Celebs behind the wire

Stars seeking privacy are under fire over public rights, reports Mark Rowe

THEY view it as a question of the right to gawp rather than the right to roam. Fortress celebrities - high-profile millionaires who retreat to their castles and erect fences and Keep Out signs - are under fire.

The pop idol Gary Barlow last week informed members of a fishing club that they can no longer have access to a lake in the grounds of his home which they have used for 50 years.

Mr Barlow's agent said that intruders keen to get a glimpse of the star had been regularly escorted off his 60-acre estate, Delamere Manor, near Nantwich in Cheshire. "It would be impossible for Gary to distinguish between locals wishing to fish and people whose curiosity has got the better of them," he said.

The former Take That singer is not the first celebrity to pull up the drawbridge to his country home; nor is he likely to be the last.

There are, of course, celebrities motivated by justified fear. Only last week a stalker was convicted after having been found with a "rape kit" outside the gates of the film director Steven Spielberg's home in California. Spielberg was so worried by the man's obsession that he hired armed off-duty police to guard him and his family 24 hours a day. He fortified his home, sent minders to watch over his children and had constant protection on the set of his latest film, Amistad.

There is rarely a question of the star in his castle doing anything illegal by denying public access: Gary Barlow was simply exercising a previously unenforced right. Others simply exercise the strength of their wallet: Sir Paul McCartney has bought hundreds of acres and several farms around his estate on the Mull of Kintyre. Security is obviously a concern, but apparently Sir Paul never ceases to be amazed that Beatles fans continue to make the arduous pilgrimage to the farm's borders.

His efforts look like shutting out the locals for good. His estate is already sealed off by forests to the north and rocky peaks to the west, and Keep Out signs are all around.

Film star Daniel Day-Lewis and his wife, Rebecca, daughter of the playwright Arthur Miller, also crave privacy. Their 100-acre estate in Annamoe, Co Wicklow, is surrounded by woodlands and invisible from the main road but the actor is reported to have bought additional land around the property.

However, the stars do not always win. The composer Andrew Lloyd Webber was thwarted when he sought to divert a footpath that runs through the grounds of his 18th-century Sydmonton Court home in Hampshire. Although the diversion was approved by the county council, the order was quashed by an Environment Department inspector after the Open Spaces Society obtained a public inquiry.

"He felt the path would mean that walkers would mingle with his guests," said Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the society. "But it's a beautiful route and the diversion took all the enjoyment out of the walk."

The society is now in the middle of a fight with the showbusiness entrepreneur Robert Stigwood over his Barton Manor estate on the Isle of Wight. Part of the coastal walk around the island is on the estate and Mr Stigwood has steadfastly resisted appeals by the Ramblers' Association to allow access.

Miss Ashbrook, whose interests in Who's Who include "pedantry and finding illegally blocked footpaths", argues that landowners' motives for barring people from land are misplaced. She said: "It is actually safer to have public access. If someone wants to do something nasty they're less likely to do it if they think someone might come along and see them. It's better to have public watchdogs."

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