Great Britain

I’m not a woman to be controlled and Rio knows that, says Kate Ferdinand

THERE'S one discussion Kate Ferdinand never saw coming – the moment her stepchildren outlined a timetable of when she and their dad would get, er, busy and make them a baby brother or sister.

“Conversations have got a bit graphic with the kids,” laughs Kate, 29. “They’re saying: ‘When are you going  to do it, then?’ It’s so funny.

"One of them said: ‘You’re not going to have [sex] in lockdown while we’re in the house so I think you’re going to have it in October.’ I’m like: ‘I can’t believe I’m having this conversation!’”

As cringey as it might have been at the time, it says everything about how far the former reality star has come since falling for former England captain Rio three years ago and taking on his three children – Lorenz, 13, Tate, 11, and nine-year-old Tia – following their mum Rebecca’s death in May 2015.

Anyone who watched the couple’s BBC1 documentary Rio And Kate: Becoming A Stepfamily earlier this year will know it was a bumpy start.

The sequel to Rio’s 2017 BAFTA-winning film Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum And Dad, which documented a family in mourning, it followed Kate over the course of a year as she struggled to adjust to her new home and role after getting engaged to Rio and moving in with him and his children.

JOURNEY TOWARDS SELF-ACCEPTANCE

At their Kent mansion, walls were adorned  with family photos featuring Rebecca, who died from breast cancer aged just 34. Stepping into her shoes  was understandably daunting, and even simple things such as making the kids’ tea proved a challenge.

“It was very difficult to start with,” admits Kate, recalling her first disastrous offering in the kitchen – chicken fajitas. “I did the spicy mix and they all hated  it. I’ve cooked so many things that none of them liked and I couldn’t get it right.”

Supporting the children and Rio, 41, through grief  – the family faced a double blow when Rio’s beloved mum Janice passed away suddenly  in July 2017, aged 58 – was a more complex matter entirely and required professional support from counsellors and children’s bereavement charity Grief Encounter.

Becoming A Stepfamily followed the family to Grief Encounter’s HQ, where the kids connected with  other grief-stricken children, while Kate opened up about having therapy to tackle anxiety and  body dysmorphia.

Happily, Kate says, calm has  now come from a journey towards self-acceptance. “I used to beat myself up a lot,” she explains as we speak over Zoom.

“I used to always strive to be perfect, whereas I now know that no one is, I’m not going to be perfect and that’s OK. My mental health is always going to be something  I have to juggle and deal with, but I’m easier on myself than I used  to be. I feel a lot more content and happy and relaxed in where I’m at, and the kids do, too.

“We’re really lucky, considering I’ve come in and haven’t known the kids all their lives. We are a tight family unit and if you looked in, you’d just see happiness.”

Kate’s Instagram account certainly reflects that. One recent sweet post shows Kate, eyes closed in bliss, cuddling Tia and her chihuahua Ronnie. In another, captured by Rio during a family walk in the forest, Kate strolls beside Tate, his right arm draped protectively across her shoulder.

The family couldn’t be closer, which leads us handily back to that conversation. Are there any immediate baby-making plans?

“We would like to have a baby but there’s no [set] time,” replies Kate, adding that she and Rio are, in any case, facing a predicament familiar to every parent in lockdown: drastically scaled-back alone time.

I used to always strive to be perfect, whereas I now know that no one is, I’m not going to be perfect and that’s OK.

“That’s just part of being a parent, isn’t it? Where is the love life?!” she laughs. “We’re getting a little bit of time here and there, but I wouldn’t call it couple time.

"We’re busy, our time together might be talking about cleaning the toilet, rather than:” – Kate adopts a dreamy American accent – “‘Oh, I love you so much!’”

Speaking of toilet cleaning, in the absence of the family’s cleaner and housekeeper, who are yet to return while  the Ferdinands enjoy uninterrupted “family time”, that’s one of Rio’s domestic responsibilities.

He’s also been mucking in with cooking (“We all love his Jamaican curried chicken”) and grocery shopping with Kate at Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer. The latter, FYI, is a relationship first.

“We normally have a delivery, but haven’t been doing that lately in order to free up delivery spots for the vulnerable,” says Kate. “I’ve never been food shopping with Rio before and it’s hilarious.

'DOWNTRODDEN'

On the suggestion that Kate is “downtrodden” – just one of the many disparaging assumptions of critics and internet trolls – her laugh says it all.

“I’m not a woman to be controlled, I think Rio knows that as well. We have a very equal relationship. Rio does a lot more than people expect – he’s an amazing husband, I can’t fault him at all,” she says.

“I’m very homey, so  I like to run a nice house. I have a little bit of OCD. I like things in the order that they’re meant to be in and being organised makes me feel good. Rio sometimes walks in and is like: ‘What are you doing?’ and I’m looking into  a tidy cupboard, smiling. I’ve been like this since I was a kid.”

Kate was raised in Hornchurch, Essex, by her single mum Jacqueline,  54, an accountant who split from her electrician dad Phil, 60, when she  was little. After working for a while as a PA in the city, Kate became a  regular on TOWIE in 2015 then quit in April 2017, shortly after meeting  Rio during a holiday to Dubai.

She later explained it “wasn’t healthy for the children to read headlines about me”. Now, she carefully chooses to work only on projects that are enjoyable and will fit around the kids.

Last month, she launched her third collection with Very.co.uk – a summer range with a few “super-cosy, comfy” loungewear pieces thrown in – and released her debut lifestyle book Fitter, Happier, Healthier at the end of  last year.

Kate is keen to highlight that she has earned her own money since the age of 13, when she got her  first job as a hair salon Saturday girl – a subtle reply to another accusation frequently levelled by trolls, that  she is only with Rio for his £60million fortune.

“People always try to find a negative,” she says, shaking her head. “When Caroline Flack passed away there was the whole Be Kind movement. Everyone was kind for a week and then people just can’t help themselves. I don’t think that’s ever going to go.”

She says she and Rio operate a “strict but fun house”, where the children earn pocket money  by doing household chores.

“I believe in kids being well-behaved and having good manners, so that’s how it runs here,” says Kate.

When it comes to parenting, Kate and former Manchester United star Rio play to their strengths. Naturally more tech-savvy, Kate has been managing  the lion’s share of home-schooling during lockdown, coordinating the children’s timetables, plus getting  to grips with their textbooks.

When Caroline Flack passed away there was the whole Be Kind movement. Everyone was kind for a week and then people just can’t help themselves.

“I’ve asked the maths teachers to give me examples of how they work it out so I can try to  teach the kids in a way that’s not going to confuse them even more,” says Kate.

“Sometimes I’m great, sometimes I think I’m useless, but that’s just part of being parent, isn’t it? You’re trying to clean, be a teacher, a cook, a wife. There’s a lot to do. I think it’s taken its toll a bit now. I’m trying to be positive,  but it’s difficult,” she admits.

“It’s just like normal motherhood, but times 100. You love them, you’re laughing, you’re having a great time and the next minute you just want to kill them, because they’re driving you mad.”

Then, referring to her own mental health, she adds: “My anxiety comes and goes and I have been struggling a bit recently.

"I grew up with just me and my mum, so I’m quite used to my own company and  my coping mechanism is getting out for a little bit of time on my own when the kids are at school. During lockdown, that’s gone, so I’ve snuck out for a few walks on my own around the park really slowly!”


The last...

Movie you watched?

Blue Story. It’s about gangs in Peckham and got banned from cinemas. I was gripped.

Book you read?

One of the  kids’ science  textbooks. It’s mind-boggling! They should be learning about mortgages and car insurance, information they’re going  to use in everyday life.

Box set you watched?

Money Heist. It’s quite long-winded, but we’ve got right into it during lockdown.

Album you listened to?

I prefer Spotify playlists, but my favourite album is Usher’s Confessions  or 8701.

Time you cried?

Yesterday. I’m very emotional. I cry out of frustration if  I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Time you  were drunk?

For the first  two weeks of lockdown I was a little bit drunk quite often – I don’t know what happened. I’ve reined it in now!

And it seems motherhood – or social isolation – might just be accelerating the ageing process. “I found some grey hairs the other day and I nearly had a breakdown!” she says.

“I thought: ‘What the hell is going on?’ I probably have aged. The kids do tell you. Tia says: ‘You’ve got a crease on your face’. A crease? You mean a wrinkle!”

So how does the role of Kate the stepmum compare to her previous jobs?

 “It’s not even a comparison. They are jobs, this isn’t  a job, this is my life,” clarifies Kate. “Obviously, I can compare it to my life before, which was a lot calmer, but I wouldn’t change it for the world because I’ve got Rio and three kids that I love.”

You’re trying to clean, be a teacher, a cook, a wife. There’s a lot to do. I think it’s taken its toll a bit now.

The couple married in Turkey last September during a lavish three-day bash in front of a huge gathering  of friends and family. As they approach their first anniversary, it’s difficult to predict how they’ll celebrate.

 After two months in lockdown, Kate is bored of home cooking (“Mine, not Rio’s!”), but says if restaurant restrictions remain in place, they will enjoy a romantic meal at home, prepared by the kids. “They’ve been wanting to do that for a while,” she says.

While lockdown hasn’t seen Kate conjure up any dream future goals (“Is it bad for me to say no?”) it has birthed Ferdinand Fitness – Kate and Rio’s home fitness YouTube channel, which has more than 18,000 subscribers and features banter-heavy couples workouts.

The pair were exercising together four times a week before Kate, currently struggling with sciatica, was forced to switch her attention to Pilates.

For 15 years, while in the grip of body dysmorphia, Kate hated her “stumpy legs” so much, she virtually lived in the gym. But today her attitude to health is much more balanced.

She rates her body confidence  a “seven or eight out of 10”, and is done with being controlled by self-criticism. She bypasses Rio’s  bathroom weighing scales and buys clothes a size  larger before having them tailored to perfectly fit  her hourglass frame.

'ADOPTION WON'T CHANGE ANYTHING'

On the subject of cosmetic surgery, Kate’s been open about having lip fillers and is “not against” tweaks. “Don’t feel judged, do what’s good for you,” she says.

But for those curious about her boobs, they are, she confirms, all-natural – for now at least. “Maybe one day,” she smiles. “After I have kids, there may be  [a boob job] needed!”

Although the older children don’t call Kate “Mummy”, Tia does. So are there plans for her to legally adopt them?

 “I don’t feel like I need to,” says Kate, before pausing. “That’s a hard question,” she continues.

“I’m not  sure on the answer because I see them like they’re mine. I am their guardian, so what change would adopting them make? It might only change what other people think. It’s not going to change how I feel.”

All those old family photos are now in a room dedicated especially to Rebecca, and when asked if she ever senses her presence around her, Kate nods.

 “I do all the time. And Rio’s mum, Janice. All the time. My grandma’s into reiki and is very spiritual, and  I have that way with me as well.

“I think of Rebecca all the time. I think: ‘Would she  be happy with this? Would she not?’

So she’s very much present in our lives. She’s the kids’ mum, so it’s like a comfort.

“And I truly believe, in my heart of hearts, that Rebecca would be happy with the love I’m giving to her children.”

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