Anna Burnside: Educated guess at star-attraction

Benedict Cumberbatch is engaged to theatre director Sophie Hunter. Picture: Getty
Benedict Cumberbatch is engaged to theatre director Sophie Hunter. Picture: Getty
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‘Benedict Cumberbatch engaged” is not, let’s face it, the headline that many single women want to read. The ferociously intelligent, seal-faced star of BBC’s Sherlock, a man who can work both a double-breasted, full-skirted coat and a “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirt, is exactly what many female doctors (and academics, lawyers and journalists) would order. If only they got the chance.

But beyond the vale of tears, there is much to commend darling Ben(as the rest of us will now never get to call him)’s choice of life partner. Sophie Hunter, 36, is an Oxford graduate, actress, singer (in French) and award-winning theatre and opera director. The couple met while making indie thriller Burlesque Fairytales in 2009; a scene where they flirt over a letter has been torturing the self-styled Cumberbitches of social media since the news broke. (“Cumberbitch” is a term he refuses to use himself.)

Painful as it may be for some of us to observe, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Cumberbatch (as the rest of us will regretfully continue to know him) has won a watch. As well as having a stellar CV, Hunter is a natural beauty. To eyes jaded by the profusion of starlets with steroid cleavages, half-sleeve tattoos and hair of many colours, she could seem underwhelming. This is hugely to her credit: she has the raw material to be a lads’ mag babe but prefers not to bother. In one of the few published pictures of the couple together, taken at the French Open, she is wearing little visible make-up and a blouse. They look like normal (if genetically gifted) people, living in a world where Big Brother, Closer magazine and TOWIE never happened.


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Excellent work fella: you have followed your heart and your intellect, politely declining many tempting offers from the more obvious end of the female spectrum to find someone who is not only your professional equal but is even half Scottish. Your future mother-in-law lives in Stockbridge. Gold star for good taste.

Dare we see this as a trend? Could it be possible that Cumberbatch is not alone and that desirable, intelligent men have finally woken up to the fact there is more to life than shagging showgirls? The Hunter-Cumberbatch engagement follows the Venetian nuptials of George Clooney. He enjoyed a democratic romantic career spanning the now Mrs Travolta: Kelly Preston; law student Celine Balitran; radio presenter and face of Belvita biscuits Lisa Snowden; cocktail waitress Sarah Larson; and Italian TV presenter Elisabetta Canalis; before proposing to a high-powered British human rights lawyer, Amal Alamuddin.

Brad Pitt fell in love with Angelina Jolie while married to Jennifer Aniston. The latter is a sitcom- romcom actress whose main preoccupation appears to be her own body weight. The former has an Oscar, is a UN special envoy, campaigns for refugees and against sexual violence, donating serious amounts of her own money and time to these causes.

So far, so good. But it takes more than a photo opportunity with William Hague to snag a movie star. Every one of these smart dames is also world-beatingly gorgeous, even when attending tennis tournaments in civvies. For those of us not blessed with dangerous cheekbones and glossy hair, this could be discouraging. Those whose glass is always half empty might complain that, as well as having luminescent skin and a BMI of under 20, women are now expected to have a PhD too. It’s just more pressure.

That is defeatist talk. Attractive people attract other attractive people. The clue is in the adjective. Clooney covered all the bases while exploring the sexual pick’n’mix counter open to the rich, famous and good looking, but all his girlfriends were red-carpet hot. The difference is that the one he can see himself spending his life with is multilingual barrister Alamuddin. Who, we can only hope, reminds him regularly how lucky he is to have her.

Our world is full of stunning, successful, highly educated young women who have been taught by our toxic culture that the only way they can sustain a romantic relationship is to simper becomingly when asked what the letters after their name stand for.

We need more lovely men like Cumberbatch, in their feminist T-shirts, for them to marry.


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