How the Clooneys became the world's biggest power couple
There was a time, not very long ago, when the phrase ‘power couple’ denoted little more than two romantically involved people you might just know the name of.
Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley were called a power couple. Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow were called a power couple. David and Victoria Beckham still are called a power couple.
Then, George and Amal Clooney came along and suddenly it feels as if we’ve all been misusing the term. Four-and-a-half years after they emerged from Venice’s City Hall as husband and wife, Amal and George — she a celebrated international human rights barrister; he an actor, diplomatic flirt, and long-time Nespresso special envoy for pods, though not necessarily in that order — have redefined what it means to have star power.
Is there a door they cannot unlock? You might have seen them at the royal wedding last year, sitting about as close to the action as the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Maybe you noticed tabloid claims they flew the Duchess of Sussex home from her own baby shower. Or perhaps you saw them blessing the Pope, hobnobbing with Barack Obama, advising Angela Merkel and David Miliband on the refugee crisis or, on Friday, signing autographs for Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh.
Everywhere they go, crowds arrive and world leaders fawn. Earlier last week, the Clooneys attended a reception at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the work of the Prince’s Trust Group, where Prince Charles had patiently waited in a reception line to meet them.
Just a few days later, the youth charity announced it was launching a new global prize, The Amal Clooney Award, to highlight the work of young women who have succeeded against the odds to make a lasting difference in their communities.
It is an undeniably impressive that one couple — one
outrageously good-looking couple — should have journeyed to the centre of everything, marrying Hollywood charm and lawyerly clout to become de-facto Transatlantic royalty, ambassadors for the celebrity class and some of the most effective human rights campaigners in the world. It’s especially impressive when you consider they have done so while maintaining their original, full-time careers. (All right, one of them has — three of George’s last four acting credits have been coffee adverts.) But how exactly has it happened?
In George’s case, it doesn’t seem wildly off-course. The son of Nina, a beauty queen and later a city councilwoman, and Nick Clooney, a television news anchor, he drove to Los Angeles in an old car in 1982 with $300 that he earned working in the tobacco fields near his home in Kentucky, and never really looked back.
Television acting roles were hard-fought and not always successful — after a string of failures in the early 1990s, he used to joke, “I’m bad luck, don’t drive with me” — but a role as lothario doctor Doug Ross in medical soap ER was enough to awaken the world to Clooney’s charms.
It was also then, around the pilot episode of ER in 1994, when he first used his renown to drive a good cause home, producing an anti-child abuse public service announcement for a series called The More You Know that chimed with a storyline in the programme.
Perhaps being a television doctor helped, but it was the start of something: as well as being hyper-aware of his own popularity and status as a sex symbol (at a charity auction in the South of France in 2007, he sold a kiss for $350,000), Clooney began morphing into an actor-activist.
Bizarrely, his first major battle came in 1997 — long before he’d win his Oscars, for supporting actor in Syriana or as a producer of Argo — when he made an unexpected and passionate speech after the death of Diana, the Princess of Wales.
“Princess Di is dead, and who should we see about that? The driver of the car? The paparazzi? Or the magazines and papers who purchased these pictures and make bounty hunters out of photographers?” he told a group of reporters at the Screen Actors Guild office in Los Angeles.
He had never met Diana. “If you weren’t hiding behind the profession of journalism, you would be an accomplice to a crime, and you would go to jail.”
Quite why he did that remains unclear to this day, but it echoed a dozen years later, when Clooney interrupted his usual public good nature again by defending the Duchess of Sussex.
“She is being pursued and vilified and chased in the same way that Diana was, and it’s history repeating itself,” he said at a promotional event last month. “And we’ve seen how that ends.”
While his film career went from strength to strength, Clooney’s most likeable performance has always been as himself. It’s for this reason he makes such an effective champion for causes, be them political or humanitarian.
Throughout the Noughties, he advocated for a peaceful resolution to the Darfur conflict in Sudan, including speaking to the UN Security Council. He became a firm friend of Barack Obama, and later campaigned for Hillary Clinton, whose husband has stated he’d like Clooney to play him in a film one day.
However, despite many, many girlfriends and one distant ex-wife (he was married for four years to the actress Talia Balsam between 1989 and 1993), there was never a Mrs Clooney to share the passion with.
“I thought if you had a successful career that you weren’t really going to be able to have one great love in your life,” he once said. “And then Amal walked in.”
Amal Alamuddin wasn’t exactly world famous before she met George Clooney — they were introduced by “a mutual friend” in Lake Como around 2013 and he “chased her for many months, calling and writing, those kinds of things” — but she was certainly successful.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon, she grew up in Buckinghamshire with her sister Tala (now a fashion designer) and two brothers, and studied law at Oxford, before completing a master’s in New York. Over the years, she has worked at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, served as adviser to Special Envoy Kofi Annan on Syria and represented Enron, Julian Assange, the former Libyan intelligence chief Abdallah Al Senussi, and helped in the Greek government’s attempts to regain the Elgin Marbles.
“I am marrying up,” George said, quite correctly, in 2014, the year he proposed over a home-cooked meal. He was also marrying the 2013 “hottest barrister in London”, according to the blog Your Barrister Boyfriend.
“Amal Alamuddin may make some feel inadequate because she has achieved the seemingly unattainable ideal of contemporary femininity: she is both breathtakingly beautiful and formidably successful,” the blog read. (That accolade was supposedly brought up by her friend since law school, Jae Kim, in a speech at the wedding. Famous friends, including Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, were in attendance).
If George Clooney used to be an actor-activist, marriage has made him an actor-statesman. Or actor-consort, perhaps. The couple have a 17-year age gap — she is 41 and he is 57 — but work in step, co-founding The Clooney Foundation for Justice in 2016 in order to “advance justice in courtrooms, classrooms and communities” and travelling the world discussing humanitarian issues with world leaders.
It’s easy to say Amal brings the expertise and George brings the publicity, but after Amal became a style icon, a mother of their twins, Alexander and Ella, in 2017, while still managing to be named UN Global Citizen of the Year by the United Nations Correspondents Association last year, these days the star power is about equal.
Among it all, nobody is entirely sure how Amal met the Duchess of Sussex. A chance encounter in Berkshire, where the Clooneys have a home and the Duke and Duchess have just moved? A support group for beautiful women marrying men far more famous, but far less intelligent, than them?
Or perhaps it’s the fact that in 2016, Princess Eugenie’s husband, Jack Brooksbank, was appointed UK brand
ambassador for Casamigos, a tequila company co-founded by George Clooney and Cindy Crawford’s husband, Rande Gerber. (They sold it to Diageo for $1bn in 2017.)
It could have been anywhere, but it feels only right the two most famous couples in the world are in touch, consolidating their power for good. It also pays to be Clooney’s friend: according to Gerber, he once gave a million dollars to 14 of his best mates and paid their taxes for a year.
So what next for them?
Well, for one thing, many have wondered if George might consider a political career of his own. In 2004, his father ran for Congress, without success, as a democrat; and since Donald Trump came to power in 2016, the prospect of President Clooney has sounded appealing to some.
“Trump, for all his terrible instincts, is very charismatic. A TV star,” George said last year.
“People didn’t vote for him because he
accomplished anything. They knew him. And they were, like, he’s exciting. He says outlandish stuff. That’s fun. He’s got a star on Hollywood Boulevard.”
You know who else has a Hollywood star, George? And if you won’t run, maybe Amal can. The superpower couple aren’t done yet.