Walking down the street with her two teenage sons, Melanie Sykes was struck by a moment of horror.
As cars whizzed past and 13-year-old Valentino failed to spot the danger, it suddenly dawned on her that she had never taught him how to cross the road.
Tino, as he is affectionately called, was diagnosed with autism at the age of two.
Melanie, 47, has spoken openly about her struggle raising him, saying she “couldn’t cope” with his diagnosis.
Now the TV host tells how she was so focused on teaching Tino how to communicate, she forgot the “practical stuff”.
“I have done everything else, I have kept him alive for 13 years, I deserve a medal for it, but I have forgotten to teach him how to cross the road,” she says.
“He didn’t have a clue. So immediately I am thinking, ‘How have I forgotten to do that?’ But I have taught him a million other things as well, and I’ve got to just remind myself, ‘It’s all right, Melanie’.
“I’ve been trying to get him to talk, to communicate, and to enjoy his life and accept his autism. I have just forgotten some of the practical stuff as well.”
Still talking with the strong Mancunian accent which made her a household name in the Boddingtons beer adverts of the 90s, Melanie admits she still has “wobbles” with Tino’s autism.
“I think I have got it all right, but all of a sudden I do have a wobble about it because I do worry about him,” she says.
“He really needs me. Sometimes I think I am doing really well, and sometimes I am just overwhelmed by it.
“Every now and again it will hit me and I will go, ‘Wow, he might never be independent of me’. Which is fine.
“But I want him to have independence because that’s how we grow.”
Luckily, she still has a good relationship with the dad of Tino and older son Roman, 16 – her ex-husband, The Fixer actor Daniel Caltagirone.
They split in 2008, saying they had “grown apart”.
Her next marriage, to roofer Jack Cockings, 16 years her junior, was notoriously stormy. Just a few months after their wedding, Melanie was arrested for assaulting him at their home in North London.
The former model spent the night in custody before admitting the offence and accepting a caution. Their marriage lasted just seven months.
She is reportedly enjoying a romance with German golfer Martin Kaymer, 33, although neither has yet spoken publicly about it. But her relationship with Daniel, 45, has remained civil since their eight-year marriage ended. “Our love for our children is greater than anything we feel about each other,” Melanie says.
“I love him and he’s a massive part of my life, and I know he cares for me.” She says they “share parenting completely” but adds: “I am not in that relationship for a reason, so a lot of anxieties were alleviated by the separation. It’s history.”
Melanie was at the height of her career when she had her sons. She was hosting with Des O’Connor on ITV’s Today with Des and Mel, and presenting The Vault.
She tells the Mirror’s First Time Dads podcast: “My busiest time was when they were young. It was just horrendous.
“I got Des and Mel when I’d just had my first son, then I was getting primetime TV work as well. I look at pictures of myself back then and I was extremely thin, I was strung out.
“I had a panic attack at work once. I was missing my son so much. I had to ring my husband and say, ‘Bring Roman immediately. I’m not going to survive the day if I don’t see him’.”
Speaking of intense guilt she has felt, Melanie goes on: “I would be there at breakfast and then I’d shoot out, and sometimes I’d miss them at night as they were already asleep.
“It was living hell, honestly. I’d sit on the edge of my seat in the back of a car waiting to get back. I was always in a state of real tension, wanting to be somewhere else.”
She adds: “The guilt doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s just different challenges. I think, ‘Am I doing enough?’”
Melanie shot to fame in Boddingtons’ Cream of Manchester ads, before her presenting career took off. But she doesn’t enjoy a cool pint with “a Flake in that, love” any more.
She has been teetotal for a year, after deciding to cut down on her 45th birthday. She said at the time: “I wanted to clean up my diet and start focusing on my health more.”
Now, her social media pages are flooded with gym selfies, yoga poses and bikini snaps. “I am into health and fitness, definitely,” Melanie says. “I haven’t always been, it’s been a 10-year process. It’s a lifestyle.
“I am very much concerned about what I eat, how I eat and when I eat, and that transfers to my children.”
That means the boys have never had sweets or fizzy drinks. They order water over Coke out of choice.
“Forming it from the beginning is the way to go, I’m telling you,” Melanie says. “They have great teeth and they’re not craving sugar.”
The star, who fronted Let’s Do Lunch with TV chef Gino D’Acampo, was speaking to First Time Dads as an ambassador for Kellogg’s to help raise awareness on vitamin D deficiency in young people, as part of their Better Starts campaign.
“We’ve got to think about the vitamins and minerals our children are taking in,” she says. “Children, adults, we’re all vitamin D deficient in this country. That’s why I got involved in the campaign.”
And there’s no sign of her slowing down. She says: “Every night I have that [thought] – I have to work.
“I’ve always been the bread- winner, so I feel that pressure. I’m a bit bloke-ish in that way. Whenever I do those quizzes in magazines, I always come out more as a bloke.”
- For more about the podcast, see mirror.co.uk/firsttimedads.
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