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Sunday 2 August 2009

Happiness is a Hamlet called Jude

Whatever about the focus on Jude Law's private life, he deserves to have his acting talent recognised, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

THERE is a cafe I occasionally sit outside in central London, where smoking friends can puff, and the fascinating street cabaret often causes me to ruminate about the nature of celebrity.

There are two stage doors facing each other, which at times are besieged by totally different groups. There are the blue-haired ladies who have come from far-flung places in coaches to see Calendar Girls, the play based on the true story of members of a Yorkshire Women's Institute who took off their clothes to raise money for charity. Being polite, the blue-haired ones want autographs from everyone, but, in fact, they have favourites: Lynda Bellingham, who played the Oxo mum for 16 years, is very dear to them. And recently, since Jerry Hall joined the cast, they are excited by meeting up close and personal Mick Jagger's ex-wife.

More unexpected, for me, was observing the young who crowd around the stage door opposite waiting in huge numbers for the latest Hamlet. Yes, Hamlet. Jude Law emerges to shrieks from girls straining to have their mobile phone cameras catch an image of him, even if they're too far back in the crowd to see him in person.

Many of them have no intention of subjecting themselves to Shakespeare, even if they could get tickets, but just come along to scream and snap and, no doubt, twitter. Two I met had come from Dusseldorf, purely in order to catch a sight of him. Why? "Because we love him," they explained.

I'm baffled by this desire to stand in a crowd in order to catch a brief sight of, or a word from, a star. I was accidentally trapped in Whitehall some time back, in the middle of a vast crowd waiting to see President Obama emerge from Downing Street; the police refused to let me proceed on my way, I read a book for half an hour, could see nothing when the clapping started and was told triumphantly by the Japanese tourist standing on a low wall beside me that she had got a video of his moving car.

Of all those I've seen emerging from the stage doors, the only one who made my heart race was Sir Tom Stoppard, possibly my favourite playwright, leaning against a lamp post, in solitary communion with his cigarette. Naturally, I pretended I hadn't even seen him.

Back to Jude Law, who appears to attract young women not because he is a serious actor, but because of a private life that has had the celeb correspondents slavering over him for a decade. He married, in 1997, an actress and fashion designer called Sadie Frost, who was famous for having been married to a guy from Spandau Ballet, and who, after her 2003 divorce from Law, was photographed incessantly tumbling out of nightclubs accompanied by Kate Moss.

Law, not to be outdone, had a well-photographed liaison with actress Sienna Miller, who broke off their engagement when he admitted to having slept with the nanny of Frost's four children (three with Law and one with the Spandau Ballet guy) and he is constantly linked with models and socialites and various kinds of arm candy. He is thus a major presence in the gossip pages, and a huge presence in the virtual reality that is the fanworld.

As a sex symbol, he is the face of the Dior male perfume, Dior Home Sport, as well as the international face of Dunhill, but like all modern-day celebs craving forgiveness for well-publicised failings, he is also involved in a bewildering range of charity activities, including working for peace in Afghanistan.

However, despite the respectability of his well-reviewed role in Hamlet, Jude Law is all over the tabloids again now because a) he allegedly hit a paparazzo outside a nightclub and b) has unwittingly sired a baby with a small-time American actress with whom he had a brief fling.

But here's the thing. I went to see him last Thursday with cultivated friends who had never heard of him. We all agreed he was an absolutely brilliant Hamlet, and marvelled that he could do three matinees a week as well as evening performances of a three-hour play that involved him throwing himself intensely all over the stage. The audience was very young and seemed mostly foreign, but they seemed to follow the story and enjoy it.

Like David Tennant of Doctor Who, who was another recent fine Hamlet, Jude Law is introducing unlikely people to the serious theatre. When we tut-tut over his excesses, we should remember that the likes of Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud had disreputable private lives that in those days could be kept private.

The Laws and the Tennants love their profession, endure constant intrusion and deserve our respect. We didn't mob him at the stage door, but we did clap hard.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards