Rachel has sat down with The Sun following the release of her autobiography “Finding My Voice“.

Exactly two years since her 13-year marriage ended, Rachel Stevens has entered Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin “dream divorce” territory.

On the day we meet, the S Club star and her ex-husband Alex Bourne – dad to her two daughters, Amelie, 13, and 10-year-old Minnie – are meeting up, accompanied by their respective partners, for their first double dinner date.

“Do you know what? I’m feeling good about it,” says Rachel, 46, who split from estate agent Alex – star of Netflix’s new reality show Buying London – in July 2022.

Only months earlier, she had met her current partner, US pro-skater Brendyn Hatfield when she was partnered with him on Dancing On Ice. Alex, too, now has a new partner.

“We’re going to talk about the kids, because parenting a teenager can be challenging and all parents need to set boundaries, and we just want to align on some things.

“Obviously, we’ve got two different homes, but we need to come together on certain things.

“[Alex and Brendyn] really get on. They’re both good people,” she says.

It’s an admirable and enviable display of sensible adulting, a set-up that mirrors the respect exhibited by Gwynnie and Coldplay star Chris after their 2014 “conscious uncoupling”. But Rachel admits it’s taken time to reach their happy place.

Rachel lays bare the truth about the unravelling of their marriage in her brand-new memoir Finding My Voice – specifically how her feelings grew for Brendyn, 38, soon after their DOI journey ended in February 2022.

She describes wanting “to get to know him” more, after being the third contestant voted off the show, and how they spent weeks communicating “constantly” over WhatsApp – “long, in-depth, emotional messages about what was happening in our lives and how we were dealing with our fractured relationships”, which resulted in them forming “an even deeper connection”.

In the book she writes: “All I knew was that I couldn’t help the feelings that were developing.

“There was no stopping it now. I’d never felt this way about anyone, and after all these years of searching, there was no way I was going to let it slip through my fingers.”

At the time, she and Alex were having marriage problems, but were still living together.

They went public with plans to split in July 2022 after a one-week trial separation.

Today, she admits: “It was messy, I’m not going to lie. I knew for a long time what I needed to do. I knew that we were growing… that I was growing apart, but I was in turmoil, because, first of all, my kids.

“I couldn’t think straight,” says Rachel, who insists she was honest with Alex, 47, about her feelings for Brendyn from the start.

“It was really scary, because I knew as soon as I said that, that was it – because with honesty comes change and [then] everything changed.”

But, look at them now. As divorces go, this one seems to be as good as it gets.

”I know how lucky I am,” nods Rachel.

“Of course, it’s a work in progress and we’re navigating it, but we’ve always had the goal of wanting to be age-appropriately honest with the girls.

“Kids think life is a fairy tale. I think it’s good to show them that this is real life and we’re all learning.”

Baring the story of her life in a memoir was no mean feat. Joining S Club 7 aged 19, Rachel became painfully conscious of how others perceived her and she suppressed her true self – a continuation of her childhood in north London, where she felt she had to be seen and not heard.

She struggled with committing to paper some of her innermost feelings, specifically about her marriage breakdown.

“I wanted to be really honest and open, and that was one of the things that scared me the most,” she says.

Insecurity, anxiety and imposter syndrome have been long-standing issues for Rachel, who’s “been in and out of therapy” since childhood.

When she was nine, her mum arranged counselling to try to resolve her anxiety, which manifested in emetophobia, an extreme fear of being sick (an issue she still struggles with).

These days, as well as regular dance training and walking to keep herself physically fit, Rachel has weekly therapy sessions and, clearly, self-development is working.

Walking through the door of our studio in a stunning Mint Velvet leopard-print two-piece, Rachel declines her publicist’s offer to sit in on today’s interview, before confidently handling most questions with ease.

She confirms: “I don’t feel like I have to be as protective any more. Even though I still have insecure moments or feel imposter syndrome, it’s getting less and less and it doesn’t last as long.”

One emotional struggle Rachel could never have anticipated came after she was violently mugged in June 2009, in her north London flat, by three men who followed her in, grabbed her by the throat and stole jewellery.

Fifteen years on, Rachel still lives with a fear of violent crime.

“I don’t always feel safe, like getting in cabs that I don’t know or when I’m walking on my own anywhere.

“Even if it’s light on the street, I sometimes feel very vulnerable, like someone could just jump out and grab me. I have feelings that something could happen in a split second. Something aggressive,” she explains.

Something else that rocked her to the core was last October’s terrorist attack in Israel, in which around 1,200 people were murdered – the worst loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust.

Raised within a Jewish family – although Rachel doesn’t observe all the faith’s traditions – she is proud of her identity and her daughters attend Jewish schools, where police have been on guard daily since the attack.

“As parents of Jewish kids at school, it was scary,” says Rachel, who was away on the S Club 25th-anniversary reunion tour when the atrocities began.

“Minnie was like: ‘Are you anywhere near Israel?’ She was worried about me and so emotional. When [the girls] went to school the next day, a lot of the kids were affected.

“They had family in Israel, people had lost loved ones. It was so frightening and the rise in anti-semitism is insane. It’s heartbreaking.”

Rachel uses the same word when talk turns to Paul Cattermole, her S Club bandmate who died last April at the age of 46 from an underlying heart condition, less than two months after the band’s 11-date reunion tour was announced.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock. I was heartbroken,” Rachel says.

“I remember going to bed that night and I couldn’t get him out of my head. It was my birthday a couple of days later and it felt weird celebrating, so Brendyn and I left London.

“Being away, just me and him, was perfect because I could feel how I felt. Then the band shared memories and we were there for each other. It brought us closer together.”

Of course, that’s only partly true.

Following Paul’s death, fellow S Clubber Hannah Spearritt, 43, pulled out of the band’s reunion – their first since 2015 – before signing up to Dancing On Ice.

She later revealed in an interview that “everything changed” after losing Paul – her ex-partner – and she had struggled with panic attacks, stress and crippling vertigo.

During the tour, although the band paid tribute to Paul, Hannah’s name was conspicuously absent.

“We’ve evolved, we’ve moved on and you just have to respect people’s decisions,” says Rachel, adding that she’s had no contact with Hannah since she quit.

Formed by former Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller in 1998, during the band’s five years together they achieved 11 UK Top 10 singles, as well as global success.

Is she saddened by Hannah’s decision to pull out?

“I wish her really well whatever she does, from a human perspective, but I don’t feel sad about it,” says Rachel.

“She’s going through her stuff. Everyone has their individual journeys. I just hope she’s OK.”

Rachel is no stranger to rejection. She was 15 when her relationship with her father Michael, crumbled after he quit the family home following an affair with a younger woman.

Her mum Linda shut everyone out as she mourned the breakdown of her marriage.

But thanks to years of working on herself and learning not to carry the pain of her past, Rachel has patched up relationships with both parents.

Earlier this year, after totting up 21 points for speeding and receiving a driving ban, Rachel made the best of a bad situation by inviting Michael to become her temporary driver.

“It’s lovely,” smiles Rachel. “There is sadness [over the lost years], but I don’t carry the feelings I carried before. I’m more confident in who I am, so when I’m with my dad, I can feel compassion now.”

In the past, while chasing the love and connection she craved after her dad left, Rachel says she often clung on too long to unsuitable boyfriends, namely her former Holby City actor ex, Jeremy Edwards, with whom she describes having a “volatile” and “toxic” relationship. But those days are behind her.

“He’s a beautiful human and I really love him,” beams Rachel, when conversation returns to Brendyn.

Have they discussed getting hitched?

”I don’t know. Look at me getting all special. Oh my god!” she shrieks, becoming hilariously tongue-tied.

“Has there been marriage talk? There’s been… Not with me and him. We’re just… Erm… I’m going teenagery!”

Since moving into their new north London home just before the S Club tour, Rachel and Brendyn have been finding their way as a blended family. As well as Rachel’s girls, Brendyn – who was previously married – has a two-year-old son.

“Life is 100 million miles an hour and there’s so much you need to be on top of as a parent – the WhatsApp groups, making sure they’ve got this and that for school, that they’re doing their homework…

“Sometimes we can beat ourselves up when we’re not on top of everything, but I’m learning now to just give myself a break.”

The same applies to her career. Beyond ongoing S Club commitments with bandmates Jon Lee, Jo O’Meara, Bradley McIntosh and Tina Barrett, including some festivals, Rachel says she will only take on projects that feel true to her heart.

Last month, she performed at London’s Mighty Hoopla festival, and is looking to try new things.

“I’m really driven by building my business and working with fashion, lifestyle and wellness brands that I admire and align with,” she smiles. “Where I’m at in my life, [I just want to] create something that’s mine.”

You can pick up a copy of Rachel’s book ‘Finding My Voice’ everywhere books are sold.
You can pick up Rachel’s interview in ‘The Sun’ tomorrow 23 June 2024.