I don’t want to be their

'stepmum': Danielle Lineker on building a relationship with Gary’s four boys

Perhaps it is the way she looks. Her glossy hair and gleaming smile certainly lend the impression of a life unburdened by any real hardship. Then there is her carefree demeanour.

It seems that barely a month goes by without Danielle Lineker being pictured languishing on one exotic beach or another. Home is her husband’s sprawling Surrey mansion. Her social circle is awash with celebrity friends, her wardrobe full of skimpy designer frocks.

Either way, it seems a charmed existence. Since her lavish wedding to Gary Lineker last September, Danielle has enjoyed the kind of privileged lifestyle that only being married to one of British football’s most legendary figures could provide. Acquiring her husband’s surname, of course, is an added bonus.

Danielle Lineker in a scene from her documentary: 'I want to love his kids like they're my own' she says

Danielle Lineker in a scene from her documentary: 'I want to love his kids like they're my own' she says

Once a little-known lingerie model, she is now in demand for lucrative photoshoots. She has a newspaper column and the prospect of an exciting new career as  a television presenter in the pipeline.

Life today certainly is a far cry from the one she knew as a child on a Cardiff estate and the daily grind of single motherhood – Danielle has a daughter from a failed romance with another footballer – that beckoned when she left Wales.

But behind the pampered facade lies an altogether more complex reality; that of Danielle’s role as stepmother to Lineker’s four sons: George, 18, Harry, 17, Tobias, 14, and Angus, 13. Lineker was married for 20 years before he met Danielle.

His first wife, Michelle, divorced him in 2006 on the grounds of his unreasonable behaviour. While Michelle was given custody of  the children, she has remained largely out of the public eye.

Meanwhile Danielle, 31, and nearly a decade-and-a-half younger than her husband’s former wife, must somehow find her own place in her stepchildren’s lives. It is an age-old challenge,  but one that she has chosen to rise to in front of the camera.

The result, a BBC documentary called Danielle Lineker – My New Stepfamily, will be screened later this month. In it, in a bid to understand what her stepchildren are going through, she recounts her own broken childhood and the impact it has had
on her.

‘It’s a massive shock to go from being a single mum on your own to having four teenage boys'

Throughout the documentary, Danielle comes across as more down to earth than her glamorous public persona and she is clearly very fond of all the Lineker children.

Danielle recognises that she will never be the boys’ mother but is determined to create a close family unit around them.

‘It’s a massive shock to go from being a single mum on your own to having four teenage boys. It’s really nerve-racking,’ she says.

‘Ideally, nobody wants to be part of a stepfamily. You’d have to be a fool to think you’re going to walk into a family and it’s all going to work. That’s not going to happen. Life doesn’t work like that.

‘Kids are hard work. If the stepfamily doesn’t work out, the whole thing breaks down. There’s no relationship any more. Because I was a stepchild, I thought I was understanding and knew how it was.

'But filming this has made me realise I’ve forgotten quite a lot. I’d like to be able to love them like they’re my own kids. And that’s something you build towards.’

Part of the team: Danielle with Gary at an event in London

Part of the team: Danielle with Gary at an event in London

Quite what Michelle Cockayne, as Lineker’s ex-wife is now known, will make of this all is unclear. She has never spoken publicly of her marriage to Lineker since their divorce, choosing instead to maintain a dignified silence on the subject.

Danielle and Gary, 49, were introduced by a mutual friend in 2007. When they wed in southern Italy last September, they made sure the occasion was a family affair.

Danielle’s eight-year-old daughter, Ella, from her relationship with ex-Coventry City player Adam Willis, was a bridesmaid and all the boys were involved, with George acting as head barman.

‘Getting married gives the kids the message that we’re in a proper relationship,’ says Danielle. ‘I’m not just here for six months, then I might just b****r off tomorrow. They know that’s not going to happen.’

But Danielle – who has been modelling since the age of 18 and is a former face of La Senza lingerie – soon discovered that successful stepfamilies take time to establish.

Sometimes I’d like to tell them off but I don’t want to cross that line so they think, “silly cow”

Part of the problem, of course, is that Danielle is closer to her stepsons’ ages than her husband’s.

On the cusp of adulthood themselves, it must have been quite a shock to accept a woman barely out of her 20s as an authority figure in their lives.

Indeed, the documentary reveals that George and his father looked up pictures of Danielle in her underwear on the internet before he met her.

While undoubtedly an attractive woman, Michelle, who is now 45, could not be more different from her nubile successor. Throughout Lineker’s career with Leicester, Everton, Barcelona and Tottenham, as England captain and, later, as the BBC’s Match
Of The Day host – she remained resolutely in the background, forsaking a career of her own to bring up their children.

She is barely mentioned in Danielle’s documentary but, wisely, Danielle is not putting herself forward as competition for the job of ‘Mum’. She says: ‘I’ve held back. I try not to be the parent because I don’t feel it’s my place to tell them what to do.’

Instead she tries to befriend the boys. ‘Sometimes I’d like to tell them off but I don’t want to cross that line so they think, “silly cow”,’ she says. ‘I really don’t want to become what we all think of as a “stepmum”. It’s harder to be on a level with them as a younger woman. I want to be their friend.’

Uncanny resemblance: Gary with his 18-year old son George, who says Danielle is 'like a mate'

Uncanny resemblance: Gary with his 18-year old son George, who says Danielle is 'like a mate'

It is not always easy. She admits that the boys laugh at her on holiday for being unable to swim, and let their dog urinate on the rug indoors. She wouldn’t think twice about
reprimanding her daughter but, Danielle says, she felt powerless to prevent the boys rebelling. As George puts it: ‘She’s not really a stepmum. She’s just someone around, like a mate.’

Danielle takes it in her stride. ‘I was just a stranger to him three years ago. He’s not suddenly going to start liking me or opening up.’She introduces him to Simon Cowell and used her contacts to book celebrity London nightclub Mahiki for his 18th birthday last October.

It was the same nightclub, of course, that George – who bears an uncanny physical resemblance to his father – was thrown out of on account of his drunken behaviour after celebrating his A-levels.

In a bid to better understand her stepsons’ feelings, in the film Danielle travels back to the small semi-detached home where she grew up on Cardiff’s tough Ely estate.

Her parents, shop workers Kim and Roy Bux, separated when she was a baby. When she was seven, her mother remarried factory worker Alex Mohammed, with whom she had three children; one of whom, Kaid, now 26, was paralysed after breaking his neck in a fall running from a Cardiff gang.

'George is the head of the boys. If I’m in with George, I’m probably in with the rest of them'

Kim and Alex’s marriage also foundered and in 2008 Kim was arrested when items were taken from Mohammed’s home.

Danielle spent her weekdays living with her mother, Mohammed and their three children, and the weekends with her father and grandmother.

She says: ‘When I was at school, if a teacher said “draw your family” I would have to draw my mum, my stepdad, my brothers and sisters, my dad and his children as well.

I would end up needing a big double page to put them on. Everyone else had one sheet of paper. But it didn’t bother me. I never saw it as weird or different.’

Because she was so young when her parents separated, she has no recollections of the angst involved. ‘I don’t understand the trauma associated with divorce,’ she says.
‘I didn’t go through that heartache.’

Yet Danielle shares an intimate rapport with her three stepsiblings, with Kaid even giving her away at her wedding. ‘We’ve got similar mannerisms, an instant bond that stepchildren don’t normally have, which makes it harder. You’re strangers, there’s nothing to bring you together. I guess like Ella and the boys.’

In the film, Danielle also talks to other children who have seen their family lives torn apart by divorce.

They include three stepbrothers, a 12-year-old girl whose parents divorced when she was seven and a 19-year-old girl who ran away from home when she was 13 and her step-father moved in.

‘I definitely want to see how other people manage the situations, to see if I’m managing it correctly,’ she says. ‘I don’t want them [Lineker’s children] to say, “We don’t want to go round to Dad’s house because all she does is nag.” ’

Watching the family enjoy a Sunday evening barbecue together in the documentary, however, all the children seem to get on. ‘It’s a whole team thing,’ says Gary. ‘The boys love Ella and are quite protective over her as well.’

And the couple are clearly devoted; Danielle reassures Gary when he burns the chicken during the barbecue and gently rebukes him for being distracted by a Chelsea win on television during the family occasion.

Gary, meanwhile, seems at ease with Ella – helping her lay out mince pies for Father Christmas – and backs up Danielle when she feels she has to discipline the children.

‘They’re a bit wild at times. I wouldn’t have a problem with you disciplining them,’ he tells his wife.

The couple are non-committal about plans for children of their own. ‘We would like to have a baby but at the moment we’ve got to this place with the kids where we’re all quite happy as we are,’ says Danielle. ‘I don’t think it’s the right time.’

Over the course of the six months or so spent filming the documentary, Danielle grows closer to her stepsons. They share part of the Christmas season together, and she takes George car racing to get to know him better one-on-one.

'We would like to have a baby but at the moment we’ve got to this place with the kids where we’re all quite happy as we are'

‘George is the head of the boys,’ she reasons. ‘They all follow George. So if I’m in with George, I’m probably in with the rest of them.

'It does take time and it can be frustrating. You envisage a relationship you want with them that can’t happen overnight.’

It was, ultimately, a thwarted family holiday this April that helped redefine the boundaries in Danielle’s relationship with the boys. The seven were stranded in Tenerife after the volcanic ash cloud grounded all flights to and from Britain.

Desperate to get back to London in time for Gary to present Match Of The Day, the family flew to Madrid and completed an epic journey overland back to the capital.

‘We all wanted to cry,’ says Danielle. ‘The car was like a cesspit. It was gross. But we had to laugh. It went better than any other holiday.’

However she adds: ‘You can think everything’s OK, but I don’t think you’ll ever know what’s going on in their minds.’

She seems to have realised that while being a friend to them isn’t enough, being a mother figure is also inappropriate. ‘It’s been a learning curve,’ she says. ‘I still don’t want to seem like the wicked stepmum, but if I see something, I say it.

‘That allows me to build bridges with them. I thought being a friend was the best way to go about it, but I think I’m establishing a place.

‘I’m an older person that can be a mediator. It’s a bit like being a big sister really. Being young and the fun part is easy. Having to be the adult is not so easy.’

Danielle Lineker – My New Stepfamily, BBC3, Tuesday, July 20.


The comments below have been moderated in advance.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now