This time it's a private party

What does Jerry Hall see in grizzled Paul Allen, her new beau? That precious quality - discretion, says JAMES SHERWOOD

Hey Jerry, what do you find so attractive about a nerd with pounds 18 billion?" was how the Sun greeted the news. Jerry Hall, fresh from her separation from the cadaverous Bacchus of rock 'n' roll, Mick Jagger, has found a new beau - the bespectacled, bearded 46-year-old co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen. Allen is no oil painting: he's also worth 132 times more than Mick. The inference is clear.

But dig deeper and the stereotypical reading of Jerry's latest affair falls apart. If Hall were a fading Tennessee Williams Southern belle who "relies on the kindness of strangers", money might be her primary concern. But she's a multi-millionairess model. She's earned it, spent it and lived La Vida Loca. She's finally walked away from the humiliating, rock and rollercoaster relationship with a man as famous as her. Money isn't her motivation. No, Paul Allen's allure is privacy.

"Jerry Hall doesn't need money," says Tatler editor-at-large Nicola Formby. "She wants to be protected. Sure, she wants to her lovely houses, yachts and private islands, but removed from the public eye. Paul Allen can give her that space. I'd imagine that's what Fergie is looking for with her Count. It's what Diana tried to find with Dodi al Fayed. It was certainly the attraction Aristotle Onassis held for Jackie Kennedy."

Jerry is the latest in a line of female superstars who decide they've had enough limelight to last them a lifetime - especially the sort that comes from life with an equally famous, philandering partner. Like Diana and Jackie before her, she's endured the humiliation of a famous husband's infidelity. A London fashion editor recalls seeing Hall in Milan airport when the news of Jagger's affair with model Carla Bruni broke. "She was reading the expose in News of the World and looked devastated." Allen is a deeply private man who lives on a tier of wealth that can protect Hall from the celebrity-watching vultures who stalked her 23-year marriage with Jagger.

Celebrity couples live and die by the paparazzi sword. When both partners trade on beauty and fame, they inevitably make a deal with devil and become public property. As they get more famous, they become increasingly reluctant contestants in a virtual media game of Through the Keyhole. In the confessional, post-Oprah genre of celebrity interview, "names" are obliged to undress unemotionally. If they fail to they're lampooned - witness Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman's increasingly desperate measures to protect their privacy.

Fashion, music and film are the three catnip careers for the paparazzi. To find a consort outside these glasshouse professions is the solid-gold guarantee of retaining privacy. When Sharon Stone married San Francisco Herald editor Phil Bronstein, the public could not equate the moustached middle-aged hack with the star of Basic Instinct. But it was what she wanted. "The thing about Phil is that he's big enough for me," she said. "I needed to reassess my value system." Following his recent heart attack scare, Stone has put her Hollywood home up for sale and plans to retreat from the celebrity circuit altogether.

An anonymous partner is damage limitation for celebrities. Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue, is married to older and graver Doctor David Shaffer. They are rarely photographed together in public. This summer's scandal in New York, Wintour's affair with Texan billionaire Shelby Bryan, has been diffused because she and her consorts are as evasive as Garbo. Like Jackie O, we know everything and nothing about Anna Wintour. It is far from coincidental that Jackie and Anna chose inscrutable shades as a lifestyle statement.

Contrast Wintour's experience with that of a true showbiz couple - Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley. They feast on the limelight but when something goes wrong - as it did when Grant was caught with a prostitute on Sunset Boulevard - she was horribly exposed.

The truth is that the beautiful people are in a Catch 22 situation. When they do try to get it together with someone outside the trade, the media pulls them apart. Jerry last week was a gold-digger. But marry a bluecollar bit of rough trade, as Liz Taylor did with truck driver Larry Fortensky, and the public interpret it as desperation. Approach a younger man, as Madonna (41) did with Latino stud Ricky Martin (27), and you're compared to Mrs Robinson. A sex symbol like Marilyn Monroe was ridiculed for even presuming to be in love -- let alone marry - playwright Arthur Miller. Miller looked like an intellectual, Monroe a man-trap. But beyond the stereotypes, Miller must have given Monroe the two thing she craved: respect and escape.

When you've achieved the level of fame of a Madonna, Monroe or Hall, priorities change. Anonymity may be impossible but retreat is achievable. A man with no media currency, average aesthetic appeal and, yes, filthy lucre, is the blueprint for a happy union. "Looks and fame aren't everything," says Elle deputy editor Rachel Loos. "It must be wonderful to have someone who can shield you from public scrutiny and take you out of that pressurised media industry."

Younger women are following suit. Kate Moss's liaison with Johnny Depp led to a front-page expose in The National Enquirer and rehabilitation in The Priory - expect her next beau to be far less famous. Naomi Campbell told August Elle, "I learnt from all my mistakes. They've been very public mistakes." After affairs with Mike Tyson, Robert de Niro and Joaqun Cortes, she is currently dating Italian racing car magnate Flavio Briatore. Who? Precisely.

In other words, Nineties celebs have learnt the law of the jungle. Elton John's boyfriend David Furnish does edge into the limelight (in white Versace and diamonds). But the trend in celebrity coupling is moving towards a more modest profile. When Kate Winslet married unknown film director Jim Threapleton, she declared, "Life is more important than work". She is deeply protective of her "ordinary" home life. The message is reassuringly pedestrian.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that Jerry Hall aspires to a life less ordinary. She was born with glamour in her genes. Hall told Harper's Bazaar this month, "I want companionship again, cuddling. Everybody wants a friend." She also wants the lifestyle she has grown accustomed to, plus the ring of steel Allen's billions can secure around her. What she doesn't want is the experience of picking up a paper to find her husband's bedded another supermodel half her age. With Paul Allen she's unlikely to get it.

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