She swore she’d never marry again. But Melanie Sykes didn’t bank on meeting her Jack ‘The Rabbit’, the romance that would follow, or the new beginning 2013 is set to bring
Photography by Lee Strickland
Any other celebrity and we might have had a problem on our hands. But when the power blows in our hangar-esque studio, leaving us with no heating on a day that temperatures outside are so low they should be illegal, Melanie Sykes barely bats an eyelid.
“Ah, don’t worry,” she says. “Let’s just get cracking.”
Phew. But that’s Mel all over. No nonsense, fuss or attitude, she’s a true grafter and is happy to stay late when said technical difficulties throw the schedule into disarray.
And if she wasn’t happy, she would certainly say so. Everyone knows where they stand with 42-year-old Mel.
“I don’t apologise for who I am any more,” she says. “You spend your 20s trying to work out who you are, your 30s saying sorry for it and your 40s going: ‘This is it, f**k it’.”
Such self-assurance might explain why she’s defiantly beginning this year planning wedding number two, despite swearing blind she was done with marriage. After divorcing actor Daniel Caltagirone, 40, (the father of her two boys, Roman, 10, and Tino, eight) in 2009, she insisted she had absolutely no intention of walking down the aisle ever again.
“Well, you’re allowed to change your mind, aren’t you?” she says. “And I’ve met and fallen in love with somebody who’s changed my mind. It’s that simple. I was adamant back then that I wouldn’t do it again because I wasn’t in the scenario with someone I wanted to marry. But I am now.”
That someone is Jack Cockings, the 26-year-old roofer Mel met on Twitter last April. The pair exchanged increasingly X-rated tweets over a series of weeks before meeting and falling head over heels for each other. Jack proposed four months later and they plan to get hitched this year. Fast work.
“He’s my equal,” she says. “I hadn’t met my equal before. There are no glitches to get over to be with him, we have synergy and it’s equal. I’ve never experienced that before.”
Not even with Daniel?
“No, that’s why I got divorced.”
She says this bluntly, but not coldly. Mel’s game for a laugh, but deadly serious when it counts. If the conversation veers into territory she thinks is tiresome, she answers straight, while simultaneously killing the subject dead. When asked if her relationship with Jack is passionate, she replies witheringly: “Are you asking if we’re having sex? I’m marrying him. It’s passionate.”
But even indomitable Mel was thrown when the flirtatious tweets she thought were harmless fun, became headline news. Messages that included Mel declaring she had the “giddiest knickers” of her life, as well as “the raging horn”.
She says the interest in her sex life took her by surprise.
“I’d been under the radar for so long, I didn’t even think it would matter. And I felt it was just between me and him at the time because I didn’t have that many Twitter followers.
“When I knew it was going to be in the papers, I was more upset for the boys. I remember just thinking: ‘Oh no, the boys’. I hope I didn’t offend anybody. But it was just jokes. It wasn’t actually happening.”
“When was the last time you were having sex with your partner and he’s emailing at the same time?” she asks. “Get real. He’d just tweet and I’d respond and we’d have a chuckle. They were really flirty tweets, yes. And I still flirt with him. It was just silly banter. And the boys love him. That would obviously be a deal breaker, but they adore him. It’s just perfect.”
She certainly looks pretty ecstatic.
“Oh, I’ve been happy for ages. I think since I got out of my last marriage, I’ve been really happy. I’m just more sane.
“I do fall in love easily. I’m a really soft-hearted person and I love being in love. There’s no greater feeling.”
Marriage might be one thing. But Mel hasn’t budged on having more children. Jack also has a five-year-old son from a previous relationship and that chapter is most definitely closed.
“God, yeah. We’re done. We’re just going to get married and have the rest of our lives together with the kids we’ve got, and have the adventure without babies and all that malarkey. We’ve both done it so it doesn’t need to be repeated.”
She gasps in delight, though, at the mere mention of Roman and Tino, who she’s always tried to shield from the media glare, rejecting magazine offers for family photo shoots and confronting paps who try to take pictures of them in the street.
“The boys are amazing. Amazing! They’re just hilarious, so funny and they’re great communicators.”
Tino was diagnosed with autism six years ago, which has, naturally, proved a challenge. Mel speaks about him with such pride and unflinching love, it’s impossible not to be moved.
“There are times where you think about what the future holds, but the more I get to know this fella and the more he grows, the more I know he’s so likeable, I can’t imagine him not getting on in the world.
“He’s an incredibly popular little person. When you stop trying to put a round peg into a square hole with your child, you start winning. You don’t make them fit in, it’s other people that need to get their heads round it. And once you stop that battle, you’re kind of halfway there.”
Having said that, she says other people’s reactions can sometimes be upsetting. “Tino’s direct,” she says. “He doesn’t say please or thank you, he just wants it done now. We were at a fair the other day watching somebody with a model train set – he’s obsessed with trains – and he’d interrupt: ‘Can you put the engine on this one, I want to see that one moving’.
“And you could see people looking at him thinking what a brat of a child. But he’s not! He’s a loving little boy, who just doesn’t have social graces. Then I get looked at like I’m a bad mother. I don’t judge anyone, but some people are so hugely judgmental and it’s boring.
“So I get a bit upset and protect him because he’s really special, he isn’t a bad boy. He’s hilarious, a mummy’s boy, which is mad because the other one loves his papa so much. We’ve got one of each!
“I’m curious to know what they’re both going to turn out to be, but they’re bright boys and they’re keeping me entertained no end. Amazing, they are.”
Thanks to frequent gym sessions (and help in the form of a post-breastfeeding boob job in 2010), Mel is in the best nick of her life. There aren’t many 40-somethings who look this scorching in teeny-tiny shorts.
“My body’s better than it used to be,” she says. “It’s fitter. When I was younger, it was nice, but softer, whereas now it’s sculpted. I didn’t go to the gym until I was 37. I’d done yoga a bit and faffed about with other things like that but, slowly, I got into it. I’m not suggesting everybody gets so fanatical, but there is a point when you start feeling good physically and mentally.
“You look better in your clothes… and out of them as well. Which is just as important!”
So she feels sexier? “Look,” she says. “Some people are switched on and some people aren’t. And I’m ‘switched on’. Always have been, ever since it’s been legal for me to be so!”
She follows a high-protein, low-carb eating plan and training involves weights, boxing, skipping and rowing.
“I don’t need massive motivation because I know that I’ll feel a hell of a lot better after I’ve done it. The minute you start seeing results, you won’t look back.”
Work-wise, Mel is currently straddling the showbiz and business worlds. Her Active Woman sports nutrition range launched last year and her Ellesse fitness clothing is about to hit Next, DW Fitness and Sport Direct stores.
Meanwhile, her new Saturday night gameshow My Man Can, co-hosted with ex-TOWIE star Mark Wright, where four couples compete for £50,000, is due to start on ITV1. And she’d love another bash at radio after falling in love with it while co-presenting on Radio 2 with Alan Carr until last March. Perhaps 2013 will be the year that happens.
“Yeah, I’m desperate to do more radio,” she says. “But gosh, I just want to do more of everything! I just hope to keep fit, keep healthy, working and just having a good time.
“Some years are harder than others, aren’t they? But this year all I want is for more of the same.”
And really, who can blame her?
- Active Woman is in stores now. The Ellesse range launches this month.
DIET “For breakfast I’ll have three eggs (but just use two yolks) scrambled on brown toast, then it’ll be a tuna salad for lunch and dinner will be chicken breast and veg with brown rice. I have cashew nuts and fruit in between. It’s quite strict at the minute
– high protein and low carb – because I’ve put a bit of weight on recently and want to rip down again.”
FITNESS “I do weights, boxing, machines and gym-based stuff. Plus loads of skipping and boxing with a bag. I use the cross-trainer and rowing machine, but I don’t run because I’ve got a dodgy knee. I mix it up and work on certain muscle groups one day and then other groups the next. But I always do abs. Every day!”
TOP TIP “Give yourself time to see results. It can be soul-destroying the first few weeks, but you’ve got to stick at it and break through that barrier. Then you might find you love it and it becomes an integral part of your life. Getting fit is such a positive thing to do. Exercise is just as much about the mind as the body.”
What would your superpower be?
Being able to be in three places at once.
Your greatest achievement?
Probably having the boys.
Dream dinner party guests?
Des O’Connor, Alan Carr, Gino D’Acampo and Mark Wright – all my co-hosts to see how they’d get on!
What makes you angry?
When I’m in the car, I get serious road rage.
Most embarrassing moment?
I fell off the back of a karaoke stage at a wrap party for Paul O’Grady. I thought there was a wall behind the curtain, stepped back and there was f*****g great big dip.
I swear a lot. I’ve got the nickname “Pottymouth” for very good reasons.
Who would you like to swap lives with?
Hilary Devey would be quite good fun.
When are you happiest?
With the boys and Jack in Dorset – which is where he’s from – and we’re just pottering around.
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