ALISON BOSHOFF: The day King Charles rang Dominic West’s wife to commiserate her over THOSE Lily James photos… and how, in a case of art imitating life, the actor then portrayed the monarch’s marital strife in The Crown
It says something about his sheer, undimmable animal magnetism that many of the viewers of the new series of The Crown are coming away astonished — not by the fabricated storylines but at how very sexy Dominic West has made Prince Charles.
West, 53, plays the now King during the sad years as his marriage to Diana foundered.
News outlets across the globe have been marvelling at how dashing the on-screen Charles is and West himself agrees that — wolfish, swarthy and sexually charged — he’s not an immediately obvious match.
‘I kept telling producers that they had cast the wrong person,’ he confessed earlier this year. In fact, it can be revealed that he hesitated for quite a few weeks after being offered the role, even though work on the Netflix series is famously well-rewarded.
Partly, he had doubts that he could portray Charles — they aren’t physically similar, and West wasn’t interested in offering a performance which was an impersonation. More than that, though, he didn’t want to play someone famous for having an affair — because when the offer to join The Crown came in, he was up to his neck in a scandal of his own over a friendship with much-younger actress Lily James.
The echoes between real-life strife and the on-screen dramas were just too awkward.
Dominic West told Netflix producer they had cast the wrong person after being given the role of Prince Charles (pictured with his family at The Crown season 5 world premiere)
To recap: in October 2020, West and James — who played father and daughter in the TV adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit Of Love — had been pictured looking more than cosy on a mini-break in Rome.
They were snapped sharing a scooter, with West apparently nuzzling her neck, and in other pictures looked like a dreamy couple having a long lunch in the sun. After the pictures were published, he flew home to his wife Catherine FitzGerald in Wiltshire and the next morning the two of them staged an excruciating photocall — his wife’s red-rimmed eyes obvious to all.
They left a note for photographers which explained: ‘Our marriage is strong and we are very much together.’
The mother-of-four had a balled-up tissue tucked into the sleeve of her jumper.
West then started to prepare to play Charles, in the throes of a passionate (and adulterous) relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. It was a bold move, but spool forward 25 months and no wife could have looked prouder than Catherine FitzGerald at the premiere of series five of The Crown on Wednesday.
He didn’t want to play someone famous for having an affair — because when the offer to join The Crown came in, he was up to his neck in a scandal of his own over a friendship with much-younger actress Lily James
In October 2020, West and James — who played father and daughter in the TV adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit Of Love — had been pictured looking more than cosy on a mini-break in Rome
It was very much a family affair — the Wests’ son Senan plays Prince William in this series — and his brother and sisters were present with their parents. It was also one of those hall-of-mirrors moments where life imitates art, for as we shall see, West and his wife know King Charles very well.
In fact, the King and West’s wife are particularly close, thanks to a shared love of horticulture and Georgian architecture.
It’s said that he actually called FitzGerald at the height of the Lily James crisis to offer his support.
A friend said: ‘Charles rang Catherine up when Dominic was photographed with Lily James in Rome, saying he knows how she feels, how beastly the papers are, how hard it is to be married in the public eye.
‘All of that. Some of us thought it rather meddlesome.
‘She and Charles have known each other for years, decades really. He has had her do gardens with him and so on. They share a lot of interests.’
You might assume that the royal friendship is over following Dominic’s portrayal of Charles — but the Wests seem to hold out hope that it will recover. Not without reason. After all, when Camilla met West at a party last year, she jokingly greeted the actor with: ‘Your Majesty.’
A friend said: ‘Charles rang Catherine (Dominic’s wife) up when Dominic was photographed with Lily James in Rome’
Dominic has spent much of The Crown’s publicity tour talking about how much he admires the King, who he has met on more than a dozen occasions. He even had the gall to say that the recreation of ‘Tampongate’ was intended to show what a genuine love existed between Charles and Camilla.
But back to the Wests and the state of their marriage. After walking the red carpet as a family and sitting through the screening, Catherine and the children left in a car — affectionately waved off by West — and he returned to the party.
A friend who saw the couple earlier this autumn said: ‘Westie was put out in the kennel, but eventually he has managed to crawl back through the cat flap.
‘She looks very happy and the marriage is certainly back on track.
‘For a time there was the possibility of a split but when they both looked at it there was so much to lose.’
At the heart of their shared life are their four children — Dora, 15, Senan, 14, Francis, 13, and Christabel, nine — but also Glin Castle, Catherine’s ancestral home in County Limerick where her family have lived for 700 years. It is her passion and heritage — and Dominic pours around £150,000 of earnings into it a year.
Dominic has spent much of The Crown’s publicity tour talking about how much he admires the King
In fact, if there are three in the West’s marriage then the other woman is probably Glin Castle. A friend said: ‘Westie is a great worker and a very decent chap. He spends all this time trying to earn enough money to keep that castle going.’
The castle was owned by Catherine’s father Desmond, the 29th Knight of Glin. When he inherited it, aged 12, the 18-bedroom castle was virtually a ruin. His stepfather, a Canadian millionaire, set about restoring it and by the Sixties it was renowned as a party palace, where revellers included Mick Jagger.
When Desmond took over he and wife Olda tried to continue to restore the building, buying back the original art work and china which had been sold.
In 2002, they started a small hotel business at Glin but the credit crunch put them out of business in 2009. Later that year, hundreds of paintings and objets d’art from the castle went under the hammer at Christie’s, raising £1.9 million.
Desmond died in 2011, and in 2015 the castle was put up for sale for just under £5 million.
West commented at the time: ‘My wife is in turmoil about it and I am slightly as well. It’s 700 years of history, which you don’t want to be the person responsible for ending.
‘It’s a real wrench. But essentially I would have to give up acting and become a hotelier, which I don’t really want to do.’
If there are three in the West’s marriage then the other woman is probably Glin Castle (pictured)
However in 2016 he announced that they had ‘done a marvellous U-turn’ and would not be selling Glin. Instead they would turn it into a hotel and he would manage it, as much as he could, work permitting.
‘Selling up was absolutely heartbreaking for all of us, especially my mother-in-law and my wife and, luckily, we’re reopening it as a hotel, all going well, some time next year,’ he said. Olda FitzGerald was delighted, posting on Instagram: ‘My eldest daughter and my darling son-in-law both work so hard to keep me in clover! How lucky am I?’
Catherine told House & Garden magazine: ‘Our hope now is to re-establish the house with rentals, events and garden tours. Perhaps one day my son Senan may become the 30th Knight of Glin.’
The title passes through the male line and, as her father Desmond had three daughters, it died with him.
She said: ‘I wasn’t angry that it didn’t pass to me, but it’s a romantic title so it’s sad that it dies. It adds a lot of colour to our family.
‘It could change, and a lot of people are keen for things to change when something dies off and there’s no male to inherit. Let’s see, I could be a knight yet.’
West once said that Catherine had ‘lowered her standards’ to marry him. ‘Catherine comes from an old family in Limerick who have lived in a castle for over 700 years. My mother’s side of the family comes from a bog about six miles east of that.’ Just a joke, of course, but he has made it clear he adores her and values her ancestry.
West is the sixth of seven children born into a staunchly Catholic family in Sheffield and has made a career from playing badly behaved yet always attractive men — the only exception being his truly chilling portrait of serial killer Fred West in Appropriate Adult, for which he won a Bafta. The family money comes from the manufacture of vandal-proof plastic bus shelters.
He went to Eton where he was nicknamed ‘Paddy’ as it was thought he appeared Irish. He was also ‘horribly homesick’.
The Wests’ son Senan (pictured) plays Prince William in series 5 of The Crown
His ‘show off’ tendencies came to the fore and after a degree in English at Trinity College Dublin, he studied drama at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He was then cast opposite Renee Zellweger in the musical Chicago and Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile. His big break, though, was as Baltimore cop Jimmy McNulty in The Wire in 2002.
By this point he was a young father, but he broke up with girlfriend Polly Astor, granddaughter of Viscountess Nancy Astor, with whom he had a daughter, Martha.
In an interview he said: ‘It was terrible because it was all me. I wanted out. I hurt Polly very badly, but at the time I wasn’t ready to settle down. I was two years out of drama school and things were going really well.
‘I was doing films all over the place and didn’t want to be tied down. Then I got The Wire.
‘Women were extremely important to me and I wanted to be selfish for a bit longer. I wanted to play the field, I suppose.’
Eventually he moved on to romance fun-loving blonde Catherine FitzGerald, whom he’d briefly dated in the 1980s at Trinity College. Even in their student days, West had been won over by Catherine’s grandeur. Having won a prestigious scholarship, she was entitled to live in the oldest and grandest part of the college ‘which, of course, made her even more attractive’, said West.
Certainly castle life — despite its financial burdens — seems to suit him. He has enthusiastically taken up shooting, and the couple hunt in Ireland. One of the highlights of the social calendar is the first Sunday after Christmas when the castle hosts the North Kerry Harriers.
West hunts and Catherine does the honours with the port and sandwiches.
And judging by this week’s united front, West seems to have the luck of the Irish on his side — certainly when it comes to his wife’s forgiveness. As a family friend said: ‘Whatever exactly it was that happened with Lily James, it was just a “No fool like an old fool” moment.’
One that Dominic West, if he has any sense, won’t be repeating any time soon.
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