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How The Celebrity Break Up Statement Became A Stealth Power Move

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We've read between the lines of Cheryl and Liam Payne's carefully crafted break-up statement ...

The X Factor’s first couple have decided to call it quits. Former One Direction-er Liam Payne and Girls Aloud alumna Cheryl (who transcended the need for anything as mundane as a surname a long time ago) announced last night that their two year relationship has come to an end.

Like so many high-profile couples before them, the pair (who are parents to a one-year-old son, Bear Grey) broke the news in tandem. At around 10pm on Sunday night, near-identical break-up statements appeared on their personal Twitter accounts. ‘Cheryl and I are sad to announce that we are going our separate ways,’ Liam wrote. ‘It’s been a tough decision for us to make. We still have so much love for each other as a family. Bear is our world and we ask that you respect his privacy as we navigate our way through this together.’ Cheryl’s post takes the same wording, but opens with a royal ‘we’ instead.

If reading those lines leaves you with a lingering sense of déjà vu, that’s probably because the fine-tuned language of the A-list break-up statement is now so ubiquitous. In 2014, when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin told the world – though the medium of a Goop blog post, no less –that they’d be ‘consciously uncoupling,’ the world eye-rolled in unison, but these two words have a lot to answer for: in the years since, the vocabulary of breaking up in public is all about love, respect and mutual understanding. Which, of course, is not to say that things are necessarily quite so Zen behind the scenes – just that the couples have perhaps seen the value in selling a narrative that’s drama-free, rather than filled with acrimony. When stars are not just stars but brands, getting that handful of lines just right is vitally important.

Look at the statements that have accompanied just a handful of this year’s biggest celebrity splits – Cheryl and Liam, Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux, and Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan – and you’ll find that they are all couched in the same rhetoric. Channing and Jenna had ‘loving chosen to separate’ after their ‘magical journey’ and ‘beautiful adventure’ as a couple came to an end.’ Jennifer and Justin had ‘decided to part ways as a couple,’ but ‘look forward to continuing [their] cherished friendship’ and ‘deep respect and love.’

Where break-up statements were once released through a publicist and then printed in a weekly gossip magazine, social media has fostered an illusory sense of closeness with our favourite stars. An announcement on Twitter or Instagram, then, can feel more authentic – but, behind the scenes, the likelihood is that a three-line statement has been weeks in the making. According to one PR expert, a break-up statement will now be managed in the same way as a divorce settlement (bar the obvious legal differences). 'Cheryl and Liam would have had very little to do with the final statement, other than approve it before being published.' explains PR director Hayley Smith of Boxed Out PR. 'It would have been signed off by a full management team, as well as a social media manager who would have compiled the post.' Rather than letting the press get there first with a potentially damaging narrative, it's hardly a surprise that Liam and Cheryl (who has first-hand experience of how the papers can jump on a divorce saga) would want this break-up to be on their own terms. ‘Statements allow the couple to remain in control of the story, and are a protective strategy to stop their fans listening to rumours, false reports or sourced stories,' Hayley adds. Going straight to the fans rather than, say, opting for a magazine exclusive, is the best way to keep the public on-side, it seems. ‘It’s a great way of putting content out directly in front of their fans rather than through an external source,’ she continues. ‘This builds trust and loyalty, which are very much needed during a break-up.’

The fact that Cheryl and Liam’s statements are almost identical (bar a difference in pronouns) will be another choreographed move: even the slightest variation in phrasing or choice of words would, after all, spark endless speculation. ‘A joint statement is better,’ says Hayley. ‘It shows a united front, but also means that people have less to read into. Even the slightest changes can be significantly read into by fans and press, so publishing the same content is less likely to cause further issues.’

As for what will come next? Don’t expect the either half of the former couple to step straight into a tell-all interview. ‘They’ve said what needed to be said, so there is no need to respond further. Silence and moving forward will send a stronger message,’ says Hayley. ‘Speaking about each other with respect and continued love will help keep fans on-side and stop the rumour mill from turning. People are always going to talk, but how you act and respond to it will say more about Cheryl and Liam as individuals, and will be more positive for their careers.’

Look back at the most unusual celebrity baby names in the gallery below...