Tom and Taylor: a showmance or bond made in 00-heaven?
Ever since that photo appeared of the actor and the singer canoodling on a beach, cynics said it was a set-up. But could the glam showbiz couple be for real, asks Andrew Anthony
Hiddleswift. It sounds like an arcane practice out of JK Rowling but it's the latest celebrity hybrid that takes its place alongside those other magnificent centaurs, Brangelina, Bennifer and Kimye. Names that are - in ways that would require a PhD in marketing to explain - so much more than the sum of their parts.
Ever since that fateful day, last Thursday, when The Sun revealed its exclusive with the deathless headline 'Tinker Taylor Snogs a Spy', the world has been coming to terms with the apparent merger of two leading glamour brands: actor Tom Hiddleston and singer Taylor Swift.
Photographs showed the alleged couple kissing and canoodling on a beach in Rhode Island. Exactly how and why the photographs were taken remains the subject of fevered speculation. Some suggest that they are not authentic paparazzi work, insofar as they lack that hallmark sense of furtive intrusion. The word that has been used is "staged".
That a fledgling romance between two such talented luminaries in distinct fields of the arts could be reduced to so crude an epithet is a reflection of the cynical times in which we live. That said, the images do look as if a team of PR consultants and stylists had just stepped out of the shot.
Which raises the question: why would a singer whose private life forms the basis of her songwriting and a man widely judged to be waging an aggressive campaign to become the next James Bond want to place themselves in a situation that gained global exposure? Who knows? Forget the photos and enjoy the story, which comes with such a strong aroma of invention that it can only be true. It seems that they met last month at the Met Gala in New York, where Swift challenged Hiddleston to a dance.
Hiddleston, as YouTube will confirm, is a seriously good dancer. They danced, chatted and he called when he heard that Swift had broken up with her boyfriend, Scottish DJ Calvin Harris. Anonymous sources say he sent her flowers and deployed that bashful smile - so lethal in The Night Manager that it completely disarmed an arms dealer - to devastating effect.
Or perhaps not. No one official is saying. All that leaves for the watching world are the enigmatic clues left on social media. Harris has unfollowed Swift and composed a (since deleted) gnomic tweet: "Oh boy it's about to go down." That may have referred to his next gig, but the consensus is that it means they are never, ever getting back together.
If love has always been cruel, in the age of 24-hour status updates it can be unforgiving. But then Swift, still only 26, has never been one to keep her emotions to herself. As Rolling Stone said, she overshares "louder than anyone else in the game". Her catchy brand of country-pop is shot through with the bittersweet memories of her various relationships with, among others, Jake Gyllenhaal, One Direction's Harry Styles and Robert F Kennedy's grandson, Conor.
She is an uncannily gifted songwriter. Her album 1989 - the year of her birth - has been hailed as a pop classic. She is rivalled only by Adele on the international stage, and said to be worth $200m.
It says something about the elusive nature of sexual equality that a young, rich, attractive and famous woman still represents a problematic equation. History is not overendowed with men who are comfortable with taking a lesser position in the spotlight.
But say what you will about old Etonians, they tend not to suffer from a shortfall in confidence. And one of Hiddleston's strongest suits is his easy physical charm. And he looks not only smart enough to recognise the great good fortune that life has brought him, but also to enjoy it.
As he told an interviewer when his career was just taking off, with major parts in Steven Spielberg's War Horse adaptation and the Marvel Comics' Thor series: "It's mad and bananas and amazing. But I can handle it for the simple reason that it feels like it's not real. You know when you go to a fancy dress party and everyone looks incredible and there are crazy things hanging from the ceiling? For about five hours or so, you enter into another world and then, when you come out of it, you are sitting at home with a cup of tea and a biscuit and you're thinking to yourself, 'Well, that was weird. Fun, but weird.' That's what it feels like."
The suffering artist he is not. Having grown up in Oxford, attended the Dragon School, Eton and Cambridge, where he gained a double first in classics, there is little argument that he has had a privileged start in life. His father was a self-made man from a working-class background in Glasgow who wanted to give his children a leg-up.
As a consequence, he has often been cast in roles as a handsome man condemned to accept a blessed existence. There is also a boyish but unruffled quality about him that some critics have construed as complacency. Although The Night Manager - the most expensive audition for the Bond part ever filmed - was a success, it was said Hiddleston didn't do much. And if the photos, and the subsequent ones of the couple getting on Swift's jet, are true then Hiddleston is going to come under the kind of scrutiny that will test his refined unflappability to the limit.
Swift is used to the attention. She was declared a prodigy in the New Yorker when she was just 16. By the time she was 18, her second album, Fearless, was a multimillion bestseller. She is nine years younger than Hiddleston, but she has been in show-business as long as he has. The press has written in detail about her relationships, but so has she, the difference being she doesn't name names. As she has said: "The fact I've never confirmed whom those songs are about makes me feel there is still one card I'm holding."
She hates the idea that she has been "calculating" about her private life, using it to increase her public reach. "You can be accidentally successful for three or four years," she has said. "Accidents happen. But careers take hard work."
As do relationships. Perhaps Hiddleswift will handle it with the ironic understanding that it's not real but mad and bananas and amazing. But if they don't, well at least they make a pretty - if not entirely convincing - picture.