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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 09:29 GMT
Knockout royal première for Ali
Prince Charles, Will Smith and Michael Mann
Charles shares a joke with Will Smith and Michael Mann
The Prince of Wales has attended the royal première of the Muhammad Ali biopic starring Will Smith.

The film's star greeted the hundreds of screaming fans who braved the cold of London's Leicester Square on Tuesday, and signed autographs before the screening.

It was hoped Ali, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, would be a special guest but he cancelled his appearance because of ill health.

Muhammad Ali
Ali did not attend the screening
Prince Charles instead met heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis and former British title holder Henry Cooper, who hosted the gala event.

The boxers were joined by Olympic gold medallist Audley Harrison and former champions Henry Cooper and Barry McGuigan.

Prince Charles arrived a few minutes before the movie was due to start and met staff at the Empire Cinema, top executives involved in the film and its director Michael Mann, whose previous work has included Manhunter, Heat and the critically-acclaimed The Insider.

The Prince also met Smith, who told him he had spent around six hours a day sparring and training for the role.

Comedians Frank Skinner and Harry Enfield, Arsenal's Patrick Vieira and former Gunners' striker Ian Wright, veteran singer Bob Geldof, Skunk Anansie lead singer Skin, BBC Radio 1 DJ Sara Cox, Tamara Beckwith and Lady Victoria Hervey also attended.

The movie Ali is already being tipped as an Oscar contender.

henry cooper
Former champion Henry Cooper completed the boxing contingent

Men in Black star Smith put on two stone (12.7 kg) to play the boxing hero over a 10-year period, covering his belt-winning 1964 fight with Sonny Liston and his conversion to Islam.

Ali gave his blessing to the production and was reportedly pleased with the casting of Smith in the central role.

The movie cost £73m to make, making it the most expensive biopic ever produced.

But there were doubts the film would be completed after the studio grew concerned at escalating costs.

Lennox Lewis
Lennox Lewis met Prince Charles
But after discussions Mann agreed to pay for any costs that ran over budget, reduce fees, lower his share of foreign profits and cuts scenes from the film.

Other stars of the film include Jamie Foxx, John Voight, Mario van Peebles and Michael Michele of ER fame.

Smith's wife Jada Pinkett-Smith plays Ali's first wife Sonji Roi and former WBO heavyweight champion Michael Bentt plays Liston.

The royal première was held in aid of the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund.

It premières in the US on Wednesday and opens later in December.

But the film does not open in the UK until February.

See also:

18 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Ali film 'on the ropes'
18 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Men in Black win ratings battle
23 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Ali film 'gets green light'
09 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Roberts heads Hollywood hot list
29 Feb 00 | Brit Awards
Will gets jiggy at the Brits
05 Sep 99 | Tom Brook
Rappers move into the movies
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