It’s not easy putting a brave face on when you’ve suffered heartbreak, but Stacey Solomon is doing a pretty good job.
The Dagenham-born singer was devastated recently when her four-year relationship with fiance Aaron Barnham, father of her two-year-old son, Leighton, broke up.
Solomon, 24, also has a six-year-old son, Zachary, six, from a previous relationship.
“It’s very upsetting, very sad and obviously for the sake of the kids I don’t want to say too much,” she says quietly.
While she won’t give the reasons for the split - she has remained with her sons at her home in Grays, Essex - Barnham, 26, a painter and decorator who met the singer on a holiday abroad and proposed in 2011, was reportedly unwilling to settle down.
“It’s certainly not what I’d planned for. Like most girls, I always had that classic dream of having a big white wedding and being married with kids, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way for me,” she says sadly.
“I don’t even know whether that’s a real-life scenario any more, but what matters is that I do have the children and they are happy. I have wonderful support from my family, my mum helps me look after the boys, and I know we’ll be fine.”
It’s only when talk turns to her career that her infectious giggle and her distinctive breathless rush of chatter returns.
She’s endearingly humble when she confesses she still can’t believe she’s achieved her childhood dream of becoming a singer - appearing on TV’s The X Factor and winning I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! won her nationwide fame - and she’s plainly excited about her first album due for release soon.
“I honestly do pinch myself every morning because I can’t ever feel like everything that’s happened to me is real. I’m so lucky and I just don’t want it to ever end. I’ve written the majority of the songs on the album and I’m really, really proud of them,” says Solomon, with that Dagenham accent as broad as ever.
She’s come a long way from the unsophisticated girl who first appeared on The X Factor, after two previous attempts to win a place on the show, and is slimmer and more glamorous in figure-hugging jeans emphasising her long legs.
“My life’s so different now. I would never be doing without that show. I loved every minute of it, and it still gives me a funny feeling inside when I think that I actually sung every week on live TV. Going through that gave me confidence, which I didn’t have before,” says Solomon, who’s admitted she feared she’d lost her chance of pursuing a show business career when she accidentally fell pregnant at 17.
“Winning I’m A Celebrity gave my self-esteem even more of a boost. Even my family didn’t think I had a hope. Before I went, they said, ‘You’ll be back on the next plane!’ They know I hate insects, especially spiders, and I’m not exactly the outdoor type,” she says.
“It was so tough, especially at night when I couldn’t sleep because I thought things were going to crawl all over me and don’t mention those horrible bush tucker trials. When I came out, I was so proud of myself, I had a real sense of achievement. I still hate spiders though!”
While her warm, bubbly personality, and ability to make fun of herself, won her that competition and many fans, it can overshadow her depth and determination. A bright sixth-former who had plans for university until she became a mother, she’s steadfastly worked at carving out opportunities beyond singing. She has her own fashion range, and has made her stage debut touring in panto.
“I was brought up to work hard. I teach Zach that nothing is for free, so if he wants a special toy or something, he has to do chores around the house for pocket money. That’s how I was brought up,” she says. “I want them to have my values. They are lovely boys. Zach is so protective of his younger brother and Leighton really looks up to him and with the big age gap, there’s no competition between them. They are fun and only occasionally a handfull!”
Motherhood has further strengthened her resolve to succeed. “I was very young when I had Zach so it was really scary, daunting and overwhelming. I suffered postnatal depression which was tough, but motherhood’s been the making of me, and now my life wouldn’t be complete without my brilliant boys. I’d love more children one day, but we’ll have to wait and see,” says Solomon, who’s endorsing a new inflatable car booster seat for children, BubbleBum.
She’s drawn on her experience of overcoming challenges in the past to help her face up to the recent upheaval in her private life. “I’ve learnt over the years that you just have to be yourself. I’ve never pretended to be what I’m not. At the end of the day, I’m so grateful for working in a world that I love, music is my passion, and I have my kids,” she says.
“You have to stay confident and remember nobody’s perfect. It’s about getting on with what life throws at you. It’s certainly too short to waste it being miserable or taking yourself too seriously. Anyway, I’m not a planner because I think different paths open up all the time and you have to be ready to change course. I still think I’m lucky because everyone has good and bad times and when you weigh it up, my good times far outweigh my bad ones.”
While her own happy-ever-after has so far proved elusive, she’s optimistic about the future.
“I’m single again but with so much to look forward to.”