From girl next door to Hollywood starlet: the stunning transformation of Keira Knightley

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The Independent Culture

When Kiera Knightley emerged into the public consciousness as the co-star of Bend It Like Beckham, her appeal was that she was what the Americans like to call an "around the way girl", albeit a remarkably beautiful one.

When Kiera Knightley emerged into the public consciousness as the co-star of Bend It Like Beckham, her appeal was that she was what the Americans like to call an "around the way girl", albeit a remarkably beautiful one.

If you live around her way in London you might even get to see this most grounded of young actors sitting on a bus (she was spotted crossing the capital on a number 83).

But make no mistake, Knightley is a Hollywood star. The cover girl in Vanity Fair magazine, profiled in Time and the subject of flashgun frenzy from photographers lined up in Leicester Square on Thursday night for the London premiere of King Arthur, in which she plays Queen Guinevere.

The 19-year-old is considered by tabloid editors to be front-page material - and not because she has taken off her clothes - her face can be seen on countless hoardings, while magazines from around the world are clamouring for rights to her photo shoots.

This has all happened so remarkably quickly that you would have to say that her publicist deserves a medal. Except - astonishingly for an actor of her stature - Ms Knightley does not have a publicist. This is a teenager who not only still lives with her parents but who turns up to photo-shoots with her mother.

But Knightley (the daughter of Will Knightley, an actor, and Sharman Macdonald, a playwright) is also an industry-savvy and intelligent young woman who sits down and plans her media strategy herself.

Anthony Noguera, editor of Arena magazine, which featured Knightley as a cover star last month, was impressed by her lack of pretension. "Kiera is really interested in the business side of the industry. Whereas most people her age could not give a monkey's, she looks at the box office returns and reads the trade papers," he said, describing Knightley as "professional and easy to deal with".

"She is 19 and you don't see any pictures of her falling out of cabs, smashed out of her face. She doesn't turn up to premieres wearing a belt instead of a dress," he said.

"She has got the press on her side - you don't read any negative stuff about her at all, like the way they put the boot into Victoria Beckham."

Knightley's agent, Lindy King, of Peters Fraser & Dunlop, said the key to the actor's media strategy was that the publicity should be related to the work and not "the tail wagging the dog".

"There's a great difference between someone doing publicity and publicising their work and somebody who wants to publicise themselves," she said.

Knightley elects to talk to publications that want to talk about her acting (she is currently in rehearsal for the film production of Pride and Prejudice) and rejected a host of offers from lads' magazines in favour of Arena, which Ms King described as a "style magazine". Ms King, whose own strategy for developing the teenager's career has been informed by her work with other British actors such as Ewan McGregor and Dougray Scott, said: "Once you get too many people involved you get decisions made by committee. The fewer people involved the better, because people have different agendas."

The "Knightley factor" was defined by Lisa Palta, editor of OK! magazine, as her "appeal for all ages and sexes".

Ms Palta said: "She's the girl next door, who you could imagine meeting in a bar. She often criticises her looks, when she's absolutely stunning. Lots of Hollywood stars are quite removed but Keira is aspirational."

For Kirsty Mouatt, the editor of New! magazine, interest in Knightley has been ratcheted up by her relationship with the Irish model Jamie Dornan. "To make it in the eyes of the celebrity magazines you need to have the boyfriend and the love interest," she said. "I imagine her boyfriend will start getting a lot more breaks from being associated with her and they will become the next super couple."

It may be time for Ms Knightley to hire her first publicist.


By Oliver Duff

In the last three weeks, Keira Knightley has featured in the British press 93 times, almost always with accompanying pictures. She has also found time for a photoshoot for the magazine Arena and an appearance on Jay Leno's Tonight Show in the US. She has spoken about nudity to The Sun, farting to The Star, and her lack of A-levels to The Guardian. Space doesn't allow for an exhaustive list, but here is an illustration of how hard she has been working to hog the limelight.


The Mirror sets the ball rolling with a double page spread on "Knight Fever". Interview with the actress herself about the film: "I had bagels and cream cheese for breakfast, and I don't think that constitutes a good diet over here."


The Sun joins in with a front page splash: "NAUGHTY KNIGHTLEY: I'd strip for movie." Turn to page 9 and a "smouldering" Keira tells the paper: "I'm not just going to strip off all my clothing, but if the part calls for it and I don't think there's any way around it, then fine." Meanwhile on the pages of The Mirror, she reveals her breasts aren't big enough.


The Guardian gets in on the act with a 3,000-word feature (and a front page picture teaser). "Does she really care that she hasn't yet cracked her A-levels". "Absolutely", comes the unconvincing answer. The Star breaks Knightley's wind worries: "As soon as you fart in front of somebody, the whole illusion has gone in an instant."


Her wardrobe problems occupy a spread in The Star: "On a battlefield, you don't want to see tits bumping up and down. It would be rather distracting!"


The Daily Express describes Knightley as "the most beautiful tomboy you'll ever come across".


Andrew Pierce of The Times is worried about her "drastic" hair treatment. He hears that she has "been dyeing it for the last five years".


Room in the Daily Mail's Wicked Whispers column to reveal how the actress trashed her flat with blue body paint.


"Kinky Keira Knightley" is "becoming the ultimate expert in on-screen kissing", says The Star, reassuring more delicate readers that she carries mints to "prepare for tonsil hockey on film".


The Star, again: "The posh totty who's got Hollywood film makers going potty" plays Guinevere in the classic love triangle. Knightley explains: "If she has to shag Arthur or Lancelot to get what she wants then that's what's going to happen."


Mirror Woman shows us how to "Be Keira Knightley": a £3.99 lipstick, £10 Bhs bag and £20 shoes seem to do the job.


Front-page picture in The Mirror and the London Evening Standard, page two of The Daily Telegraph, and showbiz pages in The Sun and The Star, marking her appearance at the London premiere of King Arthur.