Hollywood homes, UK

Who would trade golden beaches and glorious Californian sunshine for Britain's grey skies and fish and chips? The world's biggest stars apparently, writes Guy Adams
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The Independent Online

They're overpaid, oversexed and over here. Sixty years ago, the Yanks came with chocolate and nylon stockings. Today, an ever-growing band sail through immigration with nothing to declare but their celebrity.

Tom Cruise this week became the latest Hollywood megastar to purchase a modest pied-a-terre in our green and pleasant land, forking out £2.5m on a six-bedroom house near East Grinstead in West Sussex.

The property, on a private estate, boasts an indoor swimming pool, underground garage, games room, and state-of-the-art greenhouse. It is situated within spitting distance of Saint Hill Castle, the Church of Scientology's UK headquarters.

Cruise and his new wife, Katie Holmes, join a host of exotic couples entering the market. Others include Brad and Angelina, Madonna and Guy, Gwyneth and Chris, and the Swansea residents Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Some of America's most famous singles are also getting in on the act. On Wednesday, Kurt Cobain's hard-living widow, Courtney Love, declared herself eager to move to our capital city.

"I'm an Anglophile and love England so much," she told reporters. "I used to live here, and always consider myself half English. I've been looking at homes in London and am very interested in Bob Hoskins' house."

It's a timely boost for London, which was recently declared a "hideous city" by the philosopher Alain de Botton, who told the literary internet site Bookslut: "I'd love to just blow up the whole place and start again."

Whatever De Botton might say, the property expert Justin Marking, who has helped many well-known Americans to buy homes in the UK, says business is booming, particularly in the capital. Marking's firm, Prime Purchase, provides discreet advice for buyers looking to settle here. Usually, he is contacted by a client's PA or lawyer and instructed to draw up a shortlist of potential properties.

A suitable property for your Hollywood Anglophile has air-conditioning as standard, together with US-style refrigerators, elaborate security systems, and plenty of square feet.

"Americans are particularly keen on lateral space, so they tend to avoid tall houses on many floors," says Marking. "I suspect that reflects a US influence, rather than pure laziness: New York apartments tend to be a lot bigger than London's Georgian townhouses."

"Closet space has always been an issue," says Jonathan Hewlett, from the Sloane Street branch of Savills. "We have never had enough. They also want a proper power shower, and a decent-sized fridge."

Top areas for US emigrés are reassuringly expensive. They include Hampstead and Oxshott in Surrey, which both boast US schools, together with Mayfair, Chelsea and South Kensington.

"US buyers love low-rise buildings," adds Hewlett. "Security and privacy are also key issues."

But then there's the problem of fitting in with the locals. Madonna recently went to court to prevent the great unwashed tramping over her Dorset estate.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, meanwhile, famously failed to gain " fast-track" membership of the Hurlingham Club in the 1990s. As Cruise will have recalled last week, all the fame and money in the world won't necessarily buy an easy life, when a Hollywood icon moves to Blighty.

Fulmer, Buckinghamshire: Angeline Jolie and Brad Pitt

The Hollywood "golden couple" boast homes in California, New York, Paris, and, er, Fulmer, a small village in semi-rural Buckinghamshire. Jolie bought this eight-bedroom house in 2002, having rented it for several months after the messy collapse of her marriage to Billy Bob Thornton. She initially lived there with her adopted son, Maddox.

The rambling property is set in 300 acres of farmland less than two miles from Pinewood film studios. It boasts several outbuildings, tennis courts and the obligatory indoor swimming pool.

Ashcombe House, Dorset: Madonna & Guy Richie

It's been five years since the Queen of Pop announced her arrival as a flat-cap-wearing country landowner with the purchase of Ashcombe, a 1,200-acre estate in rural Dorset that once belonged to Cecil Beaton.

Tutored by husband Guy Ritchie, she became a keen shot and accomplished horsewoman. Ashcombe's tight valleys and steep terrain mean it boasts one of England's finest high pheasant and partridge shoots.

However, Madge eventually decided to quit shooting, after discovering it was incompatible with her Kaballah religion. Instead, 40-odd shooting days are now let each year on the estate to teams of paying guns.

Rednock Castle, Perthshire: Ashley Judd

The actress and "face" of Estee Lauder bought Rednock Castle, a crumbling mansion near to Comrie, Perthshire, in 2004.

It's the ancestral home of the Graham-Stirlings, one of Scotland's oldest families, and is situated on the shores of the Lake of Menteith.

Together with Scottish racing driver husband, Dario Franchitti, she has devoted considerable energies to doing it up as a holiday home.

"I'm a major gardener now. We have an old derelict garden," one interviewer was told. "Dario says it looks like a mine ruin because it's overgrown and is a mess. It's filled with stinging nettles, but I can't wait to make it beautiful."

The Mumbles, Swansea: Catherine Zeta Jones & Michael Douglas

Three years ago, Michael Douglas and his youthful bride, Catherine Zeta-Jones, built a £2.3m dream home on the Mumbles peninsula in south Wales.

The 5,000 sq ft cliff-top property has four bedrooms over three stories. Special touches include a slate roof supported by stone pillars, and a balcony with a copper roof specially imported from America. A row of conifers shields the property from nearby footpath.

Mumbles, known as the Surrey of Wales, is one of the few posh places to live if you want to be within spitting distance of Swansea.

Islington, London: Neve Campbell

It's been 18 months since the Canadian star moved in with her British boyfriend, the actor John Light.

The couple - who became engaged in February - live in a modest apartment in Islington, north London.

Of the area, which is famous as the spiritual home of New Labour, Campbell says: "It's great. It's got a nice balance between artists and businessmen, and new shops are always popping up on Upper Street."

She often takes her three shih-tzus, Buster, Bluto and Bubba, for walks on Hampstead Heath.