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By Monday, the Venice gondoliers were getting irritated after George Clooney had swept up the Grand Canal, waving at onlookers and chased by waterborne paparazzi not once, but four times. The unbeatable photo-ops of Clooney and his new bride, Lebanese-British lawyer Amal Alamuddin, were served up to an army of paparazzi on a daily basis from Friday to Monday, when the couple finally jetted off as man and wife.
By that time, town hall officials were reeling. “We had a Bollywood wedding here that went on for a week, but this was George Clooney and the Indians didn’t take over the Grand Canal,” one said. For the massed ranks of photographers perched precariously on wooden jetties, the climax came on Sunday when the couple emerged after swapping vows the night before at a party in a 16th-century palazzo attended by Matt Damon, Bono and Cindy Crawford.
Clooney, 53, smiled and waved as the launch left, but his new bride stole the show in a made-to-measure thigh-flashing dress by Giambattista Valli, the designer who has knocked out red-carpet outfits for Penélope Cruz, Natalie Portman and Halle Berry, not to mention the pink robe that Jessica Biel wore to her wedding to Justin Timberlake in 2012.
Throughout the weekend, Alamuddin, 36, whizzed through a series of outfits — at a conservative estimate they would have cost £16,000 — including dresses by Dolce & Gabbana, Stella McCartney and, on the eve of the wedding party, a made-to-order “Red Waterfall” pattern dress by Alexander McQueen that used a similar or identical pattern to a dress worn by Michelle Obama.
If there had been any doubt, that nailed it for the Italian press, which had automatically assumed from the outset that Clooney’s Venice wedding was nothing but a poorly disguised launchpad for his pending career in politics. While foreign journalists talked shoes, white roses and romance, almost every Italian article kicked off with reference to Clooney’s “imminent switch to politics”.
Call it cynicism, call it the Italian obsession with seeing hidden meanings behind every gesture, but such assumptions in Italy have often been proved correct. Ever since the word paparazzi was invented to describe the photographers snapping stars on Rome’s Via Veneto in the 1960s, Italians have excelled in understanding sex, egos and power as well as knowing how angry demands for privacy by celebrities often go hand in hand with shameless publicity seeking.
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Why else did Clooney erect tents outside his party venues in Venice to keep out prying eyes before repeatedly parading down the Grand Canal as if he was on a red carpet? (Pictures are rumoured to be destined for American Vogue in return for a fee to charity.) The view from Italy was quite simple. His chin is sagging, so it’s time for Clooney to give up on what they jokingly called “yoghurt” girlfriends — meaning each one had a fixed sell-by date — and get married in a spectacular fashion before going into politics.
And what better running mate than Amal Alamuddin? After first meeting her, Clooney reportedly emailed the human rights lawyer to say: “I think the reported hottest man in the world should meet with the hottest human rights lawyer in the world.” Hotness apart, the two are more importantly the world’s ultimate liberal power couple, given her defence of clients such as Julian Assange and his work in Darfur. Clooney has long been one of the few Hollywood hunks that liberal-minded women allow themselves to openly drool over and it is fitting that he met his bride at a charity event rather than at a polo match or a premiere.
So what’s next? Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger made smooth moves from acting to politics by becoming governors of California and Clooney is already a hard-working fundraiser for Barack Obama, giving rise to rumours that the Democrats might push him to stand for office. The subject may have even come up when Clooney took Alamuddin to meet the Obamas at the White House in February. So far Clooney has insisted that he hates the straitjacket of politics and prefers activism, claiming in an interview, “I talk in Congress about Sudan. I have rebel leaders on my cellphone. I can go to the UN and not worry about who I am pissing off.”
Barbie Latza Nadeau, the Rome bureau chief of the Daily Beast, who has covered Italy as well as American politics, ruled out a political career for Clooney. “He knows he is more useful outside congress using his star power to shine a light on causes which are important to him personally. Politics and celebrity don’t mix easily in the US — you cannot make Clooney a Kennedy overnight.”
Clooney’s aunt, Starla Clooney, however, begged to differ in a recent interview. “George will run for office now, especially after his marriage to Amal, as that will open so many doors for him. At least around here,” she said. If Clooney does try to enter politics, he will be following in the footsteps of his father Nick, a TV anchorman who fought unsuccessfully to enter Congress as a Democrat in 2004.
Seeing the four-day Venice spectacular as a mere pretext for politicking, the local papers took on the sniffy tone of someone who thinks they are having their leg pulled. “We are even spinning myths around the risotto they ate, as if the recipe for scampi and lemon was an affair of state,” wrote Venice paper Il Gazzettino on Monday. The Italians also objected to Clooney’s exchange of vows at his party on Saturday, calling it a “fake” wedding ahead of the real nuptials on Monday when the couple signed the right bits of paper to make it legal in Italian law at the town hall.
Further souring the occasion on Monday, local council workers protesting against pay cuts reportedly booed the Clooneys as they hopped off their launch for the brief ceremony. However, some Clooney watchers had a different view of the wedding, pointing out that the actor loves Venice and more importantly that he loves a shamelessly old-fashioned show. And that was exactly what he conjured up this weekend, they said, rather than a political warm-up campaign.
By sending his guests over to Harry’s Bar in Venice, Clooney helped pump some prestige back into a fabled establishment that spends a lot of time these days selling 16.50 euro Bellinis to Japanese tourists. After years of hosting thousands of cruise ship passengers who gawk and buy a Chinese carnival mask during their few hours spent in the city, Venice urgently needed a few high-rollers.
In short, Clooney lived the weekend like a vintage Hollywood star, and a “simpatico” one too, sending out a bottle of his own-brand tequila to photographers waiting outside his hotel and managing to throw the most civilised of bachelor parties where he drank Sassicaia, an upmarket Italian red, and ate white truffle pasta and mushroom risotto. Why did his faithful motor launch driver dress in a dinner jacket on the night of the wedding party? Because Clooney reportedly invited him to the wedding.
That police escort he received as he zipped up and down the Grand Canal? All paid for by Clooney himself. And by Monday, as the couple flew out on a private jet, even the head of the protesting council workers was won over. “When Clooney showed up at the town hall we delivered a letter to him discussing the cuts and he raised his hand to salute us, seemingly in solidarity,” said Luca Lombardo. “At the end of the day, I think he’s a nice guy.”
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