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Our marriage break-up has worked so well for both of us

Over the last 20 years, Denise van Outen made the transition from ladette to working mother. She tells Gabrielle Fagan how key her ex Lee Mead is in her life and about her new romance.

Testing times can bring out the best in people and it seems Denise van Outen has come through the past 18 months since her marriage break-up with flying colours. Looking enviably slim and glamorous - and exuding an almost tangible air of contentment - she describes herself as "healthy, happy and fulfilled" while she opens up about the past ups and downs of her personal life, turning 40, and recently finding new romance.

First, with characteristic honesty, she doesn't shy away from talking about her "amicable" split from her actor husband, Lee Mead (33), the father of her four-year-old-daughter, Betsy.

They met in 2007 when Lee was competing and Denise was judging on the TV talent show, Any Dream Will Do. The couple married in 2009 and had Betsy a year later, but in 2013 they announced their marriage was over, citing the toll their busy work schedules had taken on their relationship.

"It's been a very lucky break-up story really because we've remained really good friends," says the presenter, singer, dancer and actress, who first found fame in the late Nineties as the feisty, cheeky blonde from Essex on TV's The Big Breakfast, went on to star in musicals, most notably as Roxy Hart in Chicago, and was a runner-up in BBC's Strictly Come Dancing in 2012.

She and her ex-husband's support for one another enables them to successfully balance parenting and work - Mead's appearing in BBC's Casualty and she's a weekend radio presenter on Magic with a forthcoming second tour of the one-woman play, Some Girl I Used To Know.

"I don't even feel like a single mother because I have so much support from Lee and both our families. For instance, we spent Christmas Day together with his family and mine, just like we did the previous year. It was lovely and great for Betsy," says van Outen, who divides her time between a base in London and a home in Kent.

"We don't have any set rules for when Lee sees her or I have her. Filming for Casualty is in Cardiff and so Betsy's made loads of set visits and knows all the names of the cast, which is very sweet.

"Our set-up is very relaxed and amicable and we just agree everything between ourselves. It wouldn't work for everyone, but it works for us. Lee's a fantastic father and I'm proud of the way we've coped with it and made Betsy the priority."

While her play, which she wrote, focuses on women "who for various reasons - their career, not finding the right man, or coming out of a marriage - find themselves single at 40", her own status currently is very much attached.

For the past seven months, she's been dating stockbroker Eddie Boxshall, although she's coy about any plans for the future.

"It's nice getting to know someone. It's very relaxed and not really serious. It's just nice and good to be back on the dating scene," she says guardedly.

"Thankfully, I don't think there's really any interest nowadays in whoever I date. At one stage, the media seemed obsessed with my meeting someone and having a kid and literally partnered me off with everyone I was seen with! I'm glad that's over and my private life goes pretty well unnoticed."

While that may be an optimistic assessment, it's undoubtedly true that in her 20s van Outen's life was only too public.

She dated Jay Kay, lead singer of Jamiroquai, for three years until 2001 and was included in the high-profile posse of women, including Zoe Ball and Sara Cox, dubbed 'ladettes' because of their high jinks and partying. Everything changed for her, she says, when she became a mother aged 35. "I ran myself into the ground in my 20s having fun and living life to the full, but becoming a mother changed my priorities," she admits.

"I'm totally happy to be a part-time working woman and mum, whereas if I'd been a young mum, it might have been harder to make the sacrifices necessary if you're a parent.

"I don't fill my diary like I used to - I only accept things I really want to do - because I like to be around for my daughter and be on the school run as much as I can."

She's philosophical about not having had more children. "Of course, if I'd settled down younger, I probably would have had more, but that's just the way it worked out. I hadn't met the right person and my career took over my life during those earlier years," she admits.

"I have a wonderful little girl, who's incredibly outgoing and has lots of friends, and is the light of my life."

Despite the fact she's in a notoriously age-conscious industry, she's equally sanguine about marking that milestone 40th birthday last May.

"I think 40's a nice age actually because you know yourself and where you are in your life. I didn't have any problem with it, especially as I'm probably fitter and healthier than I was in my 20s," says the celebrity, who's put her fitness to the test on a punishing eight-day 250-mile cycle ride from Vietnam to Cambodia, her fourth charity sporting challenge.

Last year she cycled 180 miles through India and previously she's climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and trekked across the Great Wall of China.

On her return she will act as a mentor to six dieters aiming to lose weight using diet aid, XLS Medical (xlsmedical.co.uk) and will host an online documentary charting their progress.

"Although I haven't dieted for the past 15 years, I've been careful about what I put in my body. I believe in eating healthily and grow my own vegetables. It means that while I don't deprive myself, I enjoy treats in moderation.

"Also I feel it's important to be a good role model about eating and health for my daughter's sake and I'm happy that she'll always choose fresh fruit over cakes," she says.

"I'm really looking forward to being a friend and support for those women because I know support's essential throughout life. I'm fortunate that when I've gone through life changes and challenges, I've always had really good people, family as well as long-standing friends, around me who've pulled me through the tricky times.

"You can't ask for more than that and I feel lucky that my life's so full."

From child model to TV star

Born in Essex in May 1974, the youngest of three children

Began modelling for knitting patterns as a child, before attending the Sylvia Young Theatre School

As a teenager had brief roles on television dramas including The Bill, and was a member of girl group Those2Girls

In 1997 she landed her big role as a presenter on the Big Breakfast show on Channel 4, but left in 1998 to develop her acting career, appearing on several episodes of The Bill and two series of comedy Babes in the Wood

Played Roxie Hart on the stage in the hit musical Chicago in the West End in 2001, helping the show sell out for the entire 20 week run. She reprised her role on Broadway the following year

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