BUBBLY broadcaster Sara Cox, her cute Maltese terrier Beano in tow, settles down for a good old chinwag - the sort which has endeared her to millions of radio listeners over the years.

The Bolton-born Radio 2 presenter - former party animal ‘ladette’ of the 90s, along with pal Zoe Ball - is instantly likeable, quirky, funny and chatty, just as she is on the radio.

Of course, Cox, 44, has long since ditched the ladette label for a more grown-up life with her family, and her gentle, uplifting Drivetime slot on the nation’s most popular radio station.

Dressed in a baggy sweater over black leather shorts and thick black tights, you can see why her career began in modelling because, three children later, she’s still enviously slim and long-limbed.

She’s also refreshingly down to earth. She shows me the texts that pinged to and fro between her and Zoe Ball - charting mutual support, anxiety dreams and the like - when Chris Evans announced he was leaving the Radio 2 Breakfast Show last year.

Much has been made of Ball getting the job when Cox had been the favourite to replace Evans, but from the texts she reveals, it’s clear there was absolutely no animosity between them.

“My head did get a tiny bit turned, because I got so much fuss in the press. All my DJ friends were going, ‘This is yours’, and I batted it away. At my core, I never felt it was going to be mine,” she says now.

“Now that I’ve got Drivetime, if both were on the table I’d go for Drivetime, because I’m not as knackered, there’s not the pressure, and it’s a lovely time of day because you’re going home with people.”

Cox admits she hasn’t seen much of Ball for a while.

“There’s never been any bad feeling there but we definitely drifted. The thing about mine and Zoe’s friendship was that it was such a perfect tabloid story. It was definitely a really good friendship but it was also a moment in time. Our then husbands were friends (DJs Fatboy Slim, aka Norman Cook, and Jon Carter), so the four of us would hang out and party.

“It was a bubble that was really lovely while it was happening, but just didn’t last. I was in London, she was in Brighton. We just drifted, like friendships do.

“But we always texted each other if we’d gone for the same job - and then I heard I’d not got it,” she says wryly. “I once texted her from a French Connection dressing room, half dressed, saying, ‘I’ve just got the call that I’ve not got the job but you have, and if I’m going to lose out to anybody, I’m glad it’s you’.”

Between radio presenting, Cox has found time to write her first book, Till The Cows Come Home - a gentle, poignant early autobiography in which she pays homage to her childhood, largely growing up on her father’s cattle farm just outside Bolton, surrounded by dogs, cows, horses and lots of ‘cack’.

The seeds of chat were sown in her dad’s farm kitchen, her nana’s front room and her mum’s pub - her parents divorced when she was seven but she insists she wasn’t affected, as she went on to live with her mum and stepfather who lived only 10 minutes away from her father.

She initially intended the book to be a love letter to her father, Len, a character who is ‘the calm at the eye of the storm’, but it ended up a homage to her mother, Jackie, the strong 4ft 11in heroine who she describes as ‘opinionated, funny, loving and complicated, but always there’.

“Since having kids, things started to become clearer about how hard my mum must have worked, and how it’s not easy being the ‘un-fun’ parent, which I generally am now,” Cox reflects.

She has three children, Lola Anne, now 14, from her first marriage, and Isaac, 10 and eight-year-old Renee, with her advertising executive husband Ben Cyzer.

“I think it’s hard, because I’m parenting with a really good other parent,” she explains. “Sometimes I think, ‘Can you just stop being such good cop?’ I’m just naturally more of a bad cop.”

The book charts her childhood as she fussed over newborn calves, tumbled over hay bales in the barn, and doted on her beloved pony Gus at Grundy Fold Farm, a smallholding which her father still runs.

He was divorced with three young children when he met Cox’s mother, who was 19 - but she raised them as her own and went on to have Sara and her sister Yvonne.

Recalling her parents’ divorce, she says: “When you are the youngest, you are sheltered from the hullabaloo. We moved very close to the farm, so I was always only a few minutes’ walk away. When you are six or seven, you care about your hamster and your Sindy doll and playing out. Everything else kind of washes over you - I was well protected from it all.”

Cox recalls that her mother held down a lot of jobs for a long time to keep the wolf from the door, and ran a pub, which has made her appreciate her own lifestyle more.

“I can be tired and stressed, but I’ve none of the worries or the pressure that my mum had.”

Those early days have made an impact on her own approach to work and lifestyle.

“My cupboards are fit to bursting with food, rammed with tins,” she says with a smile. “We were never short of food but for me, security for my family comes in the form of having enough food in. I’m constantly making sure we don’t waste food.”

Cox began modelling when she was spotted at the age of 18 with her sister, who was on a placement in Paris. The work took her on assignments to Milan, South Korea and New York, as well as modelling for ITV’s This Morning, although you get the sense she felt a bit like a fish out of water in a world where looks are everything.

But when a casting came in for Channel 4’s The Girlie Show in 1996, which required some speaking at the audition, she found her voice. “I had an audience for my musings, one that was even chuckling at them,” she recalls.

It launched her broadcasting career, which has since included stints on The Big Breakfast, a decade at Radio 1 and now Radio 2.

With three children, her world has shifted to grown-up broadcaster.

“People who listened to me, grew up with me,” she reflects. “I definitely feel happier now. That happiness can be charted from the minute I clapped eyes on Ben.

“There’s a very nice Yiddish word which is ‘mensch’. And he’s a mensch (a person of honour and integrity). He’s a good guy, the one you can turn to.

“He’s hilarious as well. It’s not like he came along and gave me a pipe and slippers to woo me. He’s a lot of fun, the funniest person I know, close second to me!

“He’s just made me very happy and content, and it’s done wonders for my confidence as a woman and as a broadcaster and as a person.”

The book ends with her securing her job on The Girlie Show. Is there going to be a sequel?

“No, I don’t think so, partly because I had such a good time in the Nineties that I can’t remember much of it, and the lawyers would be on it and I’d have no friends,” says Cox.

n Till The Cows Come Home by Sara Cox is published by Coronet