In pursuit of perfect harmony

Courting celebs aren't settling for anything less than compatibility on all fronts. HERO BROWN reports on the demise of the star-crossed lover
The announcement this week that Britain's favourite ladette Zoe Ball is to marry self-effacing pop star Norman 'Fatboy Slim' Cook has elicited an extraordinary reaction from the public. While it's true the British love nothing more than a celebrity wedding (apart from a messy divorce), this romance - in contrast to the pedestrian affection of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones - seems to have warmed even the most cynical hearts. Everyone is sure the down-to-earth couple are made for each other.

Zoe and Norman's obvious compatibility - crossover jobs, middle-class backgrounds, wealth and celebrity - has left the traditional granny blather about "opposites attract" out in the cold. The thrill value of whirlwind romances, such as Drew Barrymore's six-week marriage to a Welsh barman ("the worst mistake of my life") and Pamela Anderson's quickie beach ceremony with Tommy Lee weeks after he introduced himself by licking her face, are out of step at a time when even our most iconic pop stars are choosing reliable, clean-living partners (Louise's Jamie Rednapp, Posh's David Beckham, Kate Winslet's Jim Threapleton) and showing their confidence by racing down the aisles.

Jade Jagger summed up the new mood of modern romance perhaps more poignantly than she realised when she revealed why her new boyfriend Dan Macmillan (great-grandson of Tory premier Harold) is "the one". "Finally I've got someone who isn't in awe of me and my background," she said. While it's rather discomforting that she has found happiness the Jane Austen way - copping off with someone equally loaded - in many ways it makes sense. Jagger tried for years to make her relationship with the struggling artist Piers Jackson work, but her cultural commonality with Macmillan - she is a model and jewellery maker, he an ex-model and photographer - means they connect in a way Jagger's attempts at playing earth mother with Jackson never could.

Similarly, Princess Caroline of Monaco, after years of doomed relationships with wideboys and womanisers, has found peace with someone who can truly empathise with her - another royal, Prince Ernst of Hanover. And Nicolas Cage (of the Coppola dynasty), after years of playing the field, has met his match with Patricia Arquette (of the acting family).

"For celebs, the pressures of being a cardboard cut-out of other people's fantasies, envies and fears is difficult to understand from the outside," says Professor Petruska Clarkson, who has carried out studies on the psychology of fame, "so it's natural that celebrities seek each other out."

Of course, were fame enough to guarantee happiness, Hollywood wouldn't be the delightful den of iniquity it is. The reality is, that celebrity or otherwise, the relationship battlefield remains strewn with the blood of an army of dead romances. "It makes you wonder why Western culture scoffs at the arranged marriages of the East," says Professor Clarkson. "Look at the mess we're in."

Samantha Cohen, 28, for one, initially welcomed the differences between her background and her boyfriend's. She had met Richard, 30, at university. "We were totally different," she says, "which we both thought was great. I was from a working-class family in Liverpool, had gone to the local comp and did a part-time job to help me pay my college fees. He was from an incredibly wealthy, landowning family. We were so unlike each other it was incredibly exciting.

"After university, I got a job with a law firm in London. Richard had no need to work and wasn't very supportive about me putting in long hours. I realised that he had a completely different outlook on life. He was there for the laugh, but to me it was important to earn money and make my way. We lurched on for another couple of years, but with him using my place as a dosshouse I'd had enough. He didn't respect my motivations and background, and we split last year."

According to Sarah Litvinoff, author of The Relate Guide to Better Relationships, Samantha's story is typical of the way relationships can crack when the balance of power shifts. No wonder Lottery winners are always so miserable - they've realised too late that the brand new faux-Tudor mansion and fleet of sports cars don't go down well with mates who still drive Ford Fiestas. "The way the dynamic is altered in a relationship is an extreme experience - it's like being in a war or coping with the death of a spouse," says Litvinoff. "Your very foundations are shaken."

This is how it feels to be confronted with sudden fame - and the relationship fall-out is notorious. Celebs ditching their partners on making it big has long been an industry joke. Ralph Fiennes famously divorced the then- unknown Alex Kingston after 12 years together after being nominated for an Oscar for Schindler's List and embarking on an affair with Franscesca Annis. Kingston blamed their sudden inequality for the split. More recently, Ralph's brother Joseph, whose ex-girlfriend Sara - also an actor - supported him for years while he struggled with a codpiece at the RSC, has now been shunted in favour of the more successful Catherine McCormack. Paul Hogan's wife of 22 years got similar treatment when he left her for his Crocodile Dundee co-star Linda Kozlowski, but The X-Files' Gillian Anderson needed no such excuse, apparently spelling it out for the Sun last year. "I've outgrown my husband," she said bluntly. "He bores me."

While it's comforting to think celebs are more prone to such insouciance than the rest of us, the reality is different. A housewife might study for a degree and start to review her life, Educating Rita-like, with newly critical eyes. Or a bluecollar worker, married at 22, might find years later, as an executive, that he has nothing in common with his wife.

The way to protect the dynamic of their relationship, according to Litvinoff, is to retain a currency to barter with. Sophie Rhys-Jones, for example, while not a member of the aristocracy, has spent long enough hanging out with the Queen Mum to be under no illusions about Royal life. To Edward, this is a highly prized commodity, as is his wife's career and independence. Similarly Wayne, Melinda Messenger's much-teased house-husband, has held his relationship together because, as Messenger's career has expanded, he provides a link to her past, which she still wants.

Baz Bamingboye, showbiz editor at the Daily Mail, who has spent years analysing relationships concurs. "The days of a Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller marrying are over," he says. "People are choosing from their own spheres. Sharon Stone's husband Phil Bronstein, a newspaper editor, isn't overly rich or famous, but they have similar backgrounds and philosophies. He's not intimidated by Sharon, so they're equal and have an understanding. I guess that's why it works."