On Monday she was a marketing manager from Swindon. Yesterday she had become Britain's newest tabloid icon

A 22-year-old marketing manager returned home to Wiltshire last night having been herself marketed in the most direct manner imaginable by two of the nation's raciest rival newspapers.

On Monday she was anonymous but by this morning Melinda Messenger's face, and most of her body, are recognisable to millions of readers of the Sun and Daily Star, which have this week fought an unprecedented battle to each claim her as their own.

Ms Messenger is now being hailed as "The Sun's Page Three Girl for the Millennium" and "The new Sam Fox".

But it was the Daily Star that first exclaimed "ooh-aah" and propelled the former flight attendant to prominence, having talent-spotted her on a poster for a West Country double glazing firm.

As brickies and bus drivers the length and breadth of Britain were muttering "Thanks a Mel-ion" on Tuesday morning, the Sun's West country correspondent Chris Pharo was taking Ms Messenger under his wing and whisking her over to his paper's headquarters at Wapping, east London, to meet the editor and strip down for the first of a series of exclusive shoots.

The Sun may have been a little slow off the mark this time, but it soon eclipsed the Star with its much bigger cheque book. Melinda went topless for the first time on its legendary Page Three on Wednesday.

The previous day executives from the paper took their new "super babe" to a "sparkling movie premiere party" for John Cleese's new film Fierce Creatures, where she was snapped "wowing" Cleese, Michael Palin and Angus Deayton.

The Sun's deputy editor Neil Wallis - standing in for editor Stuart Higgins yesterday - was cooing with delight as Ms Messenger discussed the potential for a long- term relationship with his downmarket rag.

"Have you see her? She's the most amazing glamour find we've seen in years. I really do think she could be the next Sam Fox and as you know Sam Fox is almost part of the English language now."

Warming to this theme, Mr Wallis went on: "Sam and Melinda are similar. Both are fresh-faced, natural and actually very intelligent as well. Sam didn't have O-levels and stuff like Melinda, but she was a smart girl."

Equally smart is Paula Jones, the London-based modelling agent, who signed up Melinda Messenger on Monday, having first interviewed her a month before the Star picture appeared.

"She was nervous about giving up her job and I never push girls into this since I don't have a crystal ball," she said.

"But, as soon as the Star ran its feature, the situation changed and it was obviously time to start talking to her seriously about the job."

Paula Jones is confident that her newest client will make a pretty packet not just posing for the Sun but in advertising and personal appearances. The time is right, in her opinion, for English roses to grab back the limelight from international supermodel.

"Our pretty little English girls have been pushed to the back a bit in recent years as foreign models like Claudia Schiffer have been feted. But now is the time to come forward and say: `Listen, you don't have to go to America and pay a million dollars for Cindy Crawford when you can have me, Melinda from Swindon'."

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