Just a few weeks ago, Chantelle Houghton appeared in the pages of new! magazine , smiling broadly next to her ex-hubby Samuel Preston, to talk about rekindling their friendship after a decade. We were hopeful that a romantic reunion could be on the cards for the pair, so we certainly weren’t expecting Chantelle to take to Instagram soon after and announce she’s engaged – but not to Preston!
The ex-Celebrity Big Brother legend has been enjoying a secret romance with Michael Strutt, a property developer and dad-of-two who got down on one knee just four months after their first date.
Although Chantelle had been keeping Michael out of the limelight – even disguising his face in pictures on social media – the engagement has made the pair so happy they’re now ready to go public. So they came straight back to new to discuss their news.
Big Brother returning to screens this summer to mark 20th anniversary
Inside Big Brother star Chantelle Houghton's dating history as she gets engaged to Michael Strutt
And it’s clear Chantelle, 36, isn’t worried about rushing things. “When you know, you know,” she tells us when we get on the phone to the couple who are at their Essex home. “For the first time in my life, this feels real. Not for the cameras or a reality show, but genuine, real life.”
In between shrieks of laughter (at one point Chantelle describes how Michael, 34, has spent the morning blowing raspberries on her tummy), the pair tell us all about their whirlwind romance, how they didn’t even tell their family before announcing the news online and what Preston really thinks of it all.
And no matter how much we probe about their high-speed romance, their exes and why they kept it such a big secret, nothing can dampen their obvious joy.
Chantelle’s bliss is clear to see from an Instagram post last week in which she revealed she had gained 2st. “I’ve put on 2 stone during lockdown, mainly because I am so happy and in love and also because I am eating 3 meals per day,” she wrote.
With her failed marriage to Preston and doomed engagement to Katie Price’s ex-husband Alex Reid, Chantelle has had more than her fair share of heartache. And Michael, who split from the mother of his two children before he began dating Chantelle, has had his own ups and downs. So hearing them banter and compliment each other in such a natural way is a real delight.
Although Chantelle warns us Michael is really nervous about our interview, once we get started, he’s as chatty as she is.
Here, they tell us how the proposal came about, what we can expect from the wedding and why their first date didn’t quite go to plan…
First of all, congratulations to you both! You kept that one quiet, Chantelle…
Chantelle: Ha, I know! I’ve been so private in the last few years and so I just wanted to keep it that way. But I did start posting pictures of him on Instagram with his face covered up by love hearts and stuff. I wanted to share the fact that I was loved-up and happy, but I didn’t want to show his face. So it’s nice to be open now.
Some people have questioned your motives…
Chantelle: Yeah, but you always get the old trolls, don’t you? There are other people who actually applauded me for not showing him off. It certainly wasn’t attention-seeking or anything like that. I want to share my life, but keep some elements private at the same time.
So how long have you guys actually known each other?
Chantelle: About eight or nine years, through mutual friends, but Michael’s always been with someone. And even though I’ve always thought he was really good-looking, I’ve never looked beyond that because he was off-limits. So my mind didn’t even go there. But when he came out of his 12-year relationship, we got back in touch and it went from there. We’ve actually been together for five months, officially.
You got engaged pretty quickly!
Chantelle: Definitely, but this whole lockdown situation has changed things. I moved into his place when this all happened as we didn’t want to be apart. He’s the only person who’s never ever annoyed me. You know when you date someone and he leaves his pants on the floor, or he’s really lazy or just generally annoying?
I haven’t found that to be the case at all. Don’t get me wrong, we have plenty of arguments, but they’re sorted out in minutes. I can totally be myself around him. It sounds really pathetic to say, but he’s my best friend. I can be silly, a geek and also romantic with him.
It sounds ideal…
Chantelle: Honestly, if I stood in front of him completely and utterly naked, he would still love me.
Michael: One hundred per cent. I love her for exactly who she is.
Michael, what happened in your previous relationship?
Michael: We were actually engaged. I popped the question after about eight years together. But I was so much younger then. When you get to our age, you know exactly what you want. I was never unfaithful, but I don’t think I fully understood what I wanted. Anyway, we just grew apart and eventually called it a day. No one realised that we’d split up for a while, but when it came out Chantelle decided to get in touch. She offered to make me lunch and it went from there.
Chantelle: And I made him the best jacket potato he’s ever had in his life, with a chicken salad. Unfortunately he nearly choked to death on the salad and I didn’t even realise! Literally, he only told me recently that he nearly died in that moment.
Michael: I was eating the salad and a bit got stuck in my throat. It was a bit awkward. I discreetly sorted it out, but it’s not ideal, is it?
Chantelle: Oh my God I nearly killed you on our first date! My salad almost finished you off!
Has Michael’s near-death experience, as well as the current pandemic, made you look at life differently?
Chantelle: I’ve always been one to grab life by the horns but yeah, it’s definitely made me more grateful for the things I have now. I’ve never had what I have with Michael with anyone else. He loves me warts and all. No one else has loved me like this.
What about Preston? You married him!
Chantelle: I’m not discounting that at all, but while it was real, it wasn’t normal circumstances. I was very young, just 21, and we were swept up in the showbiz reality world. This is so much more real. It’s raw. I’m so scared about him dying.
Michael: Don’t feed me chicken salad again then!
Chantelle: I’m serious, though. I’ve never loved a partner so much that the thought of them randomly dying upsets me so much. I’m probably only thinking that because of the corona thing, but it does prove to me that I really, really love him.
Back to that first date – did you seal the deal straight away?
Chantelle: There was immediate chemistry and attraction between us. He definitely went in for the kiss. I didn’t expect it at all.
Michael: As if! You were waiting for it!
Chantelle: Well, I was very happy to receive it.
Michael: She sent me a message basically an hour after I left.
Chantelle: We’ve seen each other practically every day since and you don’t find me annoying, do you?
Michael: Nah! I can’t think of anything you do that winds me up.
Chantelle: But I have put him through hell in the last few months.
Chantelle: I’ve pushed him and pushed him and tested his patience for weeks on end. Because I’ve been hurt so much in the past, trust is a huge issue for me. So I’ve pushed him, almost self sabotaging, but he didn’t give up on me.
Michael, did you understand how vulnerable Chantelle is?
Michael: We spoke about it and I know she needed reassurance. I know she’s been through a lot and that she was pushing me to prove I wouldn’t give up on her easily.
Chantelle: I made his life hell. I didn’t mean to, but I’d push him away. He’d want to see me and I’d find a reason not to. I needed to see he was for real. It sounds really bitchy, but I’ve apologised to him so many times since.
Michael: It was hard, but now we both know I can give you what you want – security and trust. I can see it’s gonna be alright.
What was the proposal like?
Michael: We couldn’t go out, obviously, with everything being closed, so I just got down on one knee while I was cooking dinner! I had the ring already sorted. Of course if we weren’t in lockdown I would’ve done it a different way.
Why did you feel like you couldn’t wait?
Michael: Who knows what’s around the corner? This could last months or years, so why wait?
And what was your reaction, Chantelle?
Chantelle: I was so overwhelmed, but so happy. I started crying! It was so out of the blue. Even now I can’t quite believe it. I once got engaged off the back of a reality show, but this feels real. I feel like I’m living a normal life now.
What’s the ring like?
Chantelle: It’s beautiful! I wouldn’t have minded anything he got me, but it’s gorgeous. It’s a tear-drop shape, with diamonds.
Michael: I got it from a guy I know. I chose it myself. I was a bit worried, but it paid off.
Chantelle: Well, no girl’s gonna say no to a diamond, are they?!
And what was the reaction like from your families?
Michael: I’m so private. I’m not one to tell people things. I wouldn’t lie – if they asked I’d tell them – but I wouldn’t go around making a song and dance about everything. I like to get on with stuff quietly.
Chantelle: My mum’s partner texted me with a message from a mate of his congratulating me on the engagement. He was like, “What the f**k? How does my mate know and I don’t?!” Basically, we put the announcement up on Instagram before I told my family. My brother texted me the next day going, “So are we gonna talk about this engagement or what?” It wasn’t deliberate, I was just excited to get it out there!
Were they annoyed?
Chantelle: They were a bit freaked out about what was going on, but they were pleased. I think at first they thought it was a joke!
Do they disapprove of how quickly it’s all happened?
Chantelle: My mum’s known Michael for a while and she knows he’s a decent guy, so she’s not worried about that aspect. She’s more like, “Finally, a decent guy for her!” And I hope I’ve won his family over, too.
Michael: You have! My mum and dad think the world of her. They say she seems like a really caring person.
What about your exes?
Chantelle: Preston sent me a message of congratulations and said he was really happy for me. And then he asked if he’d be invited to the wedding! Maybe he could perform? I should ask him!
Michael: It was a bit more of a sore subject with my ex. I have two children with her, a son and a daughter, and I think it was hard for her to accept my kids having another woman in their lives. But everything’s OK at the moment. There are no hard feelings. She’s in my life regardless, so we have to make it work.
So what’s happening with your kids, Michael?
Michael: My son lives with us at the moment during lockdown while my daughter’s with her mum. I didn’t want to risk transporting them back and forth, so we gave them the option of who they wanted to stay with full-time. I’m in constant contact with my little girl, too. Otherwise it’s a 50/50 split.
And would you like children of your own together?
Chantelle: I think on my second date I turned round and said, “I want kids and if you don’t then we can’t carry on.” There’s no point in beating around the bush. So yeah, we’re definitely planning it.
Will you wait until after the wedding?
Well, the wedding is in 2022, so I’ll definitely have a baby before then if I can. The biological clock is ticking away and I’m not getting younger, so I’d like to get on with it.
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What are you thinking in terms of the ceremony?
Chantelle: We’re debating whether to do it in a church or not. All I know for sure is what I want my dress to be like. I want it to be very Kardashian-esque. I want it to hang onto my curves. Obviously I need to get those curves in shape first!
Stop it – you look fab!
Chantelle: I’d like to get in better shape but I’d never, ever have any surgery again. I want to be smaller, but I don’t feel any pressure from Michael. I’m definitely overweight – I’m a size 12 where I used to be a small 10 – and I have a bit of a belly. But I don’t care when he cuddles me. And I know he’d love me no matter what I looked like in my dress.
Are you worried about people comparing it with your wedding to Preston?
Chantelle: Not at all. I live such a different life now – this is so much more real. What I had with Preston was real too, but it was a very different time. And I know Preston won’t mind me saying this, but when we were saying our vows, he was going boss-eyed at me, thinking it was hilarious, even though I hated it. I was so annoyed about it and I know Michael would never do that to me. I guess I feel like I haven’t really been married. It feels very strange looking back on that time of my life when the spotlight was on us. I don’t feel like I’ve had a real wedding. This feels like it’s the first time for both of us.
But don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret my marriage to Preston. Like my mum says, it’s one for the rocking chair!
Will you have a celeb guest list for the wedding?
Chantelle: Absolutely not. I’ll invite Preston, but that’s it.
Michael, what are your feelings towards Preston. Any jealousy there?
Michael: No, there’s no problem. I’ve learnt that you have to let the past go otherwise it will destroy the future.
Chantelle: I did the recent interview and shoot with Preston in new and you were OK with it, weren’t you?
Michael: Yeah, of course. There’s no jealousy or anything.
Chantelle: He knows it’s not that kind of relationship. There’s nothing in it whatsoever.
As you’ve only been together for five months, how comfortable are you with each other?
Chantelle: I walked in on him going to the toilet the other day! And I absolutely love squeezing his spots. It feels like I’ve been with him forever. It’s weird, but in a nice way. And when you know, you know. And while I thought I knew before – I really didn’t. Now I know.
We can’t let you go without talking about your now iconic split-second appearance in Tiger King, protesting for PETA…
Chantelle: Oh my God, I could not believe that! How about that for a little cameo?! I read about it before I saw it, and then obviously I became obsessed with the show. It’s really bad what Joe Exotic did, but it’s clear he really did love those cats. I’m surprised he’s in prison. I don’t believe he wanted Carole Baskin killed.
If they release him in time for the wedding, would you invite him?
Chantelle: I don’t think Michael would let me. You’ve got more chance of me dressing up as Joe Exotic on the big day than him getting an invite!
Michael: You got that right!
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