Stacey Solomon: 'I think Joe's Mr Right ... he even tolerates me picking my nose'
Dagenham girl and Loose Women panellist Stacey Solomon tells Gabrielle Fagan about her newfound confidence and settling down with ex-EastEnders star Joe Swash
Stacey Solomon found fame as the lovable Essex girl from Dagenham on the X Factor. She may have only finished third in the competition, behind Olly Murs and winner Joe McElderry, but her career really took off in 2010 when she was crowned the winner of series 10 of I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here.
Since then, she's become a popular face on panel and reality shows, with a regular gig presenting ITV2 spin-off show I'm A Celebrity: Extra Camp alongside her current partner, former EastEnders actor Joe Swash.
She's also the mother of two sons, Zachary (9) and Leighton (5).
True to form, the 28-year-old talks candidly about motherhood, marriage and loving her body.
She admits that she is not really one for a strict gym regime, but says being a busy mum helps her keep her enviably trim figure.
Stacey adds: "I mainly rely on running around after my two boys. I play games with them to burn off calories. I'll do an occasional exercise class but, luckily, I don't gain weight easily.
"I eat healthily apart from indulging in the odd packet of crisps, nuts and sandwiches. I'm happy pretty much every day, and as I get older, I just get happier."
Her romance with Joe Swash has given her a new level of happiness in a life where love has not always run true.
Stacey explains: "It means everything to me because it's transformed my life. When we met in 2015, I'd given up on men, I thought I was done and I was quite happy to be alone with my sons.
"I think that's probably the reason I found Joe - because I was really content and I wasn't looking for someone to complete me. I'm really happy with him. At the moment I do think he is Mr Right.
"He makes me feel secure, loves me unconditionally and sticks up for me even if I'm in the wrong. He's even tolerant about my horrible habit of picking my nose. That sort of love makes you feel a bit invincible."
So are the couple thinking of taking the next step in their relationship?
"We're taking things slowly because we've both got children who come first," she replies."We're not living together at the moment, but we're going to gradually integrate our lives when the kids are ready. I'm still a hopeless romantic and want us to get married, but we're not ready for that yet."
Stacey is adamant that she would like to have more children at some stage in the future.
"Definitely," she says "I'm one of seven so I always imagined having a big family. The most attractive thing about Joe is that he's an incredible father to his 10-year-old son. He's really selfless and caring and my boys adore him. But I'm aware I have two children from two relationships, and I read a lot of social studies about the impact on children of broken families. I think very seriously about the emotional effects [of having more children], so we don't want to rush into having a child just yet."
Stacey posted a brave video online, celebrating her "real bikini body" and its "imperfections", which went viral overnight on Instagram. Why did she decide to do that?
"I felt a moral obligation [to do it]," she says. "I don't think it's right for people to have a false image of what I look like based on photos that might have been taken after make-up sessions or those that may have been enhanced. Too many celebrity pictures make women look 'perfect'. It's so damaging to other women's self-esteem.
"These days, I'm really comfortable with the way I look and I think there are more important things to worry about than my figure. My wobbly bits, muffin top, saggy boobs and stretch marks from pregnancies are part of me and I'm proud of them."
Life has not always been a bed of roses for Stacey and she frankly admits that there have been tough challenges, starting when she was a teenager.
"I was only 17 when I got pregnant with Zach, which turned my life upside down," she says. "At the time, it was very hard, even though he turned out to be the best thing to happen to me. I suffered from post-natal depression after he was born and it was hard to recover from it. When I do revisit that time in my head, it feels very dark."
Having rebuilt her life and career, what are the things that are important to her?
Stacey is clear: "Apart from my kids, my family and my partner, it's about being independent.
"My dad made me and my siblings get weekend jobs as soon as we were old enough, so we learnt the value of working and managing money.
"I never imagined being on X-Factor or that I'd continue to have a career and be on Loose Women.
"Sitting with intelligent, funny women and talking about things I care about is literally my dream job."
Given the dark times she endured would she change anything in her life? "Nothing," Stacey says. "I spend my time thinking about getting through the present.
"I try not to look back unless I think I can learn something.
"I let the future look after itself - what will be will be."