It's official: George Clooney marries Amal Alamuddin in secret ceremony
Amal Alamuddin, the London lawyer whose family fled Lebanon's civil war, was propelled into the ranks of Hollywood high society yesterday at a party in Venice to celebrate her pending marriage to George Clooney.
The couple were to hold a grand wedding reception in the Aman Hotel, which occupies a centuries-old palazzo on the banks of the Grand Canal, where they were to exchange vows informally.
Clooney was expected to sweep down Venice's most famous waterway in a procession of water taxis, along with close friends such as Matt Damon, Cindy Crawford, Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro and Bono and Ali Hewson. Television crews and paparazzi photographers from around the world lined the banks of the Grand Canal, jostling for position along narrow stone pathways as motor launches and water taxis churned past.
The star of The Monuments Men and Good Night and Good Luck was in a generous mood, sending a bottle of his own brand of tequila to journalists outside his five-star hotel, the Cipriani. "Don't drink it all at once!" he joked.
For 36-year-old Ms Alamuddin, who was born in Lebanon but came to Britain with her family as a toddler, it was a far cry from Doughty Street Chambers, the barristers' office where she works in London.
The Aman Hotel occupies the 15th-Century Palazzo Papadopoli, which has hosted the cream of Venetian society for centuries.
But it was evidently not quite grand enough for the Oxford-educated barrister, who reportedly ordered a consignment of oil paintings, tapestries and antique furniture to create just the atmosphere she wanted for the event.
Clooney, who has gone out with a long line of starlets and actresses, had vowed never to remarry after his first marriage ended in divorce in 1993.
But even Hollywood celebrities change their mind, and the actor and director had prepared a special musical tribute for his soon-to-be-wife, hiring a string orchestra and jazz band to entertain more than 100 guests with a medley of romantic classics, from Nat King Cole's When I Fall in Love to Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
Guests, including the American actress Ellen Barkin and Vogue editor Anna Wintour, were to be entertained with a reception in the garden of the palazzo, followed by dinner in the main dining room.
They were to be served by hotel staff whose uniforms bore the monogram AG, for Amal and George.
The high-powered couple will formally tie the knot on Monday, with a civil ceremony in Venice's ornate, centuries-old town hall, a few steps away from the famous Rialto Bridge.
The pair met through their shared interest in human rights. Mr Clooney has taken a particular interest in the chaos in Darfur, while his fiance has represented Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine's former prime minister, at the European Court of Human Rights, and Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder.
With Venice bathed in warm autumnal sunshine from the moment the happy couple arrived on Friday, the World Heritage city could not have put on a better show.
Ms Alamuddin was described as "a little bit Audrey Hepburn, a little bit Jacqueline Kennedy" as she admired Venice from the back of a motor launch called 'Amore'.
While she stayed at the Aman Hotel, her groom-to-be enjoyed lunch at the Hotel Cipriani around its enormous swimming pool, one of the very few to be found amid the cramped piazzas and alleyways of the lagoon city.
For all the glitz and glamour of the event, some Venetians were unfazed by the invasion of Hollywood A-listers.
"It won't change much for us," said Ivano, a 45-year-old gondolier who charges tourists €80 for a half-hour ride on his gondola, as caterers unloaded decorations, food and other supplies from barges at the Aman. "I suppose it's good for the image of Venice."
Gondoliers grumbled that, with boat loads of paparazzi following the couple wherever they went, the canals were churned up into a choppy mess.
The city is accustomed, after all, to famous names - from Napoleon who snuffed out the Most Serene Republic's 1,000 years of independence, to more recent arrivals such as Ernest Hemingway, Peggy Guggenheim, Henry James and Thomas Mann, not to mention the dozens of stars who parade down the red carpet every year during the film festival.
The Hollywood invasion was like "an elephant charging around in a Murano glass shop," as one local put it.
"If they really wanted to have a private wedding, why didn't get they go off to the Himalayas or somewhere like that? Anywhere but Venice," one disgruntled Venetian told a local radio station.
Vianello Fausto, the owner of a pizzeria on the banks of the Giudecca canal, said: "Let's hope Clooney's presence helps bring a higher quality of tourist here. We have too many day-trippers, who wear skimpy clothing that shows off their mid-riffs and have no respect for Venice's culture and art."
Others, however, were more enthusiastic about the arrival of Clooney and his coterie of Hollywood friends.
Having the actor and his beautiful bride dashing about the city in sleek motor launches had helped Venice take its mind off an "annus horribilis" in which the city's mayor was forced to resign over a massive corruption scandal involving the building of an ambitious flood prevention scheme.
"Let's make him an honorary ambassador. In fact, let's make him a Knight of the Serene Republic," said an editorial in La Nuova di Venezia, a local newspaper.
"In an annus horribilis for the city of doges, George Clooney has put Venice under the gaze of the whole world, creating an image of the city very different from that of the corruption scandal."
© Sunday Telegraph