Christine Bleakley gets Frank about their courtship... and how she loves life with his daughters
Christine Bleakley has revealed how Frank Lampard wooed her with an old-fashioned courtship - and has also given a fascinating insight into her family life with the footballer's two young daughters.
The 36-year-old from Newtownards, who first met Lampard at the 2009 Pride of Britain awards after the then Chelsea star asked Piers Morgan to introduce them, said they shared long late-night chats on the phone before they ever dated.
Christine, who is back on UTV tonight with the second episode of her well-received new travel show Wild Ireland, said: "We clicked instantly, but then I didn't see him again for weeks. He was away in Ukraine, playing for England. We spoke on the phone - one night, we talked for six hours. It was an old-fashioned courtship, although we didn't plan it that way. By the time we met again we knew everything about each other's families. It was a nice start. Unexpected, but lovely."
Christine, who shares a home in west London with Lampard, also talked about the pitfalls and joys that come with being a step-parent - she helps to look after Luna (9) and Isla (7), the Manchester City star's two daughters from his relationship with Spanish model Elen Rivas.
"You're brought up with the term 'stepmum' being a horrible thing. Nobody ever says at school that they want to be a step-parent," she said.
But she pointed out that she thinks she and Frank have negotiated this tricky area well: "I'd like to think, if you asked the girls in 10 years' time, they would say that it was a well-thought-out process. I didn't meet them for a year on purpose. I wanted to make sure that the time was right and that we were going to be together forever and that suddenly I wasn't disappearing and Daddy had a new friend - what use is that to anybody? So we were very, very careful."
She also stressed that she does not try to be their mother. "They know I'm their little mate. I don't want to be their mummy. That was never even a thought. Frank's away a lot, their mummy could be away, I have them on my own. It's me going to violin recitals, me doing their homework, me doing the bathtime tonight and getting them to school in the morning.
"I've grown into that and we have our own little system. I'll pick them up from school and they won't even ask 'Where's Mummy or Daddy?' They say, 'Hi Christine.' Because I'm there, they're content. I couldn't ask for much more."
Talking in the Times newspaper about her growing presence in the girls' lives, Christine went on: "It used to be just Daddy but now it's Daddy Christine, almost the one word. That's lovely. The eldest phoned me yesterday when I was back in Ireland filming and said 'I miss you! When are you home?' I thought, 'OMG, that's a massive, massive thing.' Any step-parent will tell you that pulls on the heart-strings."
She does, though, have very little contact with the girls' mum, Elen. "I have very little to do with her. We have our lives, the girls go home there and they come to our house for the other half of the week, but it all sort of works. I think we've got the balance right, they're very happy little girls."
And Christine also quashed suggestions she and Lampard were considering a permanent move to the Big Apple ahead of his debut with New York City FC.
"My home is here, everything is here," she said.
Wild Ireland, tonight, UTV, 8pm