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INTERVIEW If you want to get ahead get a dog; Davina McCall met her future husband walking her pooch round the park and she's got plenty of other tips for meeting the partner of your dreams, as she tells Jackie Brown.

Television presenter Davina McCall knows the best way to meet the partner of your dreams - buy a dog.

The advice certainly worked for the dark-eyed McCall who met her fiance Matthew Robertson when their pets started playing together in the park.

"We were thrown together," she laughs. "He said hello and then walked off and I thought to myself, `run the other way so you can see him again'.

"I managed to and we walked our dogs together for a few months. It was quite innocent."

Eighteen months on, the couple and their two dogs all live happily together in west London, where the 32-year-old presenter of Don't Try This At Home is spending her spare time flicking through bridal magazines.

The couple got engaged at Christmas during a flight to the United States when Robertson popped the question and presented her with a dazzling engagement ring.

A month on, McCall is still on cloud nine and fingers the large diamond and platinum ring as she talks.

"It was a really big surprise as you can imagine. He didn't quite get down on bended knee but I think he was a bit merry. He had hit the beer to get a bit of Dutch courage.

"I said `yes' after I got over the shock. Until I saw the box I was too frightened to believe he was asking me to marry him because I thought he might suddenly go `joke!"'

The couple plan to get married as soon as possible but have no idea where and are still trying to find a space in their busy lives. McCall is currently working non-stop while Robertson, 29, is the new presenter of Channel 4's Pet Rescue.

"It is not going to be a huge wedding. There will be about 80 people - close family and mates. It depends if we can get married in a church because I have been married before. If we can, I would love to.

"I have no idea where it will be. It is a bit of a nightmare because everyone wants to get married in 2000. At the moment I'm buying every brides magazine going."

McCall, 32, has no qualms about taking the plunge again, despite the failure of her first marriage to actor Andrew Leggett. The couple wed after a whirlwind romance and split within months.

"You definitely think harder about it," she says reflecting on her decision to marry for a second time. "When I said yes I knew what was involved and I knew I didn't want to go through another divorce.

"It felt much more momentous to take that on. I felt like I was very well informed about it all and this time I knew what I was getting myself into. We have lived together for about a year. I feel very good about it."

She is now doing her bit to help the rest of us find love. As well as being the nation's matchmaker on Channel 4's Streetmate, she has just written The Dating Game. The book - dedicated to her fiance - is a light-hearted guide to romance from how to meet someone, (gyms are good, blind dates are bad and of course dog walking is excellent), to developing a relationship.

It is shot through with the same can-do attitude which saw McCall turn her life around. She may today be every inch the TV presenter, poised and immaculately groomed but in her early 20s she was way out of control.

While fronting trendy clubs in London she succumbed to drink and drugs which turned her into a complete "loser". She finally turned over a new leaf at 24 when her best friend threatened not to talk to her again.

Among those who helped her clean up her act was singer Eric Clapton, a family friend. It was a complete life change - she is still teetotal.

Within six months she had landed her dream job as a presenter on music channel MTV. Her break came after three years of bombarding them with applications and showreels.

She took nothing for granted and for the first year she carried on working as a booker with a modelling agency during the week. Eventually she was confident enough to give up the day job and she is now one of the UK's busiest presenters.

This year there will be two series of Don't Try This At Home - in June and the autumn - and Streetmate in the summer. She also hopes to host her first panel show as a pilot for Channel 4.

As if that is not enough, she is trying to sell a couple of programme ideas through her own production company.

Her upbringing was unusual to say the least. Born in Wimbledon, south-west London, the only child of a graphic designer and a French mother she was three when her parents split up and her mother moved to Paris.

She lived with her grandparents in Surrey, spending holidays with her parents. When she was 13, she moved in with her father and stepmother in west London.

She is not bitter, saying there was lots of support for her. It was not all plain sailing though - when she was 15 she became anorexic, refusing to eat for several months, a fact which the presenter says was a bid to get attention.

There is one other incident she won't discuss - her past relationship with controversial footballer Stan Collymore. She took him on holiday to the south of France after the notorious incident a couple of years ago when he attacked his then-girlfriend Ulrika Jonsson.

Her mind is instead set on the future and a romantic wedding. She has made one decision - it won't be featuring in the pages of a glossy magazine.

"My wedding is private," she says firmly.

The Dating Game by Davina McCall is published by Arrow price pounds 5.99. Don't Try This At Home is on Central on Saturdays at 6.10pm.
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Author:Brown, Jackie
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 2, 2000
Words:991
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