The paparazzi who lie in wait on the shores of Lake Como hoping for a snapshot of a star received some disastrous news yesterday: George Clooney, who has had an exclusive €30m (£26m) villa there since 2001, is selling up, depriving the photographers of the area's most bankable celebrity. But hope is at hand in the form of David and Victoria Beckham, who are said to be locked in a bidding war to buy the property.
They are said to be the front-runners in the rush to buy the villa, formerly the home of the Heinz family. But they are by no means guaranteed to secure the prize: they face serious competition in the form of a billionaire Russian vodka magnate.
It is no surprise that Villa Oleandra is so in demand. The opulent building, set in the almost other-worldly beauty of Lake Como and screened by topiary and red geraniums, is probably the most sought-after pad in all of celebrity-obsessed Italy, especially now that it's been the home of Hollywood royalty. And although the price is high, estate agents say that such desirable properties as this 18th-century one set in the lakeside village of Laglio, rarely come on to the market.
Clooney, who paid a mere €7m for the villa in 2001, hopes the €23m equity should be enough for him and his Italian TV personality fiancée Elisabetta Canalis to find something liveable in a quieter, seaside location.
Canalis was said to have been irritated by the pestering of autograph-hunters. The attention grew so great that last year Mayor Pozzi, first citizen of Laglio, introduced local laws forbidding anyone to gather in a group of more than three people in sight of the actor's home – or face a €19 fine. In June, Clooney was even stopped by police on motorbikes, only to be asked for his autograph.
The prospect of being constantly photographed outside a beautiful villa, surrounded by verdant hills and overlooked by the Alps is less likely to phase Victoria Beckham, however. According to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the Beckhams have already sent their lawyers scuttling around to meet Clooney's. The former England captain, who is on loan to AC Milan, has previously said he is "in love" with Villa Oleandra. "There's peace and quiet and it's near to Milan," he said. "I'd love to live here with my family."
With José Mourinho further down the lake and Donatella Versace owning a home a short drive away, the aspirational Brits would consider themselves in good company. David could drive to training sessions in Milan in 40 minutes and drop off Victoria for a spot of shopping in Milan on the way. However, a formidable stumbling block has emerged in the form of 48-year-old Russian Roustam Tariko. The magnate is said to have already offered the €30m asking price.
The Russian might have wealth on his side – in addition to vodka distilleries, there are banking and insurance interests that Forbes magazine says brings his total wealth to over a billion dollars – but the locals are batting for Posh and Becks, according to the Italian papers. The Laglio residents have voiced concerns that "Lagliowood" is being turned into "Laglioburg", following a rash of vulgar mooring extensions in nearby lakeside villas as new Russian money makes itself seen in the area.
They fear that Lake Como might suffer the same fate as Tuscany's up-market seaside resort Forti dei Marmi, where the fur coat shops and Ferrari showrooms threaten to outnumber the trattorias as Russian millionaires take over. "The residents of Laglio had grown quite fond of Clooney," said Mayor Pozzi. "Beckham? Let's hope he buys it; in that way we can maintain a certain glamour." And, say observers, the area's constant rise in property prices.
Asking price for George Clooney's Lake Como villa.