Woody weds Mia's adopted daughter

Three uncharacteristic things happened to Woody Allen this Christmas. He left Manhattan. He had paparazzi chasing him around some of Europe's best-known luxury hotels. And he chose to honour his latest long-standing romantic liaison with a wedding ceremony.

The news editors and columnists of the New York tabloids may have poured scorn and moral opprobrium on him five years ago when he first started going out with Soon-Yi, the adoptive daughter of his then consort Mia Farrow. But they were uttering blessings at the very mention of his name this Christmas for providing them with the one thing they cannot usually get at this time of year: a half-decent story.

Woody and Soon-Yi tied the knot in Venice in a ceremony so discreet that nobody realised it was happening until it was long over. There was no big party, no designer clothing, and absolutely no sign of the bride's mother. It was the mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, who let the cat out of the bag at lunchtime on Christmas Eve. "I married them at five o'clock yesterday afternoon," he said. "There's no point keeping it secret any longer."

There followed a rather ridiculous chase along the canals and footbridges of Venice to track down the newlyweds. The television cameras caught up with them, walking arm in arm near their hotel, the Gritti Palace. "I have no comment to make," said a clearly bewildered, pale-faced Allen. "I'm happy to be in Venice." Actually, the 62-year-old director did not look happy at all. His new bride, 35 years his junior, managed a smile but said nothing.

A few hours later, the couple had vanished and the press circus moved on to Paris where it was rumoured they had flown to spend Christmas Day. Sure enough, they had checked into the Ritz. It was pretty slim pickings for the press pack, though, who caught a brief glimpse of Woody disappearing under his bodyguard's armpit and little else.

It was paradoxical that a man accused of cradle-snatching when he first starting dating Soon-Yi in 1992 should now be put under the media spotlight for doing something as respectable and conventional as getting married. Admittedly, this was a unusual step for him; although he spent several years living and working with Diane Keaton, and several more with Farrow, he did not marry either of them.

This was the biggest media event for Allen since his acrimonious split with Farrow and the ensuing legal tussles over custody of their children. He did not look like a man who had learnt to take it all in his stride. In recent years he has been spending more and more time in Europe, filming in Paris, Venice and Taormina in Sicily. He has a special fondness for Venice, partly because he has always been well received at the city's annual film festival. Last year, he even took star billing in a jazz concert staged to raise money for the burned out opera house, La Fenice. In the past he has only consented to play his clarinet on Monday nights at his favourite New York jazz club.