In the hush of the posh London hotel, the shrill ring of Myleene Klass' management girl's mobile makes us all jump. "HEY!" a familiar voice yells so that we can all hear. "It's Myleene...and I'm STARVING! Can you order me some chips?!" She's running late - Captial road chaos - and at 30 weeks' pregnant needs feeding. And fast.
Minutes later she sweeps in, all perfume, hair and smiles. Even before we see her though, her mouth is open and talking. "I'm soooooo sorry. The traffic is terrible out there....you won't believe how long it took me to get from..... Is there any Diet Coke? Did anyone find any chips?..... I can't remember what I did with my.....? I did the drop-off with Ava.... There was a bloke on the way here who was....." It's about ten paces from the front door to the private room we're in and she's started, and not finished, about eight conversations. Boy, this woman can talk. And she's got bags of energy.
As she enters the room, there are huge smiles and hugs for me and photographer Matt and outwardly warm exchanges with the management. And, as she draws up a chair, a plate of the world's largest chips arrive and she beams. I tell her that as an Essex girl, I'm a big fan of chips, which ultimately led to me putting on three stone with baby number three. "I'm already half a stone ahead of you girl!" she grins, glooping on the ketchup. It's clear this is one celeb who genuinely doesn't worry much about the opinions of strangers. Several times during our interview she mentions she doesn't listen to gossip or media comment. And I think she means it. Most celebrities I've interviewed say this, but deep down, care keenly and take criticism very much to heart. But within moments of meeting Myleene, it's clear she has both the confidence, and the intelligence to truly take it with a pinch of salt.
She has mentioned her mother twice before she's even taken off her coat so I ask her about her family first. It’s a simple reply: "They mean everything to me. We are very close and they spend a lot of time with me and Ava."
As the only one of three siblings (she has a younger brother and sister), to have had a child, she has enjoyed watching her parents' relationship with three-year-old Ava grow. "They absolutely adore her. Of course they have an opinion about how I perhaps should do things – doesn’t everybody?! – but they just love her. And I couldn’t do it without them.”
In her three small years, thanks to her mother’s burgeoning TV, radio and modelling career, Ava’s packed a lot in. She has visited 56 countries, can swim better than most adults and say ‘hello’ in a bewildering variety of languages and dialects.
“Whenever I tell Ava we’re going on the motorway, she assumes we’re going to an airport. If she so much as sees a blue sign she asks if I’ve packed her bag!”
Mother and daughter clearly have a solid bond and Myleene shines when she talks about her wee girl. She chatters endlessly about her achievements, her ability to interact with adults well, her table manners and the things about her she loves. But it is with pure pride and love, not boastful or pushy. When we met, Ava had just started her first full week at nursery. Myleene had already altered her sessions from five a week to three. I tell her I did it with all three of my boys and empathise with how tough it is for a Mummy to make the break.
“She has been constantly at my side since she was born,” she says, “she helps choose my shoes and accessories for a photo shoot, knows to be quiet for 15 minutes if I’m doing a radio interview and was literally strapped to the CNN producer when I did a live interview in New York. I just smiled and prayed that she didn’t start screaming!
“I miss her.”
And at 32, Myleene Angela Klass, is about to do it all again with baby number two – also a girl – due at the end of March. Ava was a ‘present’ to Myleene and partner Graham Quinn nine months after she left the Australian jungle as runner-up in I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! The show cemented her popularity and undoubtedly increased her media exposure, as lucrative TV, radio and record contracts followed.
Until that point Myleene had been best known as one of the five members of pop group Hear’Say, manufactured for the ITV reality show Popstars. An ‘overnight’ pop career was launched by the series but had actually come after many years of Myleene studying music at a much higher level.
Born in Norfolk, to an Anglo-Austrian father and Filipina mother, she comes from six generations of classical musicians: her grandmother was an opera singer and her grandfather left his violin to her which she began to play, along with piano, from the age of four. She took extensive music exams and achieved an A grade in A-level music before winning a much-coveted place at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
She still returns there today to give masterclasses. After Hear’Say broke up, Myleene’s classical roots began to push through and she signed a five-album deal with a classics label.
This is still her first love, but her jungle exploits – and the shots of her showering in that bikini – opened a myriad of media doors. From TV presenting, to hosting a radio show, to writing a book, to visiting troops in Afghanistan, to fronting a CNN series, to being the face of Pantene, and M&S and now to designing baby clothes, Myleene’s life is never dull, but her feet are firmly on the ground.
“I am very fortunate, I know that. I have all the celebrity trappings, but they are trappings and I’m realistic enough to know that if it all ended I would still be a happy, strong person who would be left with the thing that is most important to me – my family. Yes, I have the back-up of a career that I love and I have a job that I depend on financially, but not that I depend on for validation of me. It is hard for women. We can’t have it all – whatever anyone says – something has to give and I just remember my Mum telling me that education was absolutely the key to everything. I worked hard to give myself choices and I want Ava to have those choices too. Of course I accept that because of her name and the fact that she’s my daughter there will be some expectation of what she does or how she behaves, but I want her to have the education, the confidence and the strength to make choices independently of all that and to be happy.”
She takes a breath and I tell her that if she has her mother’s tenacity she’ll be OK. She laughs.
“Honestly, if you’d met me four years ago, I was so relaxed, I was horizontal! My life is mad right now, but I do love it. I’m learning not to sweat the small stuff. And I kinda love the chaos. We have a Blackberry rule in the house – it’s not allowed to be on or, worse, by the bed – and I find that since I’ve had Ava, I do most of my catching up in the car to and from places. She has a better social life than me so I’m always taking her here, there and everywhere. I sent a Tweet the other day saying ‘school run done, now for the easy bit – work!’ “It has not been easy, but all women who juggle motherhood with everything else in their lives know that. Women are amazing. I constantly meet women who astound me, who meet so many challenges in life.”
So what kind of mother is she?
“I’ve surprised myself by being stricter than I though I’d be,” she smiles. “When it comes to manners I am very tough. Sure, you have to put up with the tears and the tantrums that come with it, but what with travelling so much, Ava has had to learn how to behave on planes, in unfamiliar surroundings and in places like restaurants. We’ve all seen those parents who let their children run wild in restaurants and I didn’t want that to be my child.”
I ask her if she’s a make-and-bake kind of Mum or more of a cheat. Given that I’d just ‘paid’ my neighbour two bottles of wine to make me cupcakes to bluff as my own for the school fayre, I was hoping it was the latter.
“I’m TOTALLY the cheat!” she roared. “It’s ALL about delegating. I am a hopeless cook. I don’t do kitchens. Look, play to your strengths, that’s what I say. I told the school, if you want X Factor tickets, I’m your Mummy but don’t ask me to bake! You asked me what sort of mother I am, I’m a chancer! I get most of it done, but only by the skin of my teeth! I’m also the antithesis of the pushy parent. I don’t want Ava to be on the stage or on the TV, I want her to be happy doing whatever it is she wants.”
The one kind of parent Myleene is not, is the Gina Ford kind. Best-selling author Gina Ford has made millions from teaching new parents “routines” in order to ensure their babies sleep through the night from around 12 weeks old. She advocates no eye contact at night, and waking and feeding babies at exactly the same time day in and day out. At the very mention of the controversial “routines” I see Myleene take a breath and I sharpen my pencil.
“That is soooo ridiculous,” she breezes. “The whole thing takes away every ounce of your maternal instinct. You do not raise a child by numbers. How can you read a manual and learn how to raise a child – every one is different. I heard Gina Ford has no children herself. That’s like a priest talking about marriage – he knows what it is but has no real experience of it. It’s so robotic and takes away all a mother’s confidence in making her own decisions and learning to trust her own instincts about her baby. Honestly. I’m sure Gina Ford is a perfectly nice, intelligent woman, but honestly!”
Woah. Steady there.
I look up tentatively from my notebook and decide to play Devil’s advocate. I tell her that thousands of people including, ahem, myself, have found that quite simply, Gina Ford’s method works. All my children have slept through the night from about 12 weeks old. I don’t think she heard me.
“That book can’t be written with love. That little one has been a part of you for nine months, you would walk across hot coals for them, give them your last drop of blood and someone tells you not to make eye contact with them or leave them crying in the cot. It’s just sad.”
It’s at this point that I reckon a long supper over a bottle of red with Myleene would be great. I love feisty women with opinions and she, like me, loves it even more when those opinions differ. She’s a bright girl, articulate, quick and funny, but I also think she is no pushover. I ask her whether she is seriously happy for me to include such forthright criticism of a world renowned, successful author and she shrugs.
“Why not? It is my opinion,” she says “and I respect her right to hers.”
Ava was born three weeks early, naturally, and Myleene hopes number two will go full term and come the same way.
“I absolutely love babies,” she smiles, “everything about them. My mum used to be a nurse and I did work experience on a maternity ward. I would’ve been a midwife if things had been different. My dad delivered my brother and I remember it really well.”
She has enjoyed her second pregnancy and looked radiantly healthy when we met.
“I had more morning sickness this time though,” she said. “That wasn’t so great when I was doing a presenting stint on the Lorraine (Kelly) show and the chef was cooking lamb at 10 in the morning. It was a stretch to keep smiling as it wafted over to me and no-one knew I was pregnant,” she laughed.
I tell her Lorraine makes me a little bilious when I’m not pregnant.
“You can’t say that! She’s great!” she grinned.
I wonder if Ava is looking forward to having a sister?
“Yes, she’s really excited, though would rather have a rabbit! Graham and I told her the baby got there by a ‘special cuddle’. We were on the way to ITV Centre and it just sort of came out. We weren’t really expecting her to ask. The Polish guy driving the car kept looking in the mirror a bit ashen-faced. I think he was dreading what was coming next!”
We turn our conversation to Myleene’s latest venture – a new collection of clothing for Mothercare. It’s called Baby K and designed purely by her. Taking her influences from high-end names like Miu Miu and Dior, she has tried to produce a range that looks more striking than the pinks and blues usually set aside for babies and toddlers. Alongside photos of Ava swimming in the ocean and her friends at home, she shows me shots from the new collection on the camera in her handbag. There is a dress with a strong black and floral design and preppy boys’ polo shirts, traditional pea coats and asymmetrical tops. It’s done very well for Mothercare and she is proud of it.
“It’s very much been bourne out of things I see and like, my experiences and ideas I’ve had on my travels. For instance Graham didn’t want to carry Ava’s changing bag because it was pink, so I designed a black one that Daddies wouldn’t mind carrying, but with a leopard print inside, to keep the Mums happy too.”
Her new Baby K orchestra playmat comes straight out of her experience too. Not content with having random dogs, cats and cows making sounds, Myleene has laid out her playmat in a precise, traditional orchestra fan. The percussion, strings et al are each in their correct place.
“And the cool piece is,” she says “that the baby gets to be the DJ and conduct the orchestra. I spent ages explaining to the designers why it was so important for the proper sound that everything was put in exactly the right place. There’s just going to be a load of vomiting babies on it, but hey!”
We have to go. Myleene has given more time to us than any other celebrity, politician or business person I’ve interviewed in a long time and still she could’ve talked more. My shorthand’s been truly tested but it’s been interesting.
She has to go and film the Vanessa Feltz Show then fly to Berlin to play with the German Symphony Orchestra. I’m having a look round Top Shop. For some reason, I didn’t expect to like her. I don’t know why. Some say she is spreading herself too thinly - “always on the box” was one friend’s criticism. The same friend asked me on the way home what she was like. I tell her, intelligent, gorgeous, funny, a great raconteur, blunt, exhausting, a good old giggle but above all, a Mummy. And I realise that was it. Above all else, she’s a Mummy and that shone through. Warmly.