SPORTS presenter Kirsty Gallacher and husband Paul Sampson toasted their divorce . . . from opposite ends of a champagne bar.
And after one awkward drink while sitting far apart, Paul walked over to call a truce to their bitter feud.
The ex-England rugby ace, who had been with Kirsty for 15 years, said: “It was all a bit surreal, to be honest.
“After about an hour I thought, ‘Well, I’m not going to let her leave without saying something’. So I went over and said, ‘Are you OK?’
“She got quite annoyed but I said, ‘Look, this doesn’t have to be a war.’”
In a candid interview — the first time Paul has spoken since the pair’s public split in 2014 — the sports star reveals how Kirsty dropped the bombshell that she wanted a divorce while he was still struggling with depression over the death of his father years earlier.
He also tells how pressures created by becoming a stay-at-home dad to their children while Kirsty had to travel the world for work put extra strain on their relationship.
Drawing on experiences from the split, the 42-year-old former London Wasps player has now launched his own life-coaching business to help sports players and separating couples.
Paul — dad to two sons aged 13 and ten with Kirsty — said: “I have never talked about what happened because I was never one for self-promotion. I stayed very quiet.
“I could have had plenty to say, especially after Kirsty gave one or two interviews that indicated I had packed a bag and left the family home.
“There’s a lot more to what happened than Kirsty alluded to.
“We both had our issues. I was anxious about certain things and she was anxious about others. We all want to be good partners but sometimes your best isn’t good enough.”
The former golden couple met in 1999, shortly after Paul won his first England cap and she had just been named as the glamorous new face of Sky Sports news.
They married in 2010 in a lavish £50,000 ceremony in Spain’s Arcos De La Frontera.
But Paul said their relationship started to falter after he retired from rugby the following year due to injury.
He said: “When you come to the end of your career you think you’re a bit washed up. It was a tough time. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
“After I retired, it was hard for me. Like any rugby player, I wanted to change the world after I retired and get a buzz from something else.”
Paul talked over the daunting prospect of becoming a stay-at-home dad with his pals, including England prop David Flatman.
He said: “I was having a game of golf with two rugby friends, including Dave, when I told them.
“I was fearful, like most men would be. But my friends gave me such a fresh perspective on the situation.
“Their response was, ‘So what? Sammo, just go and be an amazing dad’.”
So while Kirsty presented sporting events such as the Ryder Cup in the US, Paul stayed at home. But he had been left shattered by the 2004 death of his 68-year-old dad Brian, a former coal miner, and later went into a deep depression, compounded by his sudden retirement from rugby.
It became too much for their relationship and Kirsty called an end to the four-year marriage in 2014.
Paul said: “I was struggling with retirement and losing my old man, and then I faced a big divorce after that. It was one of those things. It wasn’t working out.
“Often when people decide to go their separate ways, as soon as the divorce starts, it turns into a war.
“But we were really civil from the off. Well, not from the off, that’s a lie.” Kirsty, 44, previously revealed that the brush with death that her golf legend dad Bernard Gallacher had in 2013, when a cardiac arrest left him in a coma for seven days, gave her the determination to leave Paul and start a new life.
Speaking about their relationship in the wake of her 2017 drink-driving arrest, she said: “I was in a very bad place with the divorce. I was exhausted.”
The pair had a year of legal wrangling as they thrashed out their divorce — prompting Kirsty to call the marriage her “worst investment”. But Paul, who went into therapy for his depression after the split, insisted the pair have stayed amicable.
‘Little things build, like not doing the washing-up’
Recalling the day it was finalised, Paul said: “We agreed to have a financial mediation meeting in London. We went on the train together, got in a black cab and after Kirsty got out, the driver said, ‘I don’t want to pry, but is that. . . ?’
“I said, ‘That’s my wife, but my ex-wife as of today’. He turned his radio down and said, ‘F***ing hell, I thought I’d heard it all’.
“But I’m lucky in that I get on with my ex.
“The kids are the most important thing and that they don’t see mum and dad arguing.
“For me it was always about keeping their interests at heart.”
Paul now lives in Windsor, Berks, while Kirsty recently bought a £1.4million farmhouse in a nearby town after selling their marital home in Virginia Water, Surrey, for £895,000.
Kirsty, whose younger sister Laura is married to comic Russell Brand, is now single after short-lived relationships with rugby ace Danny Cipriani, 32, actor Laurence Fox, 41, and comedian Jack Whitehall, 31.
Paul revealed he and his ex have been supporting each other during lockdown.
He said: “I do worry for Kirsty sometimes because it is not easy at a time like this.
“But she wouldn’t want me to take pity on her.
“Kirsty is fantastic and so much more engaged now — more than ever. Our two boys are incredibly happy.”
Paul has started his life-coaching business, Scott And Sampson, with fellow single parent Ali Scott.
Their aim is to help sports players struggling with mental health issues and couples at risk of separating.
Mum-of-three Ali, 45, said: “The way we will work is by stripping away what’s gone wrong and getting the couple to understand each other more.
“You need to understand why people do what they do.
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“Most people aren’t trying to annoy their partners but little things build up, like not doing the washing-up.”
Paul, who made three appearances for England, added: “We know that when a couple are in conflict they are more difficult to work with.
“Solicitors get a bad rap sometimes because it seems they are only interested in making money for themselves.
“If only a solicitor was to have someone like myself and Ali to help and give a different perspective on what the options are.
“They should be seen to be helping and not just taking the money.
“That’s why divorce can be horrible — then two years down the line you can be friends.”
- For more information, see scottandsampson.co.uk
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