Zeta-Jones sets tongues wagging with top earnings in ad campaigns

It was BT that established the principle "it's good to talk". And T-Mobile have certainly expanded on the idea - at least to the satisfaction of Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The £11mfee the actress secured for her two-year television and print advertising services has placed her at the top of a poll of celebrity endorsements.

Zeta-Jones, whose curvy, raven-haired charms have taken her from her home in Wales, through television's The Darling Buds of May, to Hollywood stardom and a famous husband (Michael Douglas), was paid more than anybody else last year for her T-Mobile promotion.

According to the American advertising industry magazine AdWeek, which compiled the figures, she beat her fellow beauties Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts. Jolie made second place on the list thanks to her £7m deal with St John, the luxury clothes label which formed a special charity for children's causes as part of the package. And her partner, Brad Pitt, proved the only man to make the top 10 thanks to a £2.3m cheque from Heineken. He made eighth place.

Nearly all the remaining stars on the list, including Charlize Theron and Gwyneth Paltrow, were snapped up to promote perfumes and beauty products. L'Oreal paid £2.3m apiece to Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz for their charms. Nicole Kidman was in third position for her £7m deal to be the face of the classic Chanel No 5 scent.

But it is the Zeta-Jones package which stands out. AdWeek said the two-year deal she signed in 2002 to appear in the UK telecommunications giant's advertising was regarded as one of the most lucrative endorsements ever. It was renewed last year.

Zeta-Jones, a self-proclaimed "technology nut," said she was "incredibly excited" to be working with the telecoms company when the deal was signed.

In return, T-Mobile explained their choice. "Catherine's hard work, dedication and engaging personality have given her strong international appeal as a respected actress who lives to the fullest - on her own terms," Kai Uwe Ricke, its chief executive officer, said.

The 36-year-old star, who has two children by Douglas, who she married in November 2000, has appeared in a string of major films and is highly acclaimed for her very different performances in Traffic and Chicago, winning a best supporting actress Oscar for the latter.

But she has never shied away from using her fame to earn a living in other ways. She and her husband sold the rights to cover their wedding to OK! magazine - though said this was partly to stop a media scrum spoiling the day. That effort failed when Hello! magazine secured its own images, prompting legal action by the couple. She has also been a spokes-woman for Elizabeth Arden, fronting an advertising campaign for a new Oriental fragrance, Provocative Woman, under the slogan "Make Men Melt".

But not all big-name stars want to do likewise and many shun the world of advertising, relying on their lucrative film careers instead. The underlying joke in the film Lost in Translation is how some are willing to take the money available in Japan by doing campaigns there for products in a way they would never permit on home turf.

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