Della Bovey is queen of the It Wives - betrayed spouses who refuse to be defeated. Kate Watson-Smyth reports
WHEN Della Bovey was photographed shortly after her husband left her for Anthea Turner, she did not look like she would prove a match for the second-highest-paid woman in television. Blonde, tanned and radiant, Ms Turner was pictured on a Caribbean cruise reporting for Wish You Were Here?, while Mrs Bovey was shown in a baggy sweater in a photograph taken shortly after giving birth.

But the tables were rapidly turned. Mrs Bovey, 34, lost weight, cut her hair and mounted a public relations offensive designed to show her husband, Grant, just what he was missing.

In a series of carefully planned interviews and public appearances, she looked sexy and confident and let it be known that Mr Bovey, 36, would always be welcome back. Ms Turner, by comparison, seemed haggard and grumpy and was reported to be feeling the strain of competing against a six-year marriage and three small children.

Then, in a public relations coup, Mrs Bovey, wearing a clinging red dress, appeared at a party attended by Ms Turner and her lover and danced to I Will Survive. Ms Turner, 37, looking less than chic in a leopard-print trouser-suit, took refuge in scathing remarks about her rival and left early, dragging Mr Bovey with her.

But he was powerless to resist and, after just 14 weeks, he returned home. "The whole family and children issue has been a lot more difficult than I could possibly have imagined," he said. "Although I was ringing every day and going home frequently, it wasn't the same. I missed the everyday contact with my family - and my family includes Della."

Mrs Bovey said simply that she was the happiest woman in the world but added, signalling her new-found independence, that she had no intention of cutting short her skiing trip with a girlfriend. "Grant and I have remained friends since the split and it was clear that we were both unhappy," she said. "On Sunday morning, he phoned and told me the situation with Anthea was coming to an end. This is something I have always hoped for and never given up on."

Mrs Bovey has provided a valuable example for all those wives who are abandoned for younger, flashier and firmer women. She called it being an It wife and it is about the increasing number of women who refuse to stay at home weeping in dignified silence. Instead they come out fighting and tell the world how they feel. They have nothing to gain but respect.

Since Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, left his wife Margaret for his secretary Gaynor Regan, it is Ms Regan, 41, who has looked the more miserable. "Once a mistress is made public, she loses her lustre," says Irma Kurtz, Cosmopolitan's agony aunt. "A mistress is a beautiful secret, but once she is revealed to the world she looks like a trollop."

After years of sitting in a darkened flat waiting for Mr Cook to come home, he has now divorced his wife, they have announced their forthcoming nuptials.

Unlike Ms Turner, she has won. So, why is she walking around looking like the wronged woman while Dr Cook, 53, seems to have found a new lease of life? For she has made no secret of her relief at the divorce and has made her feelings for her ex-husband plain.

"I see it as a quite positive and happy, cheerful thing. I had really hoped it would come about much sooner. It is quite a relief. I feel quite liberated."

According to Ms Kurtz, many women flourish in the limelight and it helps them cope with the pain of being left. "It is a question of pride and knowing everyone is watching you to see how you react can be a tremendous boost," she says.

"There is no doubt that the pain of being left is no less whatever your circumstances, but women in the public eye tend to become more radiant because they have the public on their side which can work wonders for the ego."

But Jane Cunnington, of London Marriage Guidance, warns that it can be equally hard to rebuild a marriage after such a breakdown of trust. "It is extremely hard to do on your own and most couples need counselling," she says.

It is too early to say whether Mrs Bovey has won a pyrrhic victory, but certainly Ms Turner's remarks, via "a close friend", that Della and her coven "sit around a kitchen table all day drinking coffee, smoking fags and hatching plots" did her no good. The "friend" added: "If she thinks she's going to win him back by pulling cheap stunts like the other night, she's wrong."

Sadly for Ms Turner, "she" was not wrong and as Mrs Bovey's husband is once again draping his trousers over the back of the chair in the marital bedroom, Turner is alone in her pounds 2m mansion.