Profile: Christine Bleakley - Sofa so impressive

FOR most of us, choosing between two sofas is not very glamorous. We bounce on them. We visualise them in our living rooms. Will we go for Ikea or DFS? Finally, we get our cheque books out.

But all week the media has been fascinated by a pretty 31-year-old woman as she tries to decide which sofa to sit on. It's not the first time that Christine Bleakley has kept the papers guessing. But as the TV presenter chooses between her familiar place on the sofa of the BBC's One Show and a new perch on the set of GMTV, she certainly has TV executives holding their breath.

But then Bleakley is one of the hottest properties in British TV, valued not just for her looks but also for her warmth and level-headedness on air. Only three years ago she was presenting TV programmes in Northern Ireland with titles like First Stop, (an entertainment show) and Sky High, (she flew around in a helicopter.) Now she is being fought over by Britain's biggest TV channels. And she is the girlfriend of football superstar Frank Lampard.

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The story of how the sunny girl who dropped out of a politics degree at Queens University Belfast to work in TV ended up as the star of the moment is, depending on how you look at it, a tale of luck and talent, or of calculation and native cunning.

Bleakley, who is from Newtownards, County Down, was educated at Bloomfield Collegiate School in Ballyhackamore, Belfast, where she was head girl. Her two ambitions growing up were to become a camerawoman or a politician. "Growing up during the Troubles influenced my interest in politics," she said.

She started out in TV as a runner for the BBC while studying for her A-levels. She entered BBC Northern Ireland determined to work in production. It was only after much persuasion from her bosses that she agreed to give presenting a go.

Her big break came in July 2007. The BBC's One Show, a 21st-century version of the beloved Nationwide was being fronted by blokish Adrian Chiles, and pop star turned presenter Mylene Klass. When Klass unexpectedly went into labour, Bleakley was flown from Belfast to present the show that night.

Her first encounter with Chiles was not auspicious. "I was introduced to Adrian and he practically ignored me. It was horrible. I thought he was really mean... He gave me the sort of look that said he thought I was some Belfast bimbo who hadn't a clue. I don't think he was trying to intimidate me but he certainly did nothing to welcome me."

The off-stage chilliness soon warmed into an extraordinary on-screen chemistry. So chummy were the two that when, in 2008, Chiles left his wife Jane Garvey, with whom he had two daughters, many assumed that Bleakley was involved. That was certainly the assumption of businessman Mark Beirne, Bleakley's boyfriend of three years. When the couple broke up in 2009, he told friends that Chiles was "the third person" involved.

The two have strenuously denied a romantic attachment. What is certain, though, is that they turned viewers on: the One Show became a ratings success, attracting seven million viewers a night.

What made the programme work was its ordinariness. Chiles was a kind of Brummie Everyman, and Bleakley spoke about her fondness for shopping in Karen Millen, and her closeness to her mother Mina and sister Nicola.

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When Bleakley announced, after weeks of denying it, that she was seeing the Chelsea footballer Lampard, her transformation from regional TV star to the big time was complete. Bleakley loathes the inevitable Wag tag. "I am so not a Wag," she has said. "The other day I read a scathing article that said I was 'over ambitious' and wanted to be the next Cheryl Cole and take over the world. Every word was the opposite of what I am."

The couple split their time between her Kensington flat and Lampard's 3 million Chelsea townhouse and enjoy quiet nights out at expensive restaurants such as Scalini, and San Lorenzo. They may value their privacy but if they marry they will become one of the most famous couples in Britain, a new Posh and Becks.

Despite her success, she remains close to her roots. She said: "My two best friends are back home in Belfast, one is a teacher and one is a doctor and the two of them, with Nicola (her sister], are my core base."

It's a wonder she has any time for her career given that she reportedly speaks to her mum, Mina, five times a day and to her younger sister, Nicola ten times a day. The trio enjoy walks and shopping trips when they get together. Her dad, Frederick, is a musician, mum is a bookkeeper and Nicola worked in a bank for ten years before losing seven stone in a year and being made Northern Ireland ambassador for slimming company Unislim.

In 2008, Bleakley appeared as a contestant on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing. Before the One Show, her only connection with fame was peripheral. Her mum Mina's second cousin, Dwina Murphy, is married to Bee Gee Robin Gibb, and is also godmother to Michael Jackson's child.

But the man who has propelled her into the headlines this week is, indirectly, Chiles. When One Show bosses announced in March that Chris Evans was to come in and present the Friday night edition of the show, Chiles let it be known that he was unhappy and would leave. The BBC pressed on and he walked into the arms of ITV and a 6m contract. Not only does he front their football coverage, he will relaunch GMTV later this year.

Suddenly Bleakley became indispensable. BBC bosses feared that she would go to join Chiles, and recreate their chemistry on the sofa of GMTV. Her contract isn't up until September, but negotiations are already feverish.

In the middle of last week the corporation let it be known that Bleakley was on the point of signing a 1m two-year deal to front The One Show, host a new Saturday night programme and play a part in the coverage of the 2012 Olympics.

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But on Friday night, she said in a statement: " I am torn."

The BBC's dilemma is clear. To lose Chiles is permissible, just. To lose Chiles and Bleakley and to allow them to recreate their winning on-screen partnership on a GMTV sofa looks frankly irresponsible.

Behind the scenes BBC bosses are furious that Bleakley – or her aggressive new management company Avalon – are bouncing them into a bidding war. One insider dubbed her behaviour "ruthlessly ambitious". And with a new government demanding value for money, the corporation might choose to cut one of their most valuable commodities adrift.

One thing is for sure. Whichever sofa she opts for, the bubbly Northern Irish girl is going to emerge from these very public contract negotiations a lot wealthier, and a lot better known than ever before.