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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 16:17 GMT
Hollywood at the High Court
Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas at the High Court
Surreal scenes greeted the famous couple

Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones managed to prevent their wedding in November 2000 becoming a media circus by selling exclusive rights to publish photographs to a single magazine, OK.

But they couldn't stop the subsequent court case becoming the centre of a typical media frenzy.

Catherine Zeta Jones
Zeta Jones spoke near-perfect American, though occasionally her native Welsh accent showed through - especially when she used the word 'devastated'

I counted eight television and radio trucks outside the High Court in London and probably more than 200 reporters, camera crews and photographers awaiting the glamorous couple's arrival.

More reporters (admission by ticket only) waited inside Court 35, a cavernous and rather chilly place with terrible acoustics.

And just in any case anyone had any doubts, an open-top bus sporting a Sun logo toured the surrounding streets, klaxons hooting, with on the top deck a pair of leggy lovelies sporting placards which read: "Hello My Sun, the media circus is in town."

Sun spots

As it happened, the Sun was mentioned more than once inside.

The newspaper is apparently on a blacklist (along with the Daily Mail, the News of the World and others) of UK publications to which the Douglases refused to send a copy even of the one photograph of their wedding which they released "as a courtesy" free of charge to the news media.

Michael Douglas told James Price, QC for Hello! - which is being sued for 500,000 by the couple and for 1.75m by its rival OK! - that they were all papers that had published fictitious stories, nasty stories or abusive stories about the couple.

Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones' limo arrives at court
Their blacked-out limo arrives at court
If newspapers or magazines publish something highly offensive, we don't have to play ball with them, the star said.

Privacy is at the heart of this case, and the couple preserved what privacy they could even in the circumstances of a public trial.

They arrived in a car with smoked glass windows, driven straight past the waiting cameramen and a handful of policemen, through the judges' entrance to the High Court, which is not normally available to members of the public.

Pregnant

Once inside Catherine Zeta Jones took the stand, heavily and visibly pregnant in a black trouser suit with loose black sleeveless blouse beneath, and high-heeled, pointy shoes.

She wore understated but expensive-looking jewellery with her hair down, clasped at the neck and falling over her left shoulder.

She spoke near-perfect American, though occasionally her native Welsh accent showed through - especially (as one Welsh reporter observed) when she used the word "devastated" to describe her feelings at seeing unauthorised photographs of her wedding smuggled out of the reception and published in Hello!

From time to time as Mr Price cross-examined her she seemed uncomfortable.

I don't like my husband shoving a spoon down my throat... it looks as if I did nothing at my wedding except eat

Catherine Zeta Jones
He was anxious to discover what it was about the unauthorised photographs that she objected to: he asked her repeatedly what was confidential or offensive about them.

In one photograph, she said, her father had been relegated to nothing but an arm.

"No woman would want a picture like that of her special day," she said.

To laughter, she objected to another photograph of her eating.

"I don't like my husband shoving a spoon down my throat," she said. "It looks as if I did nothing at my wedding except eat."

Lost humour

She was asked about the headline in the Sun when it published that same photograph, "Catherine Eater Jones".

Could she not treat it as just a bit of fun?, she was asked. By that stage, she said, she had lost her sense of humour.

When Mr Price asked her to compare the Hello photograph of her eating cake with an authorised photograph of her husband eating, and explain why one was acceptable and the other not, she said they were very different: "One is legitimate and one was stolen."

But she was forced to withdraw one complaint - about a photograph in Hello which showed a bed like that in which the couple planned to spend their first night as husband and wife - after Mr Price showed her a similar (authorised) photograph in OK.

Then it was Michael Douglas's turn. In a dark single-breasted suit he cut a commanding figure in the dock.

Michael Douglas
Douglas' voice wavered at times
To begin with his voice sometimes shook with anger or emotion, but it was strong and clear, in contrast to the very English tones, quiet and understated, of the judge, Mr Justice Lindsay and the two leading barristers.

Michael Douglas explained why the couple had chosen to do an exclusive deal with OK. They felt it was the best way to deal with a difficult situation, preserving their privacy but also acknowledging their fans' interest.

Celebrity experience

He said even he, with a lifetime's experience of celebrity - his father is Hollywood veteran Kirk Douglas - had been taken aback by the scale of interest in a wedding in which an actor married an actress.

Mr Price suggested that protecting their privacy was not what the couple had in mind when they signed their contract with OK. Instead, he said, they were keen to exercise control and make money.

Not true, said Michael Douglas: "Control is what gives you privacy".

It was a line he repeated later.

Privacy is the issue at the heart of this case. It should decide once and for all whether English law does or does not recognise a right to privacy.

But it's already clear that Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones believed (rightly or wrongly) that the only way they could safeguard their privacy, and keep the paparazzi at bay, was through a deal of the sort they did with OK!

Then after five hours in the Gothic surroundings of the High Court it was over. The stars were escorted back to their limousine and back past the waiting camera crews. Normality returned to the street outside. And the stardust vanished.


Talking PointTALKING POINT
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See also:

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