Profile: Emma Watson - Under her spell

YOU wouldn't catch Hermione Granger jettisoning her studies to become the "face" of a French cosmetics company. But it seems the Hogwarts brainbox's flowing locks were not the only feature of her alter ego actress Emma Watson was determined to shed when filming the final Harry Potter film ended last year.

Watson - who has spent more than half of her life playing Hermione - once claimed her personality was fused with her character's to such an extent that in the latter films she hardly felt she was acting. Like Hermione, Watson was bookish and focused, gaining three A-grade A-levels despite having missed out on a great deal of schooling while filming.

When she left the UK to study at an Ivy League university in the US she insisted she wanted to be allowed to live a normal student life. Yet for all her apparent ambivalence about fame, she has quite self-consciously set about turning herself into a fashion icon. By the time she was 18, she was already a regular on the London party scene, courting the paparazzi even as she complained about them. But ever since she had her hair cropped, she has indulged in an orgy of self-promotion that would make Simon Cowell blush.

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Having put her studies at Brown University on Rhode Island on hold, she has been photographed on a succession of red carpets and graced the cover of Marie Claire and Vogue. In the last few weeks alone we have seen Watson in a white Hakaan dress (The Elle style awards); in a lacy Valentino dress (the Baftas), and in a Burberry trench coat (leaving the Mahiki nightclub in London.)

Last week she had another career boost and managed to wring as much publicity out of it as possible. For three days she had been tweeting teasers before revealing all in a final riddle: "It starts with an L and ends with an E, I'm sure you have guessed, the new face of Lancome is ME!" The revelation signalled another round of photographs - including Watson in lace shorts and a man's jacket - as a new ad was shot in Paris. "Thanks to her charm, romanticism and her incredible modernity, Emma Watson has become the icon of her generation," Lancome's president Youcef Nabi said.

That's some accolade for someone who's not quite 21. But then Watson is not your average young woman. Not only have her films netted her 19 million (she was the highest earning woman in Hollywood in 2009), she has also carved herself a career in the fashion industry, designing eco-friendly clothes for Fair Trade company People Tree and a capsule collection, Pure Threads, with Alberta Ferretti. At Brown University she may have shared a dorm, but she was mingling with the likes of Demi Moore's daughter Scout Willis, while in the UK she owns a 3m mansion in north London.

Yet her success has not always made her popular.In November, the Ivy League blog Ivygate wrote an open letter mocking her pleas for anonymity. "We feel for this lost soul, awash in misery and Burberry, so desperate to lead that magical life where you have to hold your own umbrella and wash your beer-stained pants with Woolite in a dingy dorm bathroom," it said. Advising her how to fit in better, it went on: "If you want to be a normal college student, stop dating Spanish rock stars and wearing your hair like Mia Farrow from Rosemary's Baby."

When Watson auditioned for The Philosopher's Stone at the age of nine, she could not have imagined the way the films would come to dominate her life. Although she had no professional acting experience, she felt she was destined to play Hermione because they had so much in common. "I was very keen. I was super-eager to please and be good. And I was always kind of bossy," she said.

Like Hermione, Watson was born into a successful middle-class family. Her parents, lawyers Chris Watson and Jaqueline Luesby, moved home to England from France when she was five, but split up soon afterwards. She and her younger brother lived with their mother in Oxfordshire, visiting their father at weekends. Yet her dad seems to have exerted a greater influence on her career. It was he who urged her to think carefully before signing up to the last three Harry Potter films (a move which led the studio to up her fee).

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In the early days, Watson seemed quite happy to live up to her geek image, telling how her exhaustive knowledge of the Harry Potter books led other cast members to ask her for advice. As she blossomed into a beautiful young woman, however, she found herself the focus of a different kind of attention. Her explosion on to the London scene fuelled speculation about her love life, with gossip columnists linking her to Daniel Radcliffe, although she has always said dating her co-stars would feel "incestuous".

So frenzied have reports been that it's difficult to tell fact from fiction. But boyfriends have included financier Jay Barrymore; frontman of indie band One Night Only, George Craig; and the aforementioned Spanish rocker Rafael Cebrian. Unfortunately, her high profile has also led to her being stalked on several occasions, with the police called in to warn off one male fan who approached her at open lectures at her school.

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For a while, Watson - who was the voice of Princess Pea in The Tale Of Despereaux - seemed insecure about her abilities and unsure if she wanted to continue acting. Having signed up for a drama class in the US, she declared herself the worst actress there. But recent projects including roles in the films The Perks Of Being A Wallflower and My Week With Marilyn suggest her confidence has returned. Her modelling career, which took off when she was the face of Burberry, has also been helped by her flourishing relationship with Mario Testino who has been photographing her in Paris.

She's clearly on a roll.Yet, with The Deathly Hallows Part 2 due out in the summer, it will be a while before she can escape Hermione's clutches completely. Perhaps that's why those who know her best are warning her not to get too complacent about her success. As her father said when he first saw her with short hair: "Don't get carried away. You're not Audrey Hepburn yet."