Melanie Sykes has waited until the age of 41 to do her first nude photo shoot. It hasn't been for a lack of offers. "I've constantly been asked to be naked in magazines," she says. "But right now I'm in the best shape of my life. I look better than I've ever looked. So you think, 'Why the hell not?'"
A decade after graduating from lads' mag favourite and Boddingtons' beer icon — "Builders still shout, 'Do you want a Flake in that, love?'" — to TV and radio presenter, Mel puts her stellar physique down to a high-protein diet and a love of the gym. The result is "a pretty sorted bod", as the famously forthright Lancashire girl puts it herself, achieved by hitting the cross-trainer and "beating the shit out of punchbags".
"You've got to watch the booze, too," she explains over scallops and a (small) glass of Sauvignon de Touraine in a north London pub. "But you can't let exercise rule your life. If I want to go out and have loads of wine and get completely trashed, then I'm going to do that." Sure, there's still room for life's little indulgences — "I do like me pork scratchings" — though she has recently packed in the fags. "I used to smoke 20 Consulate a day. Not very classy. But that's just me all over."
Another reason for Mel's pretty sorted bod might be her new boyfriend, Craig Eleftheriou, who happens to be a boxer and personal trainer, and also happens to be 28. Their eyes met across a crowded gym. "I always go for younger men. My boyfriend after I got divorced was 28, too. I enjoy the company of all men, but what's wrong with having a type? What I really hate are the terms 'toy boy' or 'sugar mummy' or 'Milf'. They get on my nerves."
She thinks about this. "I don't think I could date a 24-year-old. But you can see potential in 24-year-olds. I sound like a real pervert..." Lock up your sons. "Oh, don't! 'Cos I've got sons! Imagine!"
Between backslaps from admiring colleagues down the gym, Eleftheriou is now on hand to offer more personal one-on-one training. "He reaps all the benefits from my fitness, that's for sure," Mel guffaws — and orders another glass of wine. It's a body paid for in sweat, then, if you discount the one and only bit of work she's ever going to have done. "I wanted my boobs to look like they did in their heyday," she explains. "The golden years! But they're actually bigger than my golden years, 'cos [the surgeon] looks at your frame and he has this whole arsenal of sizes."
She went to someone top-notch, having long admired his handiwork on another household name. "I've been looking at her boobs for the past decade thinking, 'Whenever I need that number…'"
These days there's nothing particularly unusual in people forging successful TV careers from bit-part appearances that tweak the public's imagination, but Mel was something of a pioneer in this regard. Her ascension came in a time before reality TV and YouTube and Heat, and stands testament to her Force 10 personality.
Now part of the fabric of British light entertainment via shows with Des O'Connor and Alan Carr, she likes to remind people that it was television that approached her: not the other way round. "Some of the stuff you get offered… my agent will go, 'I'm sure you won't be interested…' and I'll email back, 'It's shite.' If it's not summat I'll watch, how can I put myself in front of it to make a quick buck?"
Naturally, it's this candour that keeps people tuning in. On her Radio 2 show with Alan Carr, she's always grumbling about the music they play. "Complete rubbish," she surmises, today. Then she's amusingly indiscreet about Des O'Connor. "I go to dinner and get absolutely arseholed with Des." Apparently, his tipple is bourbon and 7Up. "With ice," she grimaces. You really don't want a Flake in that.
This article first appear on Esquire in 2011.