Kirsten Lea: Girls just wanna have funds

She was one of the most photographed stars on the Oscars red carpet last weekend – yet no one seemed to know what, if anything, the actress in the £1m necklace had appeared in. Jonathan Brown discovers the curious, gilded world of Kirsten Lea, super-rich wife and celebrity manquée

Saturday 01 March 2008 01:00

As a published writer, prize-winning poet, editor, researcher, photographer, artist, theatre and set designer, casino croupier, actress, dancer and comedienne, Kirsten Lea, a woman who also happens to be quite dazzlingly beautiful, was always likely to marry well.

To those who had observed her career to date, it must have seemed the most natural match in the world when she tied the knot last year with the boss of one of London's richest and most secretive hedge funds.

The couple celebrated their nuptials in uncompromisingly lavish style at London's Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Every detail was perfectly executed, from the exquisite five-course meal to the vast towers of white blooms which dwarfed the tables around them. A dressed-down Jamie Cullum performed an exclusive set for the assembled guests on a white piano (requests submitted on the back of £50 notes, he joked). The comedy was provided courtesy of an old family friend of the bride, a certain Jimmy Tarbuck.

The groom, David Craigen of Lansdowne Partners Limited, masters of a £10bn investment fund which this year is said to have benefited to the tune of a further £100m from the collapse of Northern Rock, must have counted himself truly blessed as he gazed adoringly at his ravishing young bride.

But yesterday the couple were absorbing a bitter lesson in the jealous laws governing the modern lifestyles of the rich and (almost) famous – that hedge fund millions, driving ambition and the internet simply do not mix.

Problems began when a report in a British newspaper's City diary column carried details of Ms Lea's "extraordinarily ostentatious lifestyle", which, it said, had been revealed in a shockingly frank personal website. Comparisons were made with hard-shopping footballers' wives such Wayne Rooney's fiancée, Colleen McLoughlin.

The website entries catalogued a demanding existence which required the budding film star to import her own coffee personally while tailoring her preferred choice of sports car to whichever city she happened to be in. There were also astonishing claims surrounding the diamond necklace she sported at her recent wedding. "I dread to think how much it cost ... but let's just say over £1m," she mused, no doubt to the delight of Northern Rock shareholders up and down the country.

As details of the newspaper report spread across the internet, the site was hastily taken down, but not before cached pages allowed a further – now forbidden – glimpse into the seriously wealthy and cut-throat world of Ms Lea.

Although a spokesman for Lansdowne declined to comment yesterday, pages stored on the Web revealed a plethora of images of the curvaceous actress sporting an always impressive décolletage and also imparted the news that she had been confirmed for a "small part" in the forthcoming film The Soloist, starring the Academy Award-winning actor Jamie Foxx. Elsewhere there were pictures of Ms Lea taking to the red carpet outside this year's Oscars, decked out in a £1m House of Graff necklace and swathed in a £100,000 Armani dress. Then came the disclosure that she had taken her seat at a recent Armani couture show beside "fellow actress" Cate Blanchett.

A quick trawl of the internet reveals an appearance at the recent Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, where she followed Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie down the celebrity runway. Her precious moments before the assembled paparazzi were considerably enlivened when her dress dramatically gave way, in a Janet Jackson-style "wardrobe malfunction", to reveal a tastefully white-cupped breast.

Yet the picture galleries begged one pertinent if unchivalrous question: is Kirsten Lea actually famous? She certainly has online enemies, but yesterday they were casting doubt on her status as a bona fide celebrity. One blogger was moved to write: "Exactly how is she an actress? ... She's not even on imdb (the internet movie data base). Sadly she has taken down her ridiculous website.

"I'm laughing my ass off. As Kirsten so aptly demonstrates, noblesse oblige really doesn't exist any more. This has totally made my Friday morning."

But there were also friends of Ms Lea who were loyally sticking up for her yesterday. "She is a real asset to David and he is very keen that she makes those moves in this career," said one female friend. "He is 100 per cent behind her. She is amazing. She will do a lot in the next six months."

Supporters were also quick to point out that her "success" had not been just a question of cash.

"You have to be very savvy to have that sort of lifestyle," one said. "You have to know exactly who you are aiming to get to. She is very ambitious but very smart. She is a little bit like Madonna – she chooses the right people around her and the right team. It doesn't really matter about the cost of her choices, she is in a position where she can get the right people, and a lot of people are not able to do that. She does the research and is prepared to get her hands dirty."

Kirsten Lea was born into a successful showbusiness family. According to her entry on Friends Reunited, she attended the £8,000-a-year Herington House school in Essex where, according to her website, she showed a precocious talent for journalism, launching her own magazine which was "mostly self-written".

But her ambition was to be thwarted. "The magazine was a financial success but the school would not allow sales as it was competition for their official school magazine. As soon as it was published, the school administration asked her to be editor of their official school magazine," she later recalled. However, her writing talent was not to go unnoticed. In 2004 she claims to have won a Bridport Prize for her poem "Gifts From God", containing the immortal line "But taking you is like taking pills of laughter/Please take me regularly, three times a day/I shouldn't operate dangerous machinery/When I'm laughing this heavily."

But it is the spoken, not the written, word which was to prove Ms Lea's true calling. Of her acting she is quoted on her own website saying: "I have always been a highly sensitive person, which can sometimes make life feel rather overwhelming and unpleasant, but sensory lessons are one of the few occasions in life, where being very sensitive has served me extremely well."

Yet alongside her sensitivity, she says, she counts herself the lucky inheritor of a "natural talent" for comedy. With apparently no trace of irony, she adds: "I am fascinated by comedic timing and the disparity between how people view themselves and how others view them, which is often considered, the basis of modern comedy."

Ms Lea's latest mission has been to bring to a wider audience the dog-eat-dog rigours of being fitted for haute couture. Her journey via private jet from the Armani fitting room in Paris to the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood, has been captured in a new documentary produced by, and apparently featuring, herself in the starring role.

According to one insider: "It is such an elitist thing and no one understands the process you have to go through to get a dress. There are a lot of fittings and you have to stay the same size but if a higher celebrity gets wind of it they can just grab it."

Yet perhaps her finest performance to date was the grand wedding in June, details of which have been expunged from cyberspace, although a video clip of Jamie Cullen receiving the benefit of the bride's "presenting skills" is still there for anyone curious enough to log on, posted by a certain ladykirstenlea.

It is easy to look at such conspicuous consumption and make snide remarks about the rise of the hedge fund WAG. But perhaps that is to miss the point.

One guest – who mingled with the cream of the City, magazine editors and fashion elite at the event – may have been nearer the mark in describing the occasion thus: "Her marriage was the most amazing I have ever been to. It was phenomenal. It was like a Hollywood film. The theme was like a fantasy wedding – her fantasy – everything you could imagine. It was beautifully put together."

A fantasy indeed.

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