When TOWIE star KATE WRIGHT fell in love with wid­owed foot­ball leg­end Rio Fer­di­nand, her life took an un­ex­pected turn. She tells Ju­lia Llewellyn Smith how, in just 18 months, she’s gone from bikini-clad play­girl to hands-on step­mother of three


Kate Wright on fam­ily life with Rio Fer­di­nand.


Fresh from drop­ping off three chil­dren at their school break­fast club, Kate Wright is sit­ting in a Lon­don pho­to­graphic stu­dio, smil­ing with both de­light and dis­be­lief about the events of the past cou­ple of years. ‘It’s crazy,’ says the for­mer re­al­ity TV star. ‘If some­one had told me a few years back that I was go­ing to be the step­mum of three chil­dren, I would have just laughed. You don’t see some­thing like that com­ing.’

Cer­tainly no one could have pre­dicted the ex­tra­or­di­nary but, as she stresses, ‘amaz­ing’ turn that 27-year-old Kate’s life would take. Two years ago, she was a bub­bly, bikini-clad star of The Only Way Is Es­sex, con­stantly break­ing up, then mak­ing up, with her co-star boyfriend Dan Edgar – the pair were dubbed Es­sex’s an­swer to Bar­bie and Ken.

But then, in early 2017, Kate met for­mer Eng­land and Manch­ester United foot­baller Rio Fer­di­nand through mu­tual friends. He was a wid­ower since los­ing his wife Re­becca, 34, to breast can­cer in 2015, and was bring­ing up their chil­dren, Lorenz, now 11, Tate, nine, and Tia, seven, on his own. ‘Rio and I just clicked,’ Kate says. ‘I knew about the chil­dren and what had hap­pened but at first I didn’t give it much thought. When you meet some­one you’re just en­joy­ing the mo­ment, not think­ing about how se­ri­ous things might be­come.’

But things be­came very se­ri­ous in­deed. ‘I fell in love with Rio, then I met the kids and fell in love with them,’ Kate says. ‘I re­alised, “Wow, my life is go­ing to change.” I couldn’t be part of his life and not part of theirs. I knew it would be a chal­lenge, but if you love some­one you go with it and deal with the dif­fi­cult stuff.’

For sev­eral months the cou­ple kept their re­la­tion­ship un­der wraps, but in Septem­ber Kate an­nounced she was leav­ing TOWIE to con­cen­trate on Rio, 39, and the chil­dren. ‘Peo­ple prob­a­bly thought I was crazy, but it was the best de­ci­sion I could have made. It didn’t feel right for the chil­dren to see their dad’s girl­friend out and about, cre­at­ing all this drama on TV.’

Kate and her beloved chi­huahua Ron­nie moved into Rio’s Kent man­sion and overnight her life was trans­formed from one of night­club­bing and ex­otic hol­i­days into one of su­per­vis­ing home­work, or­gan­is­ing play­dates and cook­ing din­ner. ‘I wasn’t a good cook at first,’ she chuck­les. ‘I’d al­ways eaten out or at my mum’s. It took a while, but now the kids say I do bet­ter lamb chops than Rio. It’s cer­tainly full-on. My friends who haven’t got kids say, “I can’t be­lieve how much you have to do,” but it’s my life now and I’m re­ally happy. Rio helped me a lot with learn­ing the ropes and a cou­ple of mums at school have been re­ally sup­port­ive.’

Wrapped in a dress­ing gown with her hair in rollers be­fore she’s made up for the YOU shoot, what’s strik­ing about Kate is her megawatt smile and un­af­fected man­ner. Funny and warm, her cheer­i­ness is even more im­pres­sive given that we’re meet­ing dur­ing the World Cup, with Rio in Rus­sia for the BBC for a month and Kate in charge, a sit­u­a­tion that would bring any mother to her knees.

‘I was a bit wor­ried about Rio be­ing away for so long, but it’s been a great op­por­tu­nity to bond with the kids,’ she says. ‘Nor­mally life is quite struc­tured, but be­cause it’s the end of term we’ve been go­ing out a lot, do­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, vis­it­ing friends. We’ve had a lovely time.’

Pre­sum­ably, they’ve also watched a lot of foot­ball? ‘Not re­ally; I’m not into it at all. Peo­ple think it’s weird, but ev­ery­where Rio goes peo­ple talk foot­ball to him, so I think he finds it quite nice not to have me go­ing on about it.’

Did they not even watch Rio’s pun­ditry? ‘No! Ev­ery now and then he’d pop up on the screen, but the kids and I just take the mick. Watch­ing your dad on TV is weird. Hav­ing said that, both boys are very sporty; they want to be foot­ballers and we hope they will be.’

Kate stresses that – just like Rio, who came from a

coun­cil es­tate in Peck­ham, Lon­don – she’s from ‘a very nor­mal back­ground’. An only child, she was raised by her mother Jac­que­line, who works in fi­nance, her par­ents hav­ing split when she was three. Her fa­ther, mean­while, re­mar­ried sev­eral times. ‘I’ve had a few step­mums but they weren’t in my life ma­jorly,’ she says sadly. ‘When I was nine I wasn’t even in­vited to my dad’s wed­ding; I was very up­set. My ex­pe­ri­ence has helped de­fine how I want to treat Rio’s kids and how I want them to see me.’

Kate left school at 16 and – be­fore Dan per­suaded her to join TOWIE – worked for seven years at a bank in the City. ‘I was a PA, so I’m su­per-or­gan­ised. I al­ways go ex­tra for things like birthdays – I like ev­ery­thing to be per­son­alised and in cute lit­tle bags. Rio thinks I’m ad­dicted to do­ing nice things for peo­ple but, with all that he and the kids have been through, I want them to have the best.’

The fam­ily has suf­fered al­most un­be­liev­able heartache, first with los­ing Re­becca, who’d been cleared of breast can­cer in 2014 only for it to re­turn the fol­low­ing year when it spread to her bones so ag­gres­sively that she died within ten weeks. Then, last sum­mer, Rio’s mother Jan­ice St Fort, who’d taken on much of the care of the chil­dren, also died of can­cer, aged 58. ‘There’s been so much pain,’ Kate says as she holds back tears. ‘Kids are adapt­able, but it’s so hard for them.’

But through it all, Rio was al­ways there for his chil­dren: within weeks of Re­becca’s death he an­nounced his re­tire­ment from pro­fes­sional foot­ball. In last year’s BBC doc­u­men­tary Be­ing Mum And Dad he talked mov­ingly about how, hav­ing al­ways prided him­self on his ‘cold’ de­meanour, he sud­denly had no choice but to get in touch with his emo­tions to show his chil­dren that re­press­ing them would only lead to more an­guish. ‘It’s al­lowed me to speak and show a vul­ner­a­bil­ity that peo­ple are prob­a­bly not used to,’ he said when the pro­gramme won a Bafta. ‘Be­ing a sports­man, you’re built up as an in­de­struc­tible ath­lete.’

‘The way Rio’s coped and brought up his chil­dren is amaz­ing,’ Kate says. ‘With­out Re­becca be­ing there, he had to take on a softer role. His chil­dren need to see love, and if you’re a hard man you can’t show that.’

The more Kate talks, the more I’m im­pressed by her wis­dom and sen­si­tiv­ity as well as Rio’s. The cou­ple pre­pared her in­tro­duc­tion to the chil­dren care­fully. ‘We’ve in­volved them in ev­ery­thing. First I vis­ited with friends, then Rio said, “I’d like to take Kate on a date, is that OK?” When­ever we did some­thing to­gether, like go to the pub and have a roast din­ner, we’d come back and do some­thing fun with the kids, so that ev­ery time I spent time with their dad they’d look for­ward to it.’

Not ev­ery­thing has gone smoothly. In the early days one child told Kate, ‘You don’t know how to look af­ter chil­dren be­cause you don’t have any.’ ‘That up­set me,’ she says. ‘But touch wood, they wouldn’t say that now. They know how much I do for them; I bring fun into their lives.’

Their ap­pre­ci­a­tion was made clear re­cently when Tia gave Kate a mug bear­ing the leg­end ‘Not a Step­mum – a Bonus Mum’. ‘That made me want to cry! I use it ev­ery day, and if I don’t Tia wants to know why. It means so much be­cause it shows that what I’m do­ing is work­ing.’

Out of re­spect, Kate won’t speak about her re­la­tion­ship with Re­becca’s fam­ily, but she’s hon­our­ing her mem­ory. ‘Their mum is ir­re­place­able; we cel­e­brate her birth­day, we go to the ceme­tery to­gether. Tia and I have a code word she’ll use if she’s feel­ing sad, and we’ll talk about her mum or her nan – they know I’m al­ways there for them. And they have a spe­cial mum and nan room, with tons of pic­tures of both, where they of­ten do their home­work and we some­times go to­gether to play or watch YouTube.’

Kate’s 907,000 In­sta­gram fol­low­ers are reg­u­larly treated to snaps of her and the chil­dren (with faces ob­scured) hav­ing fun to­gether, as well as ones of Kate show­cas­ing her trade­mark full-on glam­our. But these days, she says, she’s far less hung up on ap­pear­ances. ‘I have wet hair on the school run, some­times I’m drop­ping off the kids in my slip­pers. I think, “If peo­ple could see me now,”’ she laughs. ‘It used to bug me if I couldn’t work out three or four times a week, but now I don’t beat my­self up. I’ve learnt from Rio and the chil­dren that ter­ri­ble things can hap­pen in life so you can’t take it for granted – you have to ap­pre­ci­ate it.’

In fact, Kate says that she had been plan­ning to quit TOWIE be­fore she met Rio. ‘I’m glad I did the show but it gave me anx­i­ety. Play­ing out your re­la­tion­ship with your ex on TV is never a good thing. Now I feel calmer.’ She’s ready to re­turn to work, but this time do­ing some­thing in­volv­ing her pas­sion – fit­ness. She’d also like to be­come in­volved with be­reave­ment char­i­ties. ‘I had a break from work be­cause it was a cru­cial time to get to know the kids, but now I want some me-time. I’ve al­ways been an in­de­pen­dent per­son and I think that as a mother you can lose your iden­tity a bit.’

In the mean­time, Kate is look­ing for­ward to a long hol­i­day in Por­tu­gal ‘en­joy­ing qual­ity fam­ily time’. Many are won­der­ing if she’ll re­turn with an en­gage­ment ring. There’s no doubt of Rio’s ado­ra­tion – at the Baf­tas he paid trib­ute to his ‘beau­ti­ful girl­friend’ – but Kate waves away my ques­tions about mar­riage. ‘The kids would like a lit­tle brother or sis­ter; they say “I dreamt that you were preg­nant,”’ she ad­mits. ‘But right now we’re just happy with our lit­tle unit.’

All I can say is that no fam­ily could de­serve a woman like Kate more.


Win­ning the megawatt smile con­test: Kate and Rio en­joy some fun in the sun to­gether

Kate doc­u­ments her new-found do­mes­tic­ity via In­sta­gram with pic­tures of Rio and his chil­dren for Fa­ther’s Day (top) and a cook-off with her girl­friends (be­low)

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