Catherine Zeta-Jones

In April 1996, Catherine Zeta-Jones, star of the British smash TV series The Darling Buds Of May, was out of work and demoted to opening a cinema in Harrow, Middlesex, alongside a life-sized Bugs Bunny. What a difference a few years can make.

Her Mach 2 rise to fame is now Hollywood legend. Tossing and turning one evening in bed, Steven Spielberg flicks on the telly and is captivated by the exotic beauty starring in the made-for-TV movie Titanic. He casts her in the much coveted female lead role in The Mask Of Zorro for which he was executive producer opposite heart-throb Antonio Banderas, and the rest is history. A swashbuckling, ballsy performance, complete with a sexually charged sword fight, established the Welsh beauty as a true talent. Once dubbed The Darling Dud, Zeta-Jones is now firmly ensconced upon the Hollywood A-list.

Born on September 25, 1969, in Mumbles, a seaside town near Swansea in south Wales, to a seamstress mother and a chocolatier father, Catherine was a performer from the start. A tap dance champion at age 11, she left home shortly after her 15th birthday to appear in West End musicals, including a turn in 42nd Street where she famously replaced the ailing lead and stole the part right out from under her.

But after three years playing Mariette Larkin in The Darling Buds Of May, Catherine's career floundered. A series of disappointments including the 1995 film Blue Juice sent Catherine Los Angeles-bound, intent upon re-igniting her career.

After setting the screen ablaze in Zorro, Catherine held her own opposite Sean Connery in the heist blockbuster Entrapment, and garnered rave reviews for her work in Steven Soderbergh's drug flick Traffic. "I do have ambition, but I'm not ruthless. I don't want to look back and know I didn't give it my best shot," the jet-setting actress once said. Her determined nature paid off in 2003, when she took home a best supporting actress Academy Award for her role as Velma Kelly in Chicago.

Like Spielberg and movie audiences around the world, Oscar-winner Michael Douglas also fell for the onscreen Catherine after seeing her sizzle in Zorro. Michael, who shares her birthday, arranged a meeting with the rising star who was once thought to be planning a walk down the aisle with Hollywood producer Jon Peters through mutual friend Antonio Banderas.

A much-publicised guessing game of "are they or aren't they" followed, and eventually led to a millennium-eve proposal and a diamond described by one friend as a "paperweight". They were married on November 18, 2000, at a star-studded ceremony at New York's Plaza Hotel serenaded by a Welsh choir. The couple have two children: a son, Dylan Michael, born on August 8, 2000, and a daughter, Carys Zeta Douglas, born on April 20, 2003.

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