Newsmaker: Amal Alamuddin

The Beirut-born legal high-flyer, who was previously named London’s ‘hottest female barrister’, this week got engaged to the world’s most eligible bachelor, the Hollywood heart-throb George Clooney. Is it the perfect union, Kevin Hackett asks?
Kagan McLeod for The National
Kagan McLeod for The National

It’s a practical impossibility to describe George Clooney without resorting to clichés that have worn so thin that they’re invisible. Heart-throb, matinée screen idol, world’s most eligible bachelor – every time that someone refers to him, these are the phrases that surface with the regularity of a whale coming up for air. Only the third one mentioned, something that we’ve had to come to accept, will soon be a thing of the past, because he is now betrothed to one Amal Alamuddin – a fact that has caused an outpouring of grief from millions of women all over the planet who, while Clooney was single, felt that no matter how unlikely, they had a chance to be “the one”. After all, nothing’s impossible, right?

It’s easy to see why. Women want to be with him, men just want to be him – a man who fell headfirst into the gene pool and came out as not only one of the most handsome men ever to grace the earth but also one of its most genuinely nice characters. And now he’s taken, officially, and he’s chosen to spend the rest of his days with a woman who has suddenly discovered what life is like on the wrong side of a lens. No matter what happens from this point on, life for this woman will never be the same again.

That Alamuddin is no airhead bimbo model/actress/whatever makes her all the more fascinating. Clooney has had his fair share of girlfriends over the years, many of whom fit the stereotype normally attached to Hollywood’s most appealing leading men. But nobody could level the same accusation at the woman that he’s chosen to spend “forever” with. She’s different. She’s smart, intelligent and influential, and she’s far removed from the machine that drives box office success. Which, when we start to think about it, makes her possibly the best fit if a permanent union really is on the cards.

The woman who succeeded to capture the heart of a man who claimed he’d never again get married (he has actually been down the aisle once before, to the actress Talia Balsam, in 1989, and the marriage ended after a few years. Clooney has since been quoted as saying he “wasn’t very good at it”), is a Lebanese-born Brit, who happens to be a high-profile human-rights lawyer with a resume that cannot fail to impress for someone so young. She was described on the website as a “rookie barrister”, but if you delve into her work history you’ll see that this is a far from an inexperienced professional – and Clooney, who is a tireless worker for human rights, seems to have found his perfect intellectual and humanitarian match.

Since 2010, she has worked for Doughty Street, a renowned law firm in London that specialises in human-rights cases and, if you fancy getting in touch with Alamuddin to congratulate her for bagging the hot property that is Clooney, her email address is listed on Doughty Street’s website (which is reported to crash after every picture that emerges on the internet of the couple). But Clooney isn’t exactly the only hot one of the couple. The Tumblr account, Your Barrister Boyfriend, after coming in for some flak over a previously published list of the “sexiest male barristers” operating in the UK, redressed the balance in August last year with its list of 21 “hottie women barristers”. And, topping the list, was none other than Amal Alamuddin – before she became known as the barrister most women wanted to put behind bars.

Alamuddin was born in Beirut, but her family fled to the UK when she was just two years old in 1980. By all accounts, money was not an issue for the Alamuddins and she got the best education. After leaving school, she studied at St Hugh’s College at Oxford University before going to the New York University School of Law. After she graduated from there in 2000, she passed the New York Bar in 2002 (also being granted an award, coincidentally, for excellence in entertainment law) and the Bar of England and Wales (Inner Temple) in 2012. Fluent in English, French and Arabic, it was perhaps inevitable that she would end up involved in the Middle East’s tumultuous political and legal ­affairs.

She now specialises in international law, human rights, extradition and criminal law, and made a name for herself when she represented the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in his battle against extradition to Sweden. Apart from her work on behalf of clients who might otherwise have their human rights abused, she also advises governments on international law, operating as an adviser on Syria to Kofi Annan, the UN Envoy, and she’s Counsel to the Inquiry into the use of drones in counter terrorism operations.

As if that were not enough, Alamuddin also assisted the presiding judge, Judge Patrick Robinson, on trial of Slobodan Milosevic, and she’s a legal adviser to the king of Bahrain.

According to the profile on her employer’s website, she also serves as “Member of Expert Panel of Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative formed by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague to gather evidence of sexual crimes committed in conflict zones” and is “Rapporteur for the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, focusing on the independence of the judiciary in Egypt following the 2011 revolution”.

The Doughty Street website goes on to say that “Amal regularly devises and delivers training to judges, state officials and UN investigators on international criminal law and human rights. She has also conducted training for police forces in the Gulf region”. And, according to The Daily Telegraph, Alamuddin has “contributed to many books on international criminal law, co-edited The Law and Practice of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and lectured at SOAS, The New School in New York, The Hague Academy of International Law and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.”

Many men would run for the hills instead of trying to chat up such a formidable woman, but not George Clooney. In Alamuddin, he immediately found common ground, for he has been interested in human rights for some time, actually rolling up his sleeves and getting involved in all manner of struggles, founding the Not On Our Watch project to prevent and stop atrocities such as the genocide in Darfur, and he organised the Hope for Haiti Now telethon for the 2010 earthquake victims – this interest in human affairs being just one of the many things that we all seem to adore him for. His catalogue of films, too, shows a deep intellect and a wish to tell stories that would otherwise go unnoticed. For every Batman and Robin, episode of ER or Ocean’s Eleven, there’s a Michael Clayton, Good Night, and Good Luck, The Ides of March or The Monuments Men – he’s used his star power and huge personal wealth to finance and star in films that appeal to him as a person, as well as those that appeal to the masses. So neither of them, then, is just a pretty face.

Clooney and Alamuddin reportedly met last year when working together on a human rights project related to Syria, and were first spotted in public when they dined at the Berners Tavern in London in October. Once they climbed into a taxi together, snapped by the paparazzi, the rumour mill got into full swing, but Clooney brushed aside all the speculation, telling People magazine “it’s all made up”. But when, on February 18 this year, he took her to the White House as his date for a private screening of his latest film, The Monuments Men, it was obvious to all that they were an item.

According to New York’s Daily News, it must be true love, as Alamuddin has even deleted her Twitter account which, until last year, had about 1,500 followers. Clooney’s stance on the issue of social media is crystal clear. “I don’t understand why any famous person would ever be on Twitter,” he told Esquire last November. “Because first of all, the worst thing you can do is make yourself more available, right? Because you’re going to be available to everybody.” And, as the graveyard of high-profile Hollywood romances becomes ever fuller, it’s obvious to all that the best thing that this couple could possibly do is to keep their private life just that – private.

Clooney has found someone on his level, that much is clear, but the Daily News makes another observation that many may find perverse: “In fact,” it says, “her peers in the London legal circuit are more shocked that Alamuddin settled for Clooney than they are that the actor has finally decided to settle down.”

They just might make this thing work, after all.

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Published: May 1, 2014 04:00 AM


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