Melinda Messenger is bursting out of her tabloid straitjacket. But can she really escape her image, asks Louise Jury
If there are still some people out there who cannot see beyond Melinda Messenger's 34DD chest, they should think again. In what is either a clever re-positioning, so to speak, of the Page Three girl or a confirmation of the possibility that you can have both breasts and brains, Ms Messenger has been spreading her professional wings of late.

For those who have managed to miss this tabloid sensation, Melinda Messenger is the 27-year-old former marketing manager from Swindon, Wiltshire, who was catapulted into celebrity status in January last year.

After posing for a billboard poster in the West Country, she made her national debut as a 34-22-34 stunner in the pages of the Daily Star before being quickly snapped up with a massive bid from its rival, the Sun.

She soon became their golden girl, their "Girl for the Thrillennium", even after it was revealed that her best assets were silicone-enhanced.

Now, however, in a style other busty blondes might envy, she appears to be bursting out of the tabloid strait-jacket. In December, she became the first topless model to win the Rear of the Year award in its 15-year history and she went on to make her debut in pantomime. Last month, she stepped in to the shoes of Scottish funnyman Jack Docherty to compere his late-night show on Channel 5.

She has worked with the young women's magazine Company, appeared on the cult Channel 4 show Eurotrash and modelled her own lingerie and swimwear range for the Littlewoods' catalogue.

The British Tourist Authority abandoned the natural attractions of Beefeaters and London buses on its brochures for her more obvious charms, subtly headlined: "The bigger the boobs, the blonder the barnet, the better the babe."

And this month she is the cover girl on Sky, the style magazine for young men and women in their twenties.

Sophie Wilson, Sky's associate editor, said: "Basically, she's an intelligent women. Obviously, she's a sex icon, but she's got something to say for herself and she doesn't take herself too seriously. She's not like (the former Page Three girl) Sam Fox. But I also think celebrities these days cross over more than they did in the past. I don't think you can pigeonhole people as easily."

It is difficult to know whether she really is clever or simply well-advised. Early in her career she ditched her original Swindon agency and for the past six months has been handled by Neil Reading, a young and shrewd publicity agent who lists Jack Dee, Jonathan Ross and Michael Flatley, the dancer, among his other clients.

But someone who has worked with her says: "The best manager or agent in the world can only do so much. They can get them the entree or the gig, but if they're no good then all the hard work in the world can do nothing. The reason she is so successful is because she's so good. She's brilliant."

Early reports claimed that Ms Messenger had as many as 12 O-levels, although her mum apparently suggested the number was closer to seven. But she certainly comes out with responses cleverly calculated to please.

Asked by the Sun for her "most important job" during her first year as a glamour girl, she said: "This was, without a doubt, the time I went to visit a group of people who didn't have a clue who I was. I went to London's Great Ormond Street Hospital in November, to meet some of the young patients on the kidney ward."

Hospitals aside, it has all proved very lucrative. For the Girl for the Thrillennium certainly does not provide thrills cheaply. In her first year in the fast lane, she boosted her salary from pounds 23,000 a year in Swindon to around pounds 250,000 and travelled more than 50,000 miles.

She has holidayed in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, swapped her Honda Accord for an MG sports car and bought a pounds 200,000 farmhouse in Wiltshire.

Despite the cynicism of critics who claimed it would not last, she is still with her younger boyfriend, Wayne Roberts, and they last week announced plans to wed next year. In the meantime, he has secured a contract as a backing singer with a record company.

So does Ms Messenger really have the staying power to make the long-term transformation from fish and chip paper to cultural icon?

No one doubts her capacity to work. She is relentless in her schedule of photographic shoots and interviews. And even though it expressed the disappointment of a thousand fans in reporting her wedding plans, the Sun is clearly willing to back the woman who single-handedly revived the sagging Page Three concept.

But I would hazard a guess that she won't last, and for the best of reasons. She sounds like a woman with her head screwed on, who has shown an endearing loyalty to Wayne despite a new and glittering world of showbiz parties and accompanying temptations.

Even now, she is as happy watching his band play an amateur gig in a pub in Swansea as she is hitting the town with her new-found friend Denise Van Outen, the outrageous blonde from The Big Breakfast.

Melinda Messenger will take the money while it's on offer and she then will run. The Wiltshire farmhouse is waiting.