Is Ken Turning Over a New Leaf?

Daily Mail, 2 June 2003
By Alison Boshoff
**Thanks, Jane

Announcing the news of his surprise wedding, Ken Branagh's spokesman described the event as "small" and "private" and would make no further comment.

But the marriage of Kenneth Charles Branagh to art director Lindsey Brunnock - conducted in New York a week ago today - was more than just a low-key affair.

It was deeply unconventional, and apparently so impulsive that the groom only called his parents to tell them that he was getting married when he was on his way to the airport to fly to America.

The venue for the wedding was, bizarrely, the rented apartment of an actor friend who is starring in the Broadway production of The Play What I Wrote, directed by Branagh.

The Mail understands that the only guests at the civil ceremony were Branagh's dedicated PA Tamar Thomas, who has acted as his spokeswoman for more than a decade, and his driver, Terry Pritchard, whom Ken jokingly calls his "butler" and who has long been his right-hand man.

Branagh's parents, William and Frances, and his brother and sister weren't present, nor were any of his large circle of friends. The bride, likewise, had not a soul to hold her hand on this, the biggest day of her life.

The order of the day, then, was not a public celebration of an established relationship but rather the making of intimate promises by a very private couple. And the most extraordinary fact of all is that six weeks ago the pair were not even a romantic item.

"Everyone is pretty befuddled by it, but Ken sounds absolutely joyous. He's thrilled and over the moon and very much in love," a friend of the actor said yesterday.

"He didn't tell anyone what he was up to. We're delighted for him, but it is a real surprise."

The path of the courtship between Branagh and Brunnock has been nothing if not dramatic.

The couple had split up shortly before Christmas after almost two years together, and it was only after therapy for the groom and an ultimatum from the bride (of which more later) that the surprising, and some might say hasty, ceremony took place.

Of course, the contrast between the secret wedding in New York and Branagh's lavish first wedding to actress Emma Thompson could scarcely be greater.

But those who know Ken best say that the ghosts of that failed relationship have haunted his latest love affair.

When Ken and Em made it official on August 20, 1989, they did so in the beautiful setting of Cliveden, in the full glare of publicity. Brian Blessed was best man and assorted luvvie friends (Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, John Sessions, Richard Briers, Ben Elton and Judi Dench) were there to wish them well.

Hailed as the "new Oliviers", he and Emma Thompson were unable to sustain their marriage, partly because their work schedules meant that they spent very little time together.

But those in their circle said that there were several infidelities on both sides before the union imploded, with Ken in particular seemingly unable to remain faithful.

Ken's affair with Helena Bonham Carter, his co-star in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, had become common knowledge, and he was notorious for enjoying on-set romances with members of the cast and crew.

One co-star even threatened to hit him if he did not stop propositioning her. Matters were so bad that it has been said that before they split he and Miss Thompson discussed therapy to help cure him of the habit of falling in love on set.


She confirmed his problems when she sighed during an interview that Ken was "constitutionally unsuited" to being married, and added that some people were just not capable of monogamy.

"Marriage is an extremely dangerous step,' she cautioned. "Don't do it until you have slept with everything with a pulse."

Since then, Miss Thompson has found lasting happiness with Greg Wise, her co-star in the film Sense And Sensibility, and has managed, after IVF treatment, to have the baby she so longed for.

But Branagh, the shy, insecure boy who became an international film star after winning a scholarship to RADA, has found it far harder to settle down. He ended his relationship with Miss Bonham Carter after three years amid much soul searching.

Her camp said that he was negative about her career and made her "miserable". His camp explained that he realised they simply weren't meant to be together for ever and said that the relationship had become tortured and difficult.

Branagh, the son of a Belfast joiner who grew up in Reading, has long struggled with what he calls "deep, deep" depression, diagnosed as clinical depression, and those in his circle say that he has been in therapy for it since the end of his first marriage.

Talking about his screen portrayal of Hamlet, made just after the end of his first marriage, he admitted he was obsessed by the play because he too has "days when everything is grey".

"I find death a subject of constant fascination and curiosity," he said.

He has felt tormented about his unsuccessful attempts at monogamy, too, and desperately lonely - all the more so as he is now 42 years old, and many of his friends are settled with families of their own.

He may joke: "All us bloody actors get very emotional." But, in fact, he is prone to carry the woes of the world on his shoulders.

"One can get so terribly weighed down by how s****y the world is," he sighed in a rare interview.

Those who know him socially describe him politely as "intense".

The woman whom he has chosen to change all this, Lindsey Brunnock, came into his life in the spring of 2001 on the set of the 40million TV drama Shackleton about the polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

The two-month shoot in Greenland was difficult, with the cold bringing a slew of logistical problems. And, naturally, the tough conditions fostered close relationships.

What began as an on-set affair between Branagh and the buxom Brunnock, ten years his junior, continued once filming was complete.

By July 2001, she had moved into Branagh's 2 million home in Sunningdale, Berkshire. Lindsey, a talented art director who has worked on films including The Governess, Born Romantic and Keep The Aspidistra Flying, is by all accounts as strong-willed as her new husband, terrific company and not one to stand in anybody's shadow.

"They have terrible rows where each gives as good as they get," says a mutual friend. "She is not at all the mousy person which she has been made out to be."

During the first flush of romance, they went travelling around New Zealand in a camper van, and Branagh - who loves to have adventures - apparently adored the sense of freedom and the liberating privacy which this afforded.

For her part, Lindsey wasn't bothered about slumming it, as she is free from any actressy hang-ups about her looks.

Since then she has supported him during a period when his career has enjoyed a renaissance - he won an Emmy for Conspiracy, a Bafta nomination for Shackleton and enjoyed stage success on both sides of the Atlantic with The Play What I Wrote. And he has starred in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, too.

All of this has done much to obliterate the horror of the commercial and critical flop Love's Labour's Lost, an adaptation of the Shakespeare play which incorporated lavish musical routines ("Branagh dances like a bricklayer," sniffed a critic) and the ill-advised action adventure Wild Wild West.


Indeed, he has been tasting his first commercial successes in seven years - his career has appeared in the doldrums ever since the flop Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, made as his marriage to Emma Thompson fell apart.

One visitor to the home they share says that Lindsey is very much in the background. There is no sign of her belongings or of a woman's touch.

Intriguingly, the home (built in 1997 after Branagh ordered the existing building razed to the ground) also appears to have no trace of Branagh's own tastes or history.

Perhaps fittingly for a man who has so completely remade himself - Branagh speaks without a trace of the Ulster accent of his childhood - the house is a monument to someone else's taste.

It has been designed by Tim Harvey, the production designer on many of his films (including Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and Love's Labour's Lost), and, apparently, there is something eerily resembling film set perfection about it.

Furnished in a minimalist style, everything about the house is there at the behest of the designer, right down to the cups and saucers which were chosen by Harvey, not Branagh.

The house itself is focused around a central square whose roof rises like a glass church steeple. At the heart of the home is a library and a huge study.

There is a swimming pool in the grounds, and a cinema.

It is a magnificent pad, and Ken and Lindsey have enjoyed giving weekend parties for friends and their children, who love playing in the extensive gardens.


But being Ken's girlfriend was not enough for Lindsey, who had no intention of hanging on for years in a relationship that wasn't necessarily going to be for ever.

Around the time of Ken's birthday on December 10 last year, she left him because he was still struggling with an inability to make a commitment.

In a bid to make him come to his senses, and having lost patience with his introspective meanderings about commitment, she packed her belongings and moved out. Ken was shattered.

"He was terribly upset when Lindsey broke up with him," said a friend of the actor's.

"She left him around his birthday and I think he had a fairly miserable Christmas thinking about what was going on in his life without her. Ken said that it was a commitment problem and he just didn't think that he could make a commitment to her, so she moved on."

Ken spent New Year with actor Derek Jacobi in Paris, taking stock of his life, his chances of happiness with Lindsey apparently dashed.

In early March, he was spotted canoodling in first class on a BA flight with a film production assistant, Laura Burrows. There were suggestions that they had disappeared together to the rest room and were "gone for a long time".

It sounded as if Ken was up to his old tricks again.

But, by the time of the Prague Film Festival in the spring, he was once again in touch with Lindsey, and within a few weeks she became the second Mrs Branagh, just as she wanted.

"Maybe she has played a clever game," says a friend. "I'm guessing that her leaving him has inspired the swiftness of the wedding. They are truly happy together, and everyone is delighted for them."

Last week, the actor and his brunette bride were to be found in Prague on a "working honeymoon" because Lindsey is involved in a film in the Czech Republic.

It is a no-nonsense conclusion to a love story which is far from the conventional fairy tale. But everyone is hoping for a happy ending.

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