IT WAS a dream Caribbean holiday that turned into nightmare when Kate Winslet had to make a perilous escape with her two children and Richard Branson’s mother from a burning building during a tropical storm.
Few were surprised that, in the aftermath of the drama, the Oscar-winning actress fell in love with a fellow guest on the private island who had shared something of the terrifying experience… although the object of her affection was not her then lover, a Burberry model who was also on the trip. Such is the romantic rollercoaster of Winslet’s love life.
However, the confirmation yesterday that the 37-year-old had married Ned RocknRoll, Richard’s nephew, in a secret ceremony in New York, has raised more than a few eyebrows.
The couple, who apparently have been engaged since the summer, met on Branson’s Necker Island on the trip in August last year, when romance blossomed amid the ruins of the billionaire’s mansion, which caught fire after being struck by lightning during Hurricane Irene. Winslet had made headlines worldwide after it was reported that she had carried Richard’s mother, Eve, to safety. She was linked to RocknRoll shortly afterwards.
Their wedding, which took place early this month, was such an exclusive affair that even the couple’s parents were not involved. Mr RocknRoll’s father, Robert, said yesterday: “It’s not something I know of — but nothing would surprise me with those two.”
Winslet wore a diamond ring designed by her favourite jeweller, Charles Goode, and was escorted down the aisle by her children from her two previous marriages, her publicist confirmed. According to reports, the “romantic, private” ceremony was held in a converted barn outside the city, witnessed by just six guests from either side, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Winslet’s best friend and co-star from the film Titanic, who reportedly gave the bride away.
"They had been planning it for a while,” one unnamed source told a newspaper. "They are both so happy and very much in love. Kate is very private and didn’t want anyone to know.” He added Winslet had “never looked so happy”, and said the couple’s relationship had been “full steam ahead” from the beginning.
So who is the man who has stolen Winslet’s heart and why, after two high-profile matrimonial failures, is the actress prepared to try again?
Ned RocknRoll is not, as you may have guessed, the name her new husband was born with. Ned Abel Smith changed his surname by deed poll in 2008 because, he felt, “people take themselves too seriously”. Originally from London, the 34-year-old works for Virgin Galactic, the space-travel division of the Branson empire, as “head of marketing, promotion and astronaut experience”.
In contrast to their top-secret wedding, the Winslet/RocknRoll romance has been conducted very publicly. They have been photographed playing happy families with Winslet’s children, Mia, 12, and Joe, nine, in locations from Chichester to New Mexico. The four were first seen together at New Jersey’s Newark International airport in October 2011, only a few months after the Necker Island fire, while the couple made their red-carpet debut at the Golden Globes earlier this year. Mr RocknRoll persuaded Winslet to return to Britain from New York, and they moved in together in September, buying a €2.5m 15th-century house in a hamlet in West Sussex.
Mr RocknRoll, notorious in London social circles as fun-loving party boy, has a colourful past. Until last year, he was married to Eliza Pearson, the 24-year-old daughter of Viscount Cowdray. Their 2009 marriage ceremony was conducted by a spiritual Shaman who bound their hands together with rope, and the reception was an extravagant beach party on Necker featuring Ugandan dancers and an adult ''playpen’’.
Last year, Pearson said of her ex-husband: “He said he had met an amazing woman and she was making him really happy. Other than saying Kate’s a gorgeous human being and he’s having a wonderful time with her, he hasn’t told me much.”
Winslet, too, is no stranger to relationship traumas. After one long-term romance, with Stephen Tredre, the late actor and writer, from whom she separated in 1995, two years before his death from bone cancer, and a dalliance with actor Rufus Sewell, whom she dated for three months, she married Jim Threapleton, the assistant director on the film Hideous Kinky, in which she appeared, in 1997. The pair were famously down-to-earth, eating bangers-and-mash in a local pub for their wedding breakfast after a simple ceremony in Reading. That relationship broke down in 2000, shortly after Mia was born.
Just a year later, Winslet was engaged to Sam Mendes, the acclaimed theatre and film director, after he approached her to appear in a play at the Donmar Warehouse in London. The couple married “on a whim” while holidaying in Anguilla in May 2003, and their son Joe was born later that year. Theirs was regarded as a rock-solid union and their separation in 2010 shocked Hollywood.
Before Mr RocknRoll, Winslet was in a relationship with Louis Dowler, 35, a Cornwall-born Burberry model who was said to be “heartbroken” when it ended.
So has the actress finally found ''the one’’ in an “astronaut experience” expert she’s known for barely a year? “Life is short,” she once said, “and it is here to be lived”. Hear, hear, Kate. Just don’t go taking your new husband’s surname.