilet attendant. Obscurity could have beckoned.
But in 2004, Tweedy met Ashley Cole, an upwardly mobile young footballer already capped by England. They married two years later in a £1m OK! wedding.
Ashley Cole was playing for Arsenal at the time but had decided his talents deserved more appropriate financial recognition, and his decision to launch a public attack on his employers after they offered him only £55,000 a week — “I nearly swerved off the road! He (the Arsenal executive) is taking the p**s!” — was the first turning point in the relative popularities of the Coles.
The second landmark, which swung the fickle pendulum of popularity firmly in Ms Cole's direction, was the slew of toe-curlingly detailed newspaper reports, 18 months after they married, that he had cheated on her.
They apparently reconciled and she spoke of her desire to start a family with him.
Then came the disclosure a fortnight ago that he had been sending intimate text messages to other women, followed by claims of five affairs. Sisterhood, gather round.
Sustaining one's image as a strong-willed, independently successful woman becomes increasingly difficult with each transgression by the husband.
Repeated forgiveness, after all, could be interpreted as looking like a “doormat”. The Sun reported that she ended the marriage by text message from Los Angeles, stating: “Move out. It's over.”
The separation was announced — where else — on the stream-of-consciousness internet forum Twitter, four hours after Ms Cole flew back into Heathrow without her wedding ring.
Her publicist, Sundraj Sreenivasan, attacked the frenzied red-top speculation of recent days — “All recent stories based around Cheryl supposedly talking to ‘close pals' are absolute C**P” — before adding: “Cheryl Cole is separating from her husband Ashley Cole. Cheryl asks the media to respect her privacy during this difficult time. We have no further comment to make.”
Simon Cowell is expected to help her launch a career in the United States.
The arrival yesterday afternoon of two fire engines and a police car at the Coles' house was an unexpected development in the drama, but it was soon announced to be a false alarm.
Divorce lawyers suggested that the Coles could easily “divorce with dignity” in advance of the football World Cup in South Africa this June, should she apply on the grounds of his unreasonable behaviour and they settle out of court. Expect headlines about “the Ex Factor”. This one will run and run.
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