'The secret of a happy family life? Get yourself a manny', says Penny
Penny Lancaster is sharing the secret of happy family life with me. A lot of it (whisper it) is down to the new man in her life. A third person has entered their rock 'n' roll marriage and she doesn't know how she ever coped without him.
"Greg is our manny, our male nanny, and he's perfect for my boys," beams Lancaster (45). Said boys are her rambunctious sons Alistair, aged ten, and five-year-old Aiden.
"He's an ex-PE teacher, full of energy and at the age of 29 has the stamina to exhaust Alistair in particular; before I had my two sons I had no idea that boys were always - and I do mean always - on the go."
Lancaster met her husband back in 1999 when she took photographs of him on tour. The couple married in 2007, between the birth of their two boys.
Rod, who has six other children from his previous relationships, is 71, although she is rather sweetly prone to referring to him as her "boy" as well.
But back to Greg, who does indeed sound like something of a godsend. He plays sport with hearty enthusiasm, he cooks, as real men do, and ensures that the lads help with washing up too.
"The boys have me and their grandmother - my mum, Sally, who has a room in our house - as well as Rod's 88-year-old Auntie Mary, who comes most days," says Lancaster. "I felt the last thing they needed was another woman telling them what to do, which is why we have a dude."
Not just a dude either - but a gentleman who impresses on his charges that however old-fashioned it might sound, chivalry is a crucial component of any modern man's skillset.
"Manners are really very important to me," says Lancaster. "The boys see their dad standing up if I leave the table, paying me compliments, asking about my day and treating me nicely. They understand women are not only equals but should be respected; and if they ever want to a date a girl they should first charm her mother with politeness and offers to help. It's a shoo-in after that."
Then she adds, dryly: "Rod's always opening doors for me, but I usually tell him to walk through first.
"Otherwise, if we're at a restaurant and I'm in front, the paparazzi end up getting a big giant close-up of me and then he's trailing behind looking like my little child!"
We both hoot with laughter; Lancaster, as well as being leggy (6'1 in flats) and lovely with a great mane of tawny blonde hair and the complexion of a teenager, is both frank and very funny.
She and Rod recently moved their main base from the US back to Britain so their sons could be educated there, and are day pupils at a boarding school.
By all accounts the model-turned-lothario-tamer -turned Loose Women panelist runs a pretty tight ship at their sprawling house in Essex, which they (she) spent the past two years renovating.
"Dealing first with all the big things and then all the minutiae was so exhausting that I lost my normal ability to stay afloat, bob along and keep everyone's spirits up," she says.
"I was so strung out that I assumed I had entered the menopause and went to the doctor for blood tests. It transpired I wasn't - it was just the stress of moving house."
Now installed, Lancaster prides herself on her hypervigilant tiger mothering; there's the no-sugar organic food regime, the sensible-verging-on-draconian social media restrictions, the household chores that even heirs to a musical fortune must carry out.
Mercifully she retains a keen sense of humour about her hands-on approach to pretty much everything.
"When Alistair uses a loo in public, I literally stand at the door and shriek 'Mummy's just outside!' by way of a warning to anyone who might be waiting inside a cubicle to prey on little boys," she says, unapologetically.
"He used to be embarrassed, but now he accepts that it's just what mummy does."
Her husband has a long-rumoured reputation as a thrifty man, so careful with his €117m fortune that he shops in Zara and once reportedly made a 10-mile round trip back to an LA restaurant after being charged for a bottle of mineral water he hadn't ordered.
But judging from the diamonds encircling her wrists and the enormous rock on her finger, Lancaster is the beneficiary of whatever money he does spend.
The couple travel a lot and still have homes in the US and France; Rod has no intention of retiring, she says.
"Whenever Rod has four of five days off, he'll be bouncing off the walls with boredom," says Lancaster. "He's not running out of energy any time soon and to safeguard his health he has a full MOT four times a year."
The recent deaths of David Bowie at 69 and Prince at 57 gave him pause for thought, she says.
"Rod's always been a keen sportsman so he didn't live as excessive a life as some musicians."
It's well documented that Lancaster went through three gruelling rounds of IVF to conceive her second child.
After two stressful years of treatment, they decided not to try for a third baby, but Lancaster doesn't feel she's missing out by not having a daughter.
"I get my 'fix' because Rod has three girls - Kimberly, Ruby and Renee," says Lancaster. "And there's also my dad, who is 72, who has two young daughters aged four and one - proving you don't need to be a rock star to be a father late in life."
Because most of Rod's work is in the US, they can both be away for days at a time, knowing that grandma and Greg are holding the proverbial fort.
"If come back and it's late in the evening, I'll go in to kiss Alastair goodnight and if he's awake he'll sleepily say 'Hello Mummy, you look nice. Did you have a good time?'," says Lancaster. "And then I feel a surge of pride that I'm doing something right. I love my three boys."
She means, of course her four boys. After all, any modern mother of sons would be bereft without her manny.
Penny Lancaster is publicising an eye health partnership between Britain's Royal National Institute for the Blind and Specsavers