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Clooney is driven out of Lake Como villa by paparazzi

The paparazzi who lie in wait on the shores of Lake Como hoping for a snapshot of a star received some disastrous news yesterday: George Clooney, who has had an exclusive €30m villa there since 2001, is selling up, depriving the photographers of the area's most bankable celebrity. But hope is at hand in the form of David and Victoria Beckham, who are said to be locked in a bidding war to buy the property.

They are said to be the front-runners in the rush to buy the villa, formerly the home of the Heinz family. But they are by no means guaranteed to secure the prize: they face serious competition in the form of a billionaire Russian vodka magnate.

It is no surprise that Villa Oleandra is so in demand. The opulent building, set in the almost other-worldly beauty of Lake Como and screened by topiary and red geraniums, is probably the most sought-after pad in all of celebrity-obsessed Italy, especially now that it's been the home of Hollywood royalty.

Clooney, who paid a mere €7m for the villa in 2001, hopes the €23m equity should be enough for him and his Italian TV personality fiancee Elisabetta Canalis to find something liveable in a quieter, seaside location.

Canalis was said to have been irritated by the pestering of autograph-hunters. The attention grew so great that last year Mayor Pozzi, first citizen of Laglio, introduced local laws forbidding anyone to gather in a group of more than three people in sight of the actor's home -- or face a €19 fine. In June, Clooney was even stopped by police on motorbikes, only to be asked for his autograph.

The prospect of being constantly photographed outside a beautiful villa, surrounded by verdant hills and overlooked by the Alps is less likely to faze Victoria Beckham, however; with Jose Mourinho further down the lake and Donatella Versace owning a home a short drive away, the aspirational Brits would consider themselves in good company.

However, a formidable stumbling block has emerged in the form of 48-year-old Russian Roustam Tariko. The vodka magnate is said to have already offered the €30m asking price. The Russian might have wealth on his side, but the locals are batting for Posh and Becks, according to the Italian papers.

The Laglio residents have voiced concerns that "Lagliowood" is being turned into "Laglioburg", following a rash of vulgar mooring extensions in nearby lakeside villas as new Russian money makes itself seen in the area.

"The residents of Laglio had grown quite fond of Clooney," said Mayor Pozzi. "Beckham? Let's hope he buys it; in that way we can maintain a certain glamour."

And, say observers, the area's constant rise in property prices.