When the beautiful, flaxen-haired TV princess met the crown prince of funk, they both fell under each other's spell. Sarah B.
talks to golden couple Denise Van Houten and Jay Kay about happy ever afters.
Once upon a time there was a cheeky TV presenter from Essex with hair like spun platinum.
Denise Van Outen could flirt like she had a PhD in coquetry and was beloved by all who beheld her; especially the gents, who were
enchanted by such a clever girl who was not too proud to appear on television looking like a Swedish milkmaid.
And she could make her co-host (a lucky tyke by the name of Johnny Vaughan) look like the king of the world when she laughed at his
jokes on The Big Breakfast sofa and gazed upon him as if he was her heart's own true love (even though he wasn't).
In another realm, far from the early morning innuendos and peals of Carry On laughter that issued from the migraine -bright Big Breakfast cottage, there lived a young prince of funk. Dubbed the Cat In The Hat, Jay Kay was famous the world over for his band Jamiroquai.
Despite looking like a scruffy urchin, Jay Kay was wealthy beyond the imaginings of you and me, but he dwelt alone in an ancient manor house, with no company other than the swans that swam upon his lake, his young Alsatian Luga and a rare collection of beautiful antique motor cars.
And so, on the spring morning in 1998 when Denise, our bubbly goddess of populist TV, and Jason (for that is his true name), the maverick crackerjack of blue-eyed jazz, funk'n'soul, first met at Silverstone race track, noone imagined that Cupid's dart would strike - least of all our heroes. Jay Kay knew nothing of Denise or Johnny and their breakfast-time prankery (for being a pop star he seldom arose before noon). And Denise, a down-to-earth Basildon girl, was hardly a Jamiroquai fan; she even suspected that young Master Kay was a stanger to a daily shower. But, as every true romance knows, the attraction of opposites always makes for the best love story...
Denise and Jay Kay, still wet from the shower (he washes!) and cocooned in towels, arrange themselves on the ELLE studio sofa. Fresh off the plane from Bermuda, they are beach-brown, sleepy eyed and surprisingly relaxed. Apart from a distinctly showy fleet of Louis Vuitton luggage, you'd be hard pushed to recognise this sweetly affectionate boy and the girl resting her head on his tummy as Britain's premier celebrity couple. But, as Jay Kay and Denise repeatedly remind me over the course of our day together, they are not interested in exploiting their relationship.
Jay claims we only have the pleasure of his company today as he is awaiting the delivery of a vintage Aston Martin and
the studio is nearer to the garage than his Buckinghamshire manor.
'We're not David Becham and Posh Spice,' he spits and before he can really get his knickers in a twist about 'the Wally Four' (Spice Girls,
please cover your ears), Hello! magazine or the fact that he would rather stick pins in his eyes than wear a pair of sequined Gucci strides
for our photos ('I'm not Elton John'), Denise disappears to have her make-up done so Jay and I can talk alone.
Jay Kay conducts his interview wearing a pair of towels, one to hide his modesty, the other round his shoulders.
Despite the cans of Red Bull he's downing to counteract his jet lag (imagine Jim Carrey in The Mask), Jay is in mellow mode.
He's just completed the final twiddles on Synkronized, his fourth album.
His new video is in the can - a crazed, death-defying, all-his-own-stunts Jay Kay special in which he swings on transparent bungee ropes in the largest rotating room ever built ('You couldn't get Celine Dion to do that,' he says). And his new single Canned Heat, which has 'hit' running through it like a stick of rock, is soon to be released. Jay will turn 30 at the millennium flips over (his birthday is December 30) and he already knows that is life is a-changing. He has his house - ye very olde Horsenden Manor, replete with 72 acres, a medieval moated wood, gardens by Capability Brown, lake and an island where is already decidedhe will be buried 'so the swans can shit on my grave' (how grounded),
'I've got a nice girlfriend. I'm happy,' he grins. Denise features on the album as the muse for Butterfly, Falling and Where Do We Go From Here? (the sort of title which would make any girl study the lyric sheet till her eyes went blurry).
This is the first time Jay has touched on such 'girlie, girlie' matters on his records but, as he freely admits,
'I've never had a relationship like this before.' So where do they go from here? Should we except wedding bells? Tiny Jay Kays?
'Yeah. They're just around the corner really,' he replies comfortably. 'I want to get this album and tour out of the way first.' (I fix my eyes closely on Jay. He's shivering slightly - the damp towels, I expect - but he's definitely not raving!) 'I'm looking forward to settling down a bit;
not taking the edge off myself, but thinking about family and the things that matter a lot more than the music business.'
Given Jay's background - he's the son of Karen Kay, a cabaret singer and single parent who often schlepped her little boy round the Las Vegas nightclub circuit - and his amazing career trajectory (the lad's valued at £15 million!), it should come as no surprise that Jay believes in fate.
He lost a twin brother when he was just a baby; not something he talks about much, but he sometimes wonders if it's this
ever-present sense of loss which motivates him, or maybe his brother is watching over, guiding him.
Whichever way, Jay believes things happen for a reason. He met Denise; 'Because I needed it. I needed someone to come into my life who was just decent and understood me. Someone who loved me...' and his face darkens. 'You know when you don't feel love, you know it's not happening. When someone shouts at you all the time, for giving an autograph in the street...' He trails off, doubtless thinking miserable black thoughts about a nameless ex. Unfettered autograph gratification aside, the rock'n'roll lifestyle can play havoc with the grooviest of relationships. So how will Jay and Denise cope with la vie Spinal Tap and it's many temptations? 'I have to work with women, she has to work with men. Different things go on,' reasons Jay. You've got to have trust. Anyway, we're such bad liarsthat if there was any fanny you'd know
straigh away, so it ain't worth it. I've been with too many bad women to risk throwing this away.
'You get to a stage when you've got money in your pocket and a nice place to live. It's hard to find someone who's into you and not what you've got. I like to think that I'm with someone who'd like me the same if I had nothing.' But what about high-drama, TV-through-the-window pop star/diva rows? 'We had an argument the other day about how to slice a tomato,' Jay says seriously. 'It lasted about one minute.'
And rampant sex? Do they have as much of it as we all think they do?
'Well, yeah, absolutely! Ha ha. Who wouldn't? We have a healthy, solid sex life, but it's a balance, it's not just voracious. We've all done that - had those behind-the-bike-sheds shags, the after-show hotel-room scene. You can't go shagging every day like nutters, you get bored.
Then again, we don't see each other all the time. This year with the tour, we'll hardly see each other at all, so when we do get together,
there's a lot of ripping going on.' And with that, Jay skips off to spin Denise round for the camera, balance a croissant on his head, dance 'til
his trousers are round his ankles and stick a towel up Denise's dress to make her look pregnant. Several wardrobe changes later,
Jay Kay has exhausted himself and gone outside to wait for his handsome new carriage, leaving Denise and me alone to talk.
The weird thing about meeting Denise in the flesh is how very unlike a TV babe she is. Okay, she's probably a bit pooped from the flight, not to mention being flung around by her hyperactive boyfriend. Still, it's hard to reconcile the girl sitting in front of me, in girlish Brady Bunch dungarees, with that saucy bird off the telly who nicked a tissue box from HRH and left the Big Breakfast audience in no doubt about the size of her new boyfriend's most vital organ. Perhaps, Denise has changed? She tells me about going to a nightclub recently, and finding herself watching Jay on the dancefloor. 'Normally if I'm out with a guy and he's up for a dance, there's always a part of me that's,
"Please don't embarrass me",' she winces. (As Jay is well known for moonwalking and other potentially heinous dancefloor crimes,
I begin to fear where this anecdote is leading.)
'This girl came up to me and said "You're really in love with him, aren't you?
I've been sitting watching you and you're completely in love". I thought, God I'd better stop that.'
Denise laughs, but I suspect she probably can't.
When Denise left The Big Brakfast (you may remember the tears, naughty D running round the garden Babs Windsor style, holding her breasts and squealing, 'I think my bra's come undone'), she made it clear to all who cared to know that she had no particular ambitions other than a desire to stop feeling jet-lagged every day from lack of sleep and to spend more time with her boyfriend. And sure enough, the moment she stopped pursuing her career like a dog worrying a bone, everything fell into place beautifully.
She's landed a plum role in 'a really good British movie' (she can't say which). She will be shooting another series of Babes in the Wood later in the year, beefed up this time by a punchier US-style scriptwriting team. But the jewel in in her crown is a game show (working title Under the Cherry Tree) which she helped write and produce - 'A bit like Don't forget Your Toothbrush, only more about relationships,' she explains.
One game promises to unite contestants with their first sexual partner (how terrifying).
But, never mind, a series has been commissioned, Denise has been tagged 'Cilla for the next millennium' and the girl's chuffed to little balls.
But what about her relationship? Has it suffered from all this CV-enhancing activity?
'I think it's become much stronger. There was always a strong bond from the start - you know when you meet
someone and feel like you've know them for years.'
She admits she still gets butterflies every time she sees him. 'I still plan what I'm doing to wear.
My friends think it's crazy. When we're all getting ready to go out in a group - trying on different outfits - they're like, "It's alright for you, you're not on the pull. Jay's coming so it doesn't matter, you can wear anything." But I'm, "No, no. I've got to look good".' She considers a moment .
'It's probably the first time that I've ever made a real effort for somebody.'
When Jay and Denise were in Bermuda, he bought her a pink Louis Vuitton bag as a no-day-in-particular surprise gift.
Denise rolls her eyes to let me know that a) this is a la-la celeb indulgence, b) she's bright enough to know that all the handbags in the world
do not true love make and c) it's absolutely brilliant to have a boyfriend with ace taste who likes buying presents.
'I've never had that before, someone who's treated me,' she says so shyly and demurely that I do a double-take to make sure she hasn't skipped out of the room and left a stray cast member from Annie talking into the microphone. While she doesn't go into specifics, Denise gives the impression that she's been burned by previous affairs of the heart. I ask her what it would be like if she was reunited with her first lover on TV.
'It would be a complete disaster, because I hate him. He knows who he is and I rather not give him the credit,' she practically snaps.
Jay is the only man she's been with who's not been threatened by her uncontainable sexiness: 'He's really laid-back, really chilled. If I say some guys been chatting me up, he just laughs. He understands that you've got to play the game to a certain extent. That's what I used to do on
The Big Breakfast, that's what I'm known for - I flirt with all the male guests. Everybody knows it's just for fun, it's not genuine.'
Quite how she justifies biffing Naomi Campbell last year for alleged outrageous flirting at a fashion party is not made clear, but like Denise says, 'She was after Jay. Sitting on his lap. Hands all over him.' And, anyhow, she didn't hit Naomi hard.
As soon as Denise gets back to her flat, she wil be packing again for a week in New York with Jay.
They're flying Concorde, he's promoting Synkronized, she's shopping: 'I need to buy things for him like underpants and socks; try to organise him for his tour. Since I've been going to his house I've noticed that he's not very organised,' she says with unabashed domesticity. Pants? Sock drawer rationalisation? Is Denise dropping a juicy big hint that they're moving in together? Well, apparently not, as Denise is far too excited by her new Islington flat (a riot of gerberas, strawberry pillows and Big Breakfast colourways) to move in to Horsenden Manor just yet.
I couldn't swear, but I think I just detect Denise blushing beneath her tan.
'If he asked me, I'd say yes.'
And before I can elicit any details (C of E? Elvis Chapel? Bridesmaids?), I notice that Jay has suckered his mouth onto the glass door in a big O shape and he's gurning at Denise. Has the Aston Martin just arrived? Or did he just propose?
'And do you want Jay's baby?' I squeak (you'll have to excuse me, this is very exciting)
'I don't want to put pressure on him, because you don't know what's going to happen,' continues Denise and she starts giggling because she knows he's probably listening and she doesn't really care, 'but if we got married, I'd have lots of children.'
I don't know whose heart is beating fastest - Denise's (love), Jay's (imminent automobile delivery) or mine (hot story).
'I read so many interviews where people say, "I don't want to talk about my relationship because the last time I opened my heart it all fell through",' she continues. 'I just think, I'm happy, so why not tell everyone?'
'We're soulmates. I feel so comfortable with him. Even on that first day at Silverstone I knew that we would always be good mates,' she smiles. 'Now, I can't imagine being without him.'
Of course, even romantic fools knowthat love doesn't come with a manufacturer's guarantee but, from where I'm sitting,
I predict a very happy ending.