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Jill Williams, Zeta Jones's friend
"She's obviously very happy now. She's very much in love"
 real 56k

Friday, 17 November, 2000, 16:17 GMT
Zeta Jones: Chorus girl to Hollywood player

Not since the wedding of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor has a Welsh star had such a glamorous Hollywood marriage.

As Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas make their golden couple status official in New York's prestigious Plaza hotel, the wedding has generated considerable interest in the bride's native land, more than 3,000 miles away.

Her home city of Swansea began the party early, with champagne cracked open at the city council offices and a wedding gift sent by special delivery to New York.

In keeping with a Welsh wedding tradition, staff at Swansea Register Office sent the happy couple a specially-carved love spoon.

Traditional love symbol

The wooden spoons, given to lovers and newly-weds, contain symbols indicating good wishes for the future.

The one sent to New York showed a heart to represent love, a bell to signify the wedding, and a two-linked chain showed the joining of two lives.

"It's going to be a lovely day for Swansea and I am sure many people will join us in wishing the happy couple all the very best," said superintendent registrar, Tony Hobbs.

The glamorous wedding also provided a boost for an Aberystwyth jeweller, who has supplied the Weldh gold wedding ring.

Zeta Jones hug
Warm welcome: Zeta Jones is greeted on a visit to her hometown
The Swansea-born actress's marriage to the 56-year-old big screen veteran not only cements her status among Hollywood's A-list.

It also takes on added significance due to her well-publicised series of previous failed romances.

It also bears testimony to the unstinting determination and ambition of a girl who simply refused to be written off.

The path she took from after-school dance classes in industrial south Wales to the Hollywood centre of attention could hardly be described as an easy one.

Having fought her way through the ranks of provincial theatre and the West End stage, she has gained respect for her tenacity and feisty nature.

Her first professional stage role came at the age of 11 when she was invited to join the cast of Annie just 12 months after winning a local talent contest in Swansea.

Catherine Zeta Jones
Catherine Zeta Jones: now one of Hollywood's hottest properties
From that time on, schoolwork was punctuated with dance and singing classes until the age of 16 when - just weeks before she was due to sit her O-levels - she was offered a part in a touring play.

Her headteacher Aled Thomas is reported to have authorised her absence with the prophecy: "Go! You're going to be a star not a professor."

For the first time, Jones left her two younger brothers and the security of a happy family life in the upmarket Mayals area of Swansea where her father Dai was a successful confectionary wholesaler.

"I really wanted to be an actress for as long as I can remember," she said.

"I knew what I wanted to do and even as a teenager, I never had any other job."

Lucky break

It was while anonymously tap-dancing away in the chorus of 42nd Street in Drury Lane's Theatre Royal that her exotic name first hit the headlines.

With the leading lady on holiday and the first understudy nursing a leg injury, in true rags-to-riches style Jones was plucked from the chorus and put in the limelight.

Then after enrolling at drama school she was spotted by the producers of Les 1001 Nuits - an erotic French movie set in the Sahara desert in which she was cast as a slave girl.

Hardly the stuff of Oscar ceremonies, but it was enough to get her noticed.

Zeta Jones in the Mask of Zorro
Zeta Jones starred in the Mask of Zorro
Soon after, she was cast in television's highly-successful TV series Darling Buds of May. Her dark, gypsy-style beauty was ideally suited for the role as the David Jason character's attractive daughter Mariette Larkin.

Zeta Jones, now 31, had become a household name. But, as she was about to discover, it came at a price.

Along with a string of abortive engagements, she was to embark on a long line of luke-warm films such as Blue Juice and Catherine the Great.

Engaged to former Blue Peter presenter John Leslie, she spoke frequently about a burning desire to become his wife only to be humiliated when he walked out because she wanted to have a family.
Zeta Jones visits a special care baby unit in Swansea
Zeta Jones visits a special care baby unit in Swansea

That was only the start. There followed a failed relationships with Braveheart actor Angus McFadyen, Paul McGann, David Essex and Simply Red's Mick Hucknell.

Eluded by love and by the British film industry, in 1996 she tried her luck in America.

"It (the media attention) became detrimental to my career," she later said. "I was known more for being in the newspapers that for my work.

"At that point I realised I needed time out so I got on a plane and went to LA."

For a while, she appeared to have sunk without trace, but she had embarked on some deft networking.

When she attended star-studded parties in Bel Air, the Los Angeles paparazzi did not give her so much as a second glance, but Jones was determined not to escape the attentions of those capable of throwing her a lifeline.

The efforts paid off when she landed a role in a mini-series entitled Titanic.

She was spotted on television by Stephen Spielberg, who recommended her for a lead role in film The Mask of Zorro.

With Jones cast alongside fellow Welshman Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas, the movie became a Hollywood blockbuster.

And for Jones, it not only transformed the fortunes of a struggling career but also put an end to the insecurities of single life.

"I saw her in Zorro but didn't know anything about her and I was 'Wow! Who is this?'," Michael Douglas recently told a women's magazine.

A casual meeting at a cocktail bar led to one of Hollywood's most talked about unions.

"Catherine's an exceptional lady - beautiful and sexy too," said Mr Douglas, shortly after the birth of their son Dylan.

"But she's also exceedingly talented and very grounded. She is able, in a way that's unique for her age, to separate all the newspaper stuff from her private life."

As Hollywood's great and good raise a toast to her happiness on Saturday, Jones should feel it possible to consign the treatment she has received from British critics well and truly to the past.

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