There was a time, not very long ago, when the phrase “power couple” denoted little more than two romantically involved people you might just know the names of.
Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley were called a power couple. Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow were called a power couple. David and Victoria Beckham still are a power couple.
Then George and Amal Clooney came along, and suddenly it feels as if we’ve all been misusing the term.
Four and a half years after they emerged from Venice’s City Hall as husband and wife, Amal and George – she a celebrated international human rights barrister; he an actor, diplomatic flirt and longtime Nespresso special – have redefined what it means to have star power.
Is there a door they cannot unlock? You might have seen them at the royal wedding last year. Maybe you noticed tabloid claims they flew the Duchess of Sussex home from her own baby shower in New York by private jet.
Or perhaps you saw them blessing the Pope in January, hobnobbing with Barack Obama, advising Angela Merkel and David Miliband on the refugee crisis or, on Friday, signing autographs for Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh.
Everywhere they go, crowds arrive and world leaders fawn. Earlier last week, the Clooneys attended a reception at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the work of the Prince’s Trust Group, where Prince Charles had patiently waited in a reception line to meet them.
Just a few days later, the youth charity announced it was launching a global prize, The Amal Clooney Award, to highlight the work of young women who have succeeded against the odds to make a difference in their communities.
It is undeniably impressive that one couple – one outrageously good-looking, intelligent and charming couple – should have journeyed to the centre of everything, marrying Hollywood charm and lawyerly clout to become de facto transatlantic royalty, ambassadors for the celebrity class and some of the most effective human rights campaigners in the world.
It’s especially impressive when you consider they have done so while maintaining their original, full-time careers. (All right, one of them has – three of George’s last four acting credits have been coffee adverts.) But how exactly has it happened?
In George’s case, it doesn’t seem wildly off-course. The son of Nina, a beauty queen and city councilwoman, and Nick Clooney, a television news anchor, he drove to Los Angeles in an old car in 1982 with $300 earned working in the tobacco fields near his home in Kentucky, and never looked back. Acting roles were hard-fought and not always successful but a role as Lothario doctor Doug Ross in medical soap ER was enough to awake the world to Clooney’s charms.
It was then, around the pilot episode of ER in 1994, when he first used his renown to drive a good cause home, producing an anti-child abuse public service announcement for a series called The More You Know that chimed with a storyline in the programme.
Perhaps being a television doctor helped, but it was the start of something: as well as being hyper-aware of his own popularity and status as a sex symbol, he began morphing into an actor-activist. Bizarrely, his first major battle came in 1997 – long before he’d won Oscars for supporting actor in Syriana or as a producer of Argo – when he made an unexpected and passionate speech after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
“Princess Di is dead, and who should we see about that? The driver of the car? The paparazzi? Or the magazines and papers who purchased these pictures and make bounty hunters out of photographers?” he told reporters in Los Angeles. He had never met Diana. “If you weren’t hiding behind the profession of journalism, you would be an accomplice to a crime, and you would go to jail.”
Quite why he did that remains unclear, but a dozen years later Clooney interrupted his usual public good nature again, defending the Duchess of Sussex last month. “She is being pursued and vilified and chased in the same way that Diana was, and it’s history repeating itself,” he said. “And we’ve seen how that ends.”
While his film career went from strength to strength, Clooney’s most likeable performance has always been as himself. It’s for this reason he makes such an effective champion for causes, be they political or humanitarian. Throughout the noughties he advocated for a peaceful resolution to the Darfur conflict in Sudan, including speaking to the UN Security Council. He was a firm friend of Barack Obama, and campaigned for Hillary Clinton, whose husband stated he’d like Clooney to play him in a film one day.
Despite many, many girlfriends and one distant ex-wife, however, there was never a Mrs Clooney to share the passion with. “I thought if you had a successful career that you weren’t really going to be able to have one great love in your life,” he once said. “And then Amal walked in.”
Amal Alamuddin wasn’t exactly world-famous before she met George Clooney – they were introduced by “a mutual friend” in Lake Como around 2013 and he “chased her for many months” – but she was certainly successful.
The fact that they are both ridiculously good-looking certainly doesn’t hurt.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon, she grew up in Buckinghamshire with her sister Tala (now a fashion designer) and two brothers, and studied law at Oxford, before completing a master’s in New York. Over the years she has worked at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, served as adviser to Special Envoy Kofi Annan on Syria and represented Enron, Julian Assange, Abdullah al-Senussi, the former Libyan intelligence chief, and helped in the Greek government’s attempts to regain the Elgin Marbles.
“I am marrying up,” George said, quite correctly, in 2014, the year he proposed over a home-cooked meal. He was also marrying 2013’s “hottest barrister in London”, according to the blog Your Barrister Boyfriend.
“Amal Alamuddin may make some feel inadequate because she has achieved the seemingly unattainable ideal of contemporary femininity: She is both breathtakingly beautiful and formidably successful,” the blog read.(That accolade was supposedly brought up by her friend since law school, Jae Kim, in a speech at the wedding. Famous friends, including Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, were in attendance.)
If George used to be an actor-activist, marriage has made him an actor-statesman. Or actor-consort, perhaps. The couple have a 17-year age gap – she is 41 and he is 57 – but work in step, co-founding The Clooney Foundation for Justice in 2016 in order to “advance justice in courtrooms, classrooms and communities” and travelling the world discussing humanitarian issues with world leaders.
It’s easy to say Amal brings the expertise and George brings the publicity, but after Amal became a style icon, a mother of their twins in 2017 and still managed to be named UN Global Citizen of the Year by the United Nations Correspondents Association last year, these days the star power is about equal.
Among it all, nobody is entirely sure how Amal met the Duchess of Sussex. A chance encounter in Berkshire, where the Clooneys have a home and to where the duke and duchess are moving? A support group for beautiful women marrying men far more famous but perhaps far less intelligent than them?
The Clooneys were guests at the royal wedding last year, though no-one really knows how Amal became friends with Meghan.
Or perhaps via Princess Eugenie’s husband, Jack Brooksbank, who was appointed UK brand ambassador for Casamigos, a tequila company co-founded by George Clooney and Rande Gerber, Cindy Crawford’s husband. (They sold it to Diageo for US$1 billion in 2017).
Still, it feels only right the two most famous couples in the world are in touch, consolidating their heft for good. It also pays to be Clooney’s friend: according to Gerber, he once gave a million dollars to 14 of his best mates and paid their taxes for a year.
So what next for the Clooneys? Many have wondered if George might consider a political career. In 2004 his father ran for Congress, without success, as a Democrat, and since Donald Trump came to power, the prospect of President Clooney appeals.
“Trump, for all his terrible instincts, is very charismatic. A TV star,” George said last year. “People didn’t vote for him because he accomplished anything. They knew him. And they were, like, he’s excitin