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Is the sofa big enough for two?

IN THE history of breakfast television, both here and in the UK, there has never been as much speculation as there is about the forthcoming team on ITV's new GMTV show, the optimistically titled Daybreak, which begins airing next month.

At the heart of all the coverage, depending on whether you're reading between the lines or not, is a story of ambition, rivalry and big hair that could match the likes of '80s power soap Dynasty, albeit starring two Irish TV presenters.

Earlier this year, the word on every daytime television set was that Irish presenter Grainne Seoige would be crossing the water to helm ITV's brand new breakfast show. She would be getting comfortable on the couch with anchorman Adrian Chiles, the popular former presenter of BBC's The One Show, a position he shared with Newry-born Christine Bleakley.

For Seoige, the only personality in the history of Irish TV to have propelled herself into positions with all four of our television stations over the course of her career -- TG4, TV3, RTE One and RTE Two -- along with the now defunct Sky News Ireland, it was the perfect move, the next step towards establishing herself as a household name on both sides of the Irish Sea.

But then the BBC withdrew a contract for Bleakley to continue presenting The One Show. It was leaked to the press that Bleakley was trying to decide whether to accept offers from the BBC or ITV, making it clear she could rejoin Chiles as a co-presenter on the revamped GMTV if she felt like it. The result was a gathering snowball of publicity for Bleakley and subsequently Daybreak.

Suddenly, it looked as though Grainne's chances were scuppered and she'd be doomed to present The All Ireland Talent Show. But all was not lost. Last month, ITV announced that Seoige would indeed be joining the Daybreak line-up as features editor. But instead of getting the main job -- as was once expected -- she would be playing second fiddle to Bleakley, with Chiles in between. But the question on everyone's lips is, will there be enough room on the couch for these two ambitious career women, neither of whom has allowed any opportunity for career advancement to pass them by?

Although Seoige has had a high profile in this country as a news anchor and media personality since 1997, when she started with TV3, Bleakley's career has exploded in recent years.

Once best known in Dublin for her relationship with businessman Christian Stokes, Bleakley seemed like a girl who just happened upon a TV career and still can't quite believe her luck.

She started as a runner in BBC Northern Ireland while still at college, but after a director gave her the chance to go in front of the camera, her career became a series of carefully taken steps towards the morning sofa.

After a mix of presenting stints, charity show appearances and celebrity reality shows, by the time Bleakley reached The One Show, she was well known as a personality who cared about children, preferred ironing to going out and was an ordinary Josephine Soap, just like you and me.

But her carefully cultivated media personality hasn't convinced everyone. A throwaway comment from Bleakley's replacement on The One Show, Alex Jones, gives a different impression.

"We are both brunettes but that is as far as it goes," she said. "I prefer rugby players to footballers. I am down to earth, warm and very hardworking."

Furthermore, as her profile has been heightened, Christine's ambition has been highlighted. At the height of the negotiations with the BBC, Bleakley fired her agent, John Noel, by text message, apparently frustrated by his advice.

Certainly, one thing that unites Bleakley and Seoige is their ability to spot a photo opportunity. Since the well-publicised break-up of her marriage to Stephen Cullinane, Grainne has been a regular in the social columns, appearing at awards ceremonies and events, often in the company of her younger sister, Sile.

Christine has certainly provided plenty of fodder for the paparazzi. Last year she started a relationship with Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard and has been rarely out of the papers since. Although Bleakley has said in interviews that she has no interest in being a typical WAG, she flew to South Africa for the World Cup to support her boyfriend, only to see England crash out in the second round.

Straight after the finals, Lampard and Bleakley jetted off to Sardinia for a holiday where barely a day went by without them being snapped sunning themselves in an exclusive five-star resort, with Christine parading an apparently endless array of tiny bikinis.

More recently, Christine has been photographed leaving Lampard's central London home on a regular basis -- a far cry from the early days of their relationship when they went to great pains to avoid being photographed together.

Columnist Amanda Platell has been a little less oblique in her appraisals of Bleakley.

"In the self-promotion stakes, she makes Cheryl Cole look like an ingenue. She may be defecting to GMTV, but when it comes to Ms Bleakley, it never stops being The One Show," Platell wrote recently, suggesting that Bleakley's paparazzi shots look posed and everything is about the advancement of the Bleakley brand.

Posed or not, hardly a day goes by without some papers printing pap pics of Bleakley and Lampard. Having been offered a rumoured €7m to co-host the new GMTV show and currently the constant subject of speculation about her WAG status -- rumours of an engagement with Lampard have persisted since the World Cup -- Bleakley is without doubt one of the biggest female stars on British TV.

So how will Seoige, formerly a big fish in a small pond, transferring to such shark-infested waters, fare? With Bleakley firmly ensconced beside Chiles in the anchor position, it looks like she'll be swimming against a very strong current indeed. And it'll certainly be interesting to see how Seoige copes with playing second fiddle to the much better known Bleakley. After all, wherever she's gone up until now, Seoige has arguably been the biggest name, so how she'll react to being a sidekick -- at least in presenting terms -- remains to be seen.

Before Chiles left The One Show, both he and Bleakley had allegedly stopped communicating directly with its new producer, Sam Smith. This is a coupling that may well close ranks on a relative newbie with her eye firmly on the Bleakley crown.

But if she's anything, Seoige is a grafter who manages to overcome every hurdle. Just over a year and a half ago it looked like her career was in the doldrums. After only one season of Seoige, the high-profile afternoon show she presented with her sister, RTE pulled the plug and left her in limbo, with only a second season of The All Ireland Talent Show to keep her in the public eye.

"I believe in hard work for achieving what you want," Seoige said in an interview a few months later, and soon after that British and Irish audiences saw her guest-presenting slots on GMTV.

Despite being passed over for the co-anchor job on Daybreak, Seoige still says she's excited about the opportunity. She met Bleakley once when the erstwhile One Show presenter was strutting her stuff on Strictly Come Dancing and describes her as "a lovely girl" who she is "delighted to be working with".

"I've been lucky enough to work in news, current affairs, sports, light entertainment, chat shows as well, so this is a brilliant way to spread your wings and keep exercising all those different broadcasting muscles," she went on, a statement, if ever there was one, about ambition and ability as she pushes ahead, kept from the top spot only by Bleakley.

Before you know it, if the British tabloids get wise to Seoige's ambition, we might have a battle of the Irish brunettes on their hands. And it won't look pretty.


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