All eyes on Christine Bleakley
As she prepares for her debut on ITV’s new breakfast show Daybreak on Monday, Christine Bleakley‘s every move is the centre of attention, says Jane Graham
If we must have a nation’s sweetheart — and it seems, in the UK, we simply must — then for those of us who would prefer that she be an inspirational figure to whom good luck sticks, rather than a tragedy-struck melancholic like Ms Tweedy-nee-Cole, Christine Bleakley makes rather a good candidate.
She’s won herself a £4million contract on a high profile TV show, bagged herself a rich, good-looking and vaguely intelligent footballer, and has radiated nothing but sublime contentment for the last year.
The nation should rejoice. If the sight of an attractive, happy, loved-up and successful career girl untroubled by a broken heart, secret weight battle or family tragedy can’t gladden the heart of a TV rival or even a jaded old tabloid hack, surely nothing can.
Yeah, well, we can dream — of a better place, where other people’s success brings their peers joy and being a decent human being staves off nasty comments from wizened old gossip columnists — but we don’t live in that place. The truth is that the knives have been out for 31-year-old Bleakley since she started getting good ratings for The One Show and being photographed in newspapers. As far as the mainstream media were concerned this girl had arrived on primetime television completely out of the blue, which meant they had nothing concrete to hate her for.
A rummage around her past threw up little of real consequence. She used to be engaged to someone but broke it off — maybe she was a cold-blooded wench.
Her co-host seemed to like her and then left his wife — she was probably a stone-hearted home-breaker. An unnamed ‘source’ (which usually means ‘invented person’) suggested she had got where she was because of her unparalleled ruthlessness and myopic selfishness. Nothing very headline-grabbing there. (Which isn’t to say the papers didn’t run the headlines anyway.)
In the meantime, Bleakley ignored the chatter, got on with her job of being a friendly good listener, beamed her happy big grin at her ever-growing millions of viewers and got herself a nice Premiership boyfriend. As the attacks got more vehement — she has been labelled ‘a Stepford wife on Red Bull’, ‘a dead eyed telly wannabe’ and a ‘dreaded dreary’ and criticised for everything from her ‘Tango’d skin’ and her ‘tortured vowels’ to her ‘very wide mouth’ — she just got more successful and more famous.
Now one of the best known faces on UK television, her debut on ITV’s new morning show Daybreak on Monday is one of the most anticipated TV moments of the last 12 months. Look out for reports on how early mornings have left her haggard and grumpy.
It’s been said before that hating Christine Bleakley is like hating Christmas. Shiny, bubbly and full of good cheer, she fulfils a similar function, popping up in our lives with comforting regularity, bringing generations together with her affable, family-friendly and not too brain-taxing offerings.
But lots of people — the kind who hate to see other people have fun — don’t like Christmas, so it’s no surprise that she’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
The criticism doesn’t appear to have any effect on Bleakley’s prospects however. So far, things have gone unbelievably well for the down-to-earth Newtownards girl. When she began her stint on The One Show she was a complete unknown, and no-one, including Christine herself, knew whether her career was about to fly or die. Even the most fervent of fans could not have predicted her supernova shoot to the top of the A-list. Rewind just 30 months and it’s hard to believe, but Christine had yet to be papped, water-ski the Channel, be linked with a number of high-profile male celebrities and find herself at the centre of one of the most aggressive TV bidding wars of the last five years. Her ascent has been one of the most impressive of any BBC ‘new face’ in a long time.
How has she done it? She describes herself as a home girl, a normal, even boring, person “with a housewife inside trying to get out.” That, of course, is a large part of her appeal — there is nothing lofty about ‘our Christine’. There is also no malice, no hint of schadenfreude — she’s the kind of friend you’d phone first if good luck hit you. She gives the impression of being rather a nice girlfriend too — the supportive, non-clingy, easy-going type most men dream of, with a life of her own, an independent bank balance and a breezy approach to her man’s complicated baggage.
Her relationship with Chelsea striker Frank Lampard has been very deftly handled, in fact. Thanks to her vertiginous career curve, her passionate rejection of the WAG moniker has been surprisingly widely accepted by the media.
She doesn’t write vacuous fashion columns for women’s weekly magazines, slipping in tiny tantalising details about her life with an international footballer, she doesn’t do Hello photo shoots and she simply doesn’t talk about her relationship when she (rarely) speaks to the press.
The impression she gives is of a woman who lets her work do the talking, and her work only talks about Christine the TV presenter, never Christine the girlfriend and certainly never Christine the WAG.
Daybreak will be a new challenge for her. She herself has admitted that she has made the most of her summer holidays (anyone who saw those pictures of her in Lake Como looking toned and tanned as she frolicked round the pool in an array of bikinis with Lampard looking appreciatively on will know what she means) before settling down to the grim reality of a 6am start.
“I’m not really a morning person,” she has said, revealing what could be an alarming lack of foresight, though it could just be an enviable optimism.
Predictably, female ex-hosts of GMTV have already selflessly ‘warned’ Christine that the job they may have once made look so simple is actually a living nightmare which will destroy their health, relationships and looks.
“It's all very well having a job most girls would sell their Louboutins for,” Fiona Phillips has said unpatronisingly. “But the hours are debilitating (and) sleep deprivation is not a kind bedfellow. It can make you depressed, lethargic, ill and unable to cope with everyday situations.” Cheers, Fiona.
How Christine copes remains to be seen. Depression and illness don’t seem to have broken jaunty early birds like Chris Moyles, Kate Garraway or the now late-rising Terry Wogan, so perhaps her youth, energy and naturally effervescent personality — none of which are Philips’ strongest assets — will get her through.
She certainly has the natural touch which morning and early evening mainstream shows rely on to charm viewers looking for a reason to momentarily put their feet up. Those who suggest that any pretty girl with half a brain could do what she does might want to take a look at the Christine-less One Show. New presenter Alex Jones may well grow into the job, but right now her awkward, jumpy interviewing style, her stiff, forced laugh and general self-consciousness serve as a convincing reminder of the things that come easily to Christine and once made The One Show such a comforting, good-natured draw for tea-time audiences.
If she is able to get over the pain of that middle of the night alarm, it seems likely that Christine will have same effect on bleary-eyed breakfasters. She’ll probably even put a smile on Adrian Chiles’ face as it creakingly unfolds throughout the morning. Now there’s a feat that the hard-working Fiona Phillips can only ever dream of pulling off.
From newsreader to news maker
- Christine began her media career as a newsreader for Citybeat radio in Belfast, then going on to work as a floor manager at BBC Northern Ireland.
- After dropping out of her politics degree at Queen's University, she became a fledgling presenter for BBC NI presenting such local favourites as Sky High and Would You Pass The 11+ alongside Eamonn Holmes.
- Christine then moved to the short lived Let Me Entertain You on BBC2 before her big break came replacing Myleene Klass on The One Show couch.
- Her career success was further enhanced by her appearance on Strictly Come Dancing.
- Christine became a paparazzi favourite when her relationship with footballer Frank Lampard became public knowledge.
- Her decision to jump ship from the BBC to join One Show co-host Adrian Chiles on the Daybreak sofa at ITV ensured that she was seldom out of the news in recent months.
What Christine says on ...
“I'm a good girlfriend, very attentive.” “I am so not a WAG.”
“There's definitely something charismatic about him — he's got a bit of an aura. It's quite rare.”
“There's nothing I don't eat. I have a big appetite, but I'm actually not good on the fitness thing.”
“I always say if this ends tomorrow, I'm going back to being a floor manager. That's my plan.”
“He is known for being a very intelligent bloke, and obviously I see that as well. That contents me very much. You need someone to be able to have a conversation with you and be on the same wavelength.”