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Sunday 21 December 2014

How Christine (31) ruined Grainne's (36) hopes for the GMTV hot seat

She's just landed a €7m television deal, is dating a Premiership footballer and is rapidly becoming one of the best-known female presenters on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Yes, Christine Bleakley has come a long way.

The announcement this week that Bleakley is to move to ITV and back to former co-host, Adrian Chiles's side in a £6m (€7m) deal is the latest chapter in what has been a meteoric rise.

Virtually unknown three years ago, she is now one of television's most sought-after stars. The fact that she is dating England and Chelsea footballer Frank Lampard of course hasn't done her profile any harm, but she has seized every opportunity that has presented itself.

Her deal must also badly dent any hope that another ambitious Irish broadcaster, Grainne Seoige, had of snagging a place on the GMTV sofa. Afterall, how much room can there be on British TV for such glamorous Irish presenters?.

Just a few years back, though, if anyone had been asked to predict which of the two women would hit the big time in Britain first, the smart money would surely have been on Seoige.

She'd make the breakthrough from TG4 to Sky early on and had become a familiar face to viewers of both TV3 and RTE.

Bleakley, by contrast, was better known around Dublin's social scene for her relationship with Christian Stokes, who along with his brother Simon were the poster boys for trendy young businessmen of the Celtic Tiger era.

Stokes, from whom she split in 2005, saw his stock plummet with his business plunged into crisis. But Bleakley's career took a different trajectory.

She first worked behind the scenes in TV and only went in front of the cameras for BBC in Northern Ireland in 2003.

Her breakthrough on the other side of the water is the stuff of showbusiness legend. In July 2007 her One Show predecessor Myleene Klass, unexpectedly went into labour, Bleakley was flown from Belfast to present the show that very night.

And there was no looking back.

The recent bidding war that she tried to spark between two rival TV channels suggests that she is well aware of her value.

Despite the mega-watt smile, this lady is charging through the UK media landscape like a freight train.

At the height of negotiations, she even fired her agent, John Noel, by text. The message allegedly read: "It is better if we go our separate ways. I hope that we can work together in the future. X."

Apparently she was frustrated with Noel's insistence that she stay with the BBC. She obviously disagreed and has moved on. Perhaps she wants to handle her own affairs. She once said she only had an agent because, "I was told I had to have one".

Meanwhile, Grainne Seoige had been impressing TV bosses with her reports from the Cheltenham horse racing festival. Though she never publicly commented on the rumours of a potential job offer from GMTV, it's now thought unlikely she'll get the call to up sticks and move to London for the soon-to-be-revamped breakfast show.

In theory, Seoige's similarities with Bleakley should be a boon for her chances in the UK. But in truth, Bleakley's rise and rise can only hinder Seoige's chances of conquering the British TV market. The pair's 'unique' selling points are just too similar. When two talents are bringing the same offer to the table, there is usually only room for one of them to progress.

When rumours surfaced that Chiles would be looking for another Christine Bleakley type after moving to ITV Seoige seemed like the ideal candidate.

In many ways, she is cast in the same mould as Bleakley. Both women are known for their determination and level-headedness under pressure. They are both Irish, dark-haired beauties.

Like Bleakley, Seoige raised the temperatures of male viewers when she appeared as a stand-in on ITV. In fact, the only major dissimilarity between the pair is a five-year age difference (Seoige is the older of the two).

Unlike Seoige, Bleakley has no children and when she went further her career in the UK, she had no attachments to Ireland, romantic or otherwise.

Last November, she began dating Frank Lampard, signalling her elevation to A-list status and her initiation to the WAG circuit, although she detests the latter claim.

"I am so not a WAG," she once 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."

And Lampard, with a private school education and nine GCSEs, is not your typically extravagant Premiership footballer. On the rare occasions that she has spoken of their relationship, Bleakley has said that it is a meeting of minds.

Either way, she's come a long way from Northern Irish regional TV and shows such as Sky High, in which she flew around in a helicopter, and a daytime cookery show called Spill the Beans.

In fact, Bleakley never planned a career in front of the camera. "I was really happy floor managing and when the head of entertainment suggested I had a go at presenting, I said, "absolutely not'," she recalls.

But that, as we know, was not to be. Three years after the fortuitous call to stand in for Mylene Klass, she is one of the hottest properties in British television.

The question on everyone's lips right now is whether she has made the right decision to leave the BBC at this stage in her career.

Only time will tell . . . at the very least, though, it will have a dramatic impact on her profile.

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