YOU have to feel sorry for Tana Ramsay. Her kids are growing up and she has a little more time on her hands, so she does what any ambitious millionaire's wife would - she sets about building a celebrity career on the back of her husband's kitchen skills, by cultivating a parallel image as the winsome matriarch the leathery restaurateur comes home to after a hard day in the TV studio. She publishes cookery books that look like Boden catalogues with recipes, she guests in the pages of Grazia and the Daily Mail, and helms a food show on TV. Then one day it goes wrong. One day she wakes up to lurid headlines about poppers and phone sex and stolen hours in Mayfair hotel rooms. The female face in the pictures isn't hers but the husband is.

When Ramsay appeared with his wife for a quick photo opportunity it was all smiles and jokes, as if by down-playing the allegations the story would go away. It didn't. There were more allegations the following weekend.

The immediate impact of the stories may have been to put pressure on the Ramsays' marriage and cause upset to their four children: Megan, Matilda and twins Jack and Holly. Megan has important school exams next month and it has been reported that the family's luxury Christmas holiday in the Maldives has been cancelled. It would have been surprising if it hadn't.

In the absence of any comment from Tana Ramsay, and only jokey asides from her husband during his few public outings since - "It's true, I confess, I've been shagging Delia for the past 10 years," he said at one appearance - the country's female opinionistas have rushed to stick in their tuppence-worth, most of it highly sympathetic towards Tana.

What, though, of Tana Ramsay's career? Her third cookery book, Home Made, was published in late September and her publisher HarperCollins says the tabloid stories have had no adverse affect on sales. It's right. Amazon is currently offering the £20 book at a reduced price of £9 and an (admittedly unscientific) enquiry at Edinburgh's largest Waterstone's store found only two copies available - both signed, by the way - but figures from publishing bible The Bookseller show that sales of Home Made actually spiked in the days after the story broke. Sales had stalled at around the 600 mark per week for most of November but jumped to 1089 in the week after the story broke on November 23. They jumped again, to 1259, the following week when there was another tabloid "exclusive". In effect, Tana Ramsay's book sales doubled when her husband was in the headlines. Interestingly, sales of his books dropped during the same period, though not as much as Jonathan Ross's autobiography, which suffered a 45% fall in the weeks following the recent "Manuelgate" debacle.

For celebrity publicist Max Clifford, this all makes perfect sense. "I think something like this is a springboard for success, because there's a lot of sympathy for a woman who this has happened to," he says. "The fact that Tana Ramsay has remained quietly dignified about the whole thing adds to the appeal for most people. In the long term, it will stand her in good stead."

He points to the example of Girls Aloud star Cheryl Cole, who was portrayed by the tabloids as the wronged wife in January when her husband, England football star Ashley Cole, was accused of cheating on her.

"She stood by her husband," says Clifford, "she didn't shout and bawl and do all the things the media would have liked her to."

Today, Cheryl has reaped the benefit to the extent that she is now filling an entirely different role - that of the nation's darling - courtesy of her seat on the judges panel on TV's X Factor, which reached its grand finale last night.

And Gordon Ramsay himself? "I don't think it's damaged him either," says Clifford. "Again, look at examples. When I broke the alleged Rebecca Loos story, did it cause David Beckham any problems in terms of popularity? Not at all. Gordon Ramsay is a man's man, a rugged individual, a very outspoken man. For someone with that image, this kind of thing will do no harm at all in the eyes of the majority."

Discussing the impact of the press reports on "Brand Ramsay" on website Brand Republic last week, one senior marketing professional made the same points. "Dabbling in a few subtle jokes on the Cookalong Live show, Ramsay demonstrated a sense of jest around the subject, which at first glance was somewhat difficult to stomach, but given his brash personality and style it was certainly on-brand," wrote Rune Gustafson, chief executive of marketing company Interbrand. "The timing is also good for Gordon. There are enough world-changing events going at the moment to ensure that, while consumers were initially a little surprised by the story, they have already moved on." Importantly, he added: "Tana should perhaps consider how the attention might boost her own career."

In truth, Tana Ramsay has other things to worry about than what to say when Celebrity Big Brother comes knocking. But there's no doubt that, when it comes to her career, she has very definite ambitions. I know because she told me.

We met in a Glasgow hotel, just days before the allegations about her husband first broke. He was actually there at the time, and answered the phone when I rang her room to tell her I was downstairs in the lobby. When she arrived I told her I was surprised to hear a man's voice answer. She smirked. It was a fnarr-fnarr moment, an ice-breaker.

Later, mid-interview, he came and waved goodbye to his wife from the balcony, dressed in his trademark leather jacket, jeans and casually knotted scarf. By this point, I recall, our conversation has moved on to Tana's childhood and her first meeting with her future husband.

She grew up in a Kent farmhouse where life centred round the kitchen, in particular her mother's old green Aga cooker. "She was a stay-at-home mum but she ran the farm. We had pigs and calves. I remember her getting up in the middle of the night to deliver lambs."

Greta Hutcheson also made her own cheese and wine and her daily rig out was jeans and wellies - and bright red lipstick. Tana's father, Chris, had his own company but now helps run Gordon Ramsay Holdings, with its portfolio of international restaurants. It really is a family affair.

When Tana was 16 the family moved to London, where she took her A levels. She knew she wanted to work with children so she looked around for a teaching course. That's when she discovered the Montessori educational method, an alternative system designed mainly for pre-school children.

She was 18 when she met Gordon Ramsay. She was studying Montessori during the day and working nights and weekends at Le Pont de la Tour, the famous London restaurant. He was a friend of the head chef. Interestingly, both were from families of four. They realised quickly that they wanted to be together and to have children of their own.

They married on December 21, 1996, and headed to Hawaii for Christmas. The airline lost their luggage, including the mini Christmas tree Tana had packed, so the couple spent their honeymoon week in the clothes they had arrived in. Megan was born a couple of years later, at which point Tana gave up teaching, a job she said she had found "inspiring". By the time Megan was eight months old, Ramsay was pregnant again with Jack and Holly. Matilda, meanwhile, was born two years after the twins. The Ramsays' four children are four years apart in age. Tana was 23 when she had Megan, 28 when she had Tilly.

"We knew we wanted a large family but for it to happen that close together is amazing. When I discovered I was expecting Tilly I remember thinking Oh my God, how am I going to manage?' But you do."

As we talked, it was obvious the millionaire's wife was on hold, the one who chums around with Victoria Beckham in Los Angeles and worries about what to pack for her (now cancelled) luxury break in the Maldives. In her place, the mum-of-four and the working woman were getting an outing.

On that last front, Tana has been grafting hard of late. She has opened a shop (it has since closed), written for the Daily Mail and the BBC's Good Food magazine, worked for Grazia and spent a year hosting Market Kitchen on UK TV. Unlike her husband, whose programmes on Channel 4 are notable for their free and frequent effing and blinding, she kept the verbals to what was in the script.

I asked if work was important to her. "Definitely. I enjoy it and I get excited when I do the books and the magazines. It's important for me to do it. I just feel like it's my time now. I've had the kids... I definitely want to do more telly."

Of more pressing interest at that point was her writing career. Home Made is the third book she has produced to date, and, like the others, is filled with recipes which are the antithesis of everything her husband is about. His Michelin stars have been won for food which looks and tastes sublime and his reputation lies in the artistry that food represents. She stands for quick, easy meals which are nutritious, appealing and unpretentious. In Gordon's kitchen, it's always showtime. In Tana's, it's more like no time.

"My food isn't fancy. It's about feeding four hungry kids and having something in the fridge if Gordon comes home unexpectedly or friends drop in," she told me.

Of course I can't pretend Tana Ramsay is typical of working women or busy mothers. More to the point, neither can she, not when there's cash in the attic - £67 million by one recent estimate - and domestic help in any room that needs it.

I can't pretend either that her married name doesn't open doors for her, just as she knows perfectly well that interviews with her usually turn out to be interviews about her husband. On that score, to her credit, she plays along.

Ahead of our interview she took part in an online chat on Mumsnet, the website dedicated to all things parental. Contributors to the site were asked to post questions for her. Bad idea.

"How about: What exactly makes you think that you are any better qualified to write a cookery book than 90% of normal mums?'" asked one poster. "Aren't you and Gordon rich enough yet?" wrote a second. "How did you cope raising small children with someone who has stated that he's never changed a nappy?" said a third.

Turn to Mumsnet now, of course, and the comments have been tempered a little, in as much as the attacks have now turned from Tana to her husband. "I hope Tana does what she feels is right," wrote one poster, "and if that means ending her marriage, then fair play to her and, of course, to her kids, who didn't ask for or have any say in any of this."

"Poor Tana," wrote another. "It is so humiliating for her, especially as he has always bigged himself up as the devoted family man."

There was some talk too of what Tana should do with the soiled nappies her husband reputedly never came into contact with. Funnily enough, that subject came up in our conversation too.

"Why does it bother people so much?" she wailed. "If it bothered me, I'd have said so at the time. If it bothered Gordon and he wanted to be more involved, he'd have said so. We did what suited us at a very demanding time in our lives. Money was tight and we had four babies, which was an incredible pressure. But we got through.

"I think some men like to be hands-on dads. It's up to individuals. We did it the way that suited us. Gordon is now more hands-on than he's ever been. I look at him with the kids and I wouldn't wish for it to be any other way."

Throughout, she came back to the same essential point: you do what feels right as a couple and you get through things in a way that suits you, and hang what everyone else says. That was true then, and it remains doubly true now, as the Ramsays do whatever it is they need to do to negotiate the critical days and weeks ahead.

Tana's sister Orlanda has described the relationship as "very old-fashioned" and Tana, the strict mother and trained Montessori teacher, seems unlikely to do anything other than stand by her man.

Max Clifford, not generally known for his touchy-feely side, thinks that's as it should be. "I know that when it comes to the entertainment industry people do all sorts of things for their career, but you get the impression that there's a lot more to them than that. If she genuinely believes that it isn't true, then why throw away a good marriage?" Ultimately, he says: "What matters is what's right for them. That's first and foremost."

On that point, as on every other, it seems Tana Ramsay is keeping mum.

Home Made by Tana Ramsay is published by HarperCollins, priced £20.