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...
RUMI AND SIR CARTER
Beyoncé and Jay-Z welcomed twins Rumi and Sir Carter into the world in June 2017.
DEVERAUX OCTAVIAN BASIL JAGGER
Mick Jagger's 8th child!
TOWIE star Ferne McCann decided to call her baby girl Sunday.
BEAR GREY PAYNE
Cheryl and Liam Payne's baby boy.
Reality TV couple Heidi and Spencer Pratt's first child.
20-year-old Kylie Jenner and her boyfriend Travis Scott decided to call their first child Stormi.
DAYE COLMIC LAKE
Hollyoaks actress Jennifer Metcalfe and her partner Greg Lake chose to call their first son Daye. Jennifer admitted she 'made the name up'.
River is Jamie and Jools Oliver's fifth child.
DREAM RENNE KARDASHIAN
Dream is the daughter of Rob Kardashian and Blac Chyna.
Actress Chelsee Healey revealed to the world on Instagram that she's chosen to call her first born daughter Coco.
The name of Kian Egan and Jodi Albert's third son.
DUSTY ROSE LEVINE
Dusty is Adam and Behati's first child.
JOURNEY RIVER GREEN
Journey is Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green's third child.
Sir Ben Ainslie and wife Georgia welcomed Bellatrix as their first child.
LUNA SIMONE STEPHENS
John Legend and Chrissy Teigen called their first child Luna.
REMINGTON ALEXANDER BLACKSTOCK
Kelly Clarkson welcomed baby Remy to world in 2016.
BUDDY BOB AND BUZZ
Buddy Bob is Tom and Giovanna Fletcher's second son. They also have a son called Buzz Michelangelo Fletcher and another called Max Mario Fletcher.
Emmerdale stars Matt Wolfenden and Charley Webb said the name has nothing to do with David Bowie.
KIT, KAI AND KLAY
Kit Rooney is Wayne and Coleen's third son. Letters addressed to 'K Rooney' could be confusing as they also have two other sons called Kai and Klay.
The Beckhams' daughter was named after 'To Kill A Mockingbird' author Harper Lee.
Take That's Howard Donald named his son after David Bowie.
BUDDY BEAR MAURICE
The name of TV chef Jamie Oliver's son who was born in 2010.
Zooey Deschanel incorporated her love of animals into her daughter's name.
Actor Jason Lee used lyrics from his favourite song.
Geri Halliwell followed in bandmate Victoria's footsteps with this quirky name!
Bronx's dad Pete Wentz is a fan of The Jungle Book
The name of Jermaine Jackson's son wh was born in 2000.
PETAL BLOSSOM RAINBOW
Jamie and Jules Oliver took inspiration form their favourite flowers for their daughter's name.
ZUMA NESTA ROCK
The name Gwen Stefani gave to her son in 2008.
Model Elle McPherson's son, meaning 'Gilded Lord'
Sylvester Stallone's son, a variant on the Italian name Sergio.
OCEAN, SONNET, AUTUMN & TRUE
Actor Forest Whitaker's name choices are rather poetic for his children.
Nicholas Cage gave his son Superman's original birth name.
This was Holly Madison's colourful choice of name!
Shannyn Sossamon "Wanted a word not a name"
Titanic actress Kate Winslet called her son Bear Blaze when he was born in 2013.
Lil' Kim had her very own Royal baby.
The son of Frank Zappa.
50 Cent's son born in 1997.
ELIJAH BOB PATRICIUS GUGGI Q
Well this name started out quite normal, Bono...
David Bowie's son Zowie Bowie, rolls off the tongue!
Chris Martin & Gwyneth Paltrow must love fruit, or modern technology...
A purrfect name from Jonathan Ross.
Andre 3000 named his son after a star.
David Duchovny's name choice is thought to have Anglo-Scottish roots.
It wouldn't be Brad & Angelina without unusual baby names.
WILLOW CAMILLE REIGN
Will Smith's daughter Willow was born in 2000.
Sean Penn's son named after the late-great Dennis Hopper.
Alicia Silverstone gives us another celebrity child called Bear.
Megan Fox's son born in 2014.
ODE MOUNTAIN DELORENZO MALONE
Hunger Games' Jena Malone and Ethan DeLorenzo welcomed their first child in May 2016.
ROSALIND ARUSHA ARKADINA ALTALUNE FLORENCE
Uma Thurman clearly just couldn't decide on one name.
SPARROW JAMES MIDNIGHT
Robin' is a common bird inspired name, Nicole Richie didn't fancy that!
Evangeline Lily's son, 'Kahekili' is Hawaiian for Thunder.
In terms of unconventional names, Bob Geldof set the bar high in 1983.
Backstreet Boys' AJ McLean's second daughter.
Example and his wife Erin McNaught called their second baby Ennio.
Call The Midwife stars_**_ Helen George and Jack Ashton called their beautiful baby girl Wren Ivy.
NORTH WEST, SAINT WEST AND CHICAGO WEST
The names Kim Kardashian and Kanye West decided on for their children.
Celebrity Big Brother star Perez Hilton called his third child Mayte Amor after his grandparents.
WOLF NINE CARROLL
Footballer Andy Carroll and his partner Billi Mucklow called their second son Wolf Nine.
Following in her sister's footsteps, Khloe Kardashian called her first born child True.
CRUZE JOSHUA MCEACHRAN
Former Ex On The Beach star Lillie Lexie Gregg called her son Cruze.