It was the year when “King of Pop” Michael Jackson cried at the Oxford Union, pop teen queen Britney Spears performed on stage with a snake and Icelandic singer Bjork turned up at the Oscars dressed as a swan.
British showbiz writers searched for tittle-tattle on Robbie Williams’ love life and speculated endlessly about the demise of the hit girl band The Spice Girls.
But the story that grabbed the most headlines in 2001 involved a Hollywood power couple who out of the blue announced they were ending what many considered was a rock-solid marriage.
The divorce of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman dominated the press for most of 2001 and, for many magazine and newspaper showbusiness editors, was by far the top story of the year.
“For a running story, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman has been the biggest,” said Ben Todd, group showbiz editor for the Daily Star and the Daily Express.
“The best stories in showbiz are always the ones that are the most surprising…there hadn’t been any whispers about it.”
Nicole Kidman became one of the world’s most photographed women this year as showbiz watchers searched avidly for any signs of despair following her split from Cruise.
But many celebrity writers said Kidman, who was hailed by critics as “pure theatrical Viagra” when she appeared on the London stage in “The Blue Room,” came into her own in 2001.
She won critical acclaim for her roles in the musical “Moulin Rouge” and the thriller “The Others,” and is now widely tipped for a Best Actress Oscar next year.
The willowy redhead also recorded the Frank Sinatra song “Somethin’ Stupid” with British singer Robbie Williams, and some celebrity magazines even speculated that the pair were dating.
“Nicole Kidman is just going from strength to strength,” said one newspaper news editor who requested anonymity. “I imagine we’ll be writing a lot about her (next year).”
Another marital split that sparked huge media interest was British actress Kate Winslet breaking up with her movie director husband Jim Threapleton.
A media frenzy followed a couple of months later when Winslet, who starred in the blockbuster “Titanic,” was reported to have started a relationship with Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes.
Meanwhile, newspapers seized on the news that British film actress and producer Elizabeth Hurley is expecting a baby.
“The two stories of the year would have to be Tom and Nicole’s divorce and the marital separation of Kate Winslet and subsequent development involving Sam Mendes,” said Kevin O’Sullivan at The Mirror in London.
“Liz Hurley’s pregnancy was definitely one of the stories of the year. The birth of that baby will be huge,” he added.
Hurley, who sprang to fame when she attended the premiere of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” in a Versace dress held together with safety pins, announced American millionaire Stephen Bing was the father of her child.
SIR PAUL TO WED
Gossip columnists said the wedding of former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and former model and anti-land mine campaigner Heather Mills, to take place some time next year, should be a big story but won’t dominate showbiz pages for long.
“McCartney’s wedding will be a big event but I don’t think you’ll find McCartney and Heather Mills will be the couple of the year,” said O’Sullivan.
“The couple of the year, certainly for the first few months, will be Winslet and Mendes. That will be a huge running story.”
Some said American pop diva Madonna, who performed a sell-out global tour this year, would get more press attention in 2002 if she had another baby.
They also thought former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell could stay on the front pages if she married or became pregnant.
“Having babies, getting married – you can point quite easily to those events being big stories,” said one editor.
Television talent shows in Britain have created new singing stars this year, such as the pop group Hear’Say, but gossip columns always need fresh faces to write about.
“We could do with some new people to be honest,” said Todd of the Daily Star.
Still, Robbie Williams, who won the MTV Europe Music Award for best male singer this year, can expect his career to go on soaring in 2002.
Williams shot to fame in boy band Take That in the 1990s before turning solo, enjoying a string of number one hits.
“He’s Britain’s number one star,” said Todd.
WHO IS THE GREATEST SHOWBIZ COUPLE OF THEM ALL?
For many in Britain, the celebrity couple of 2001 could only be Victoria and David Beckham.
The England soccer captain and his popstar wife, popularly known as “Posh and Becks,” are Britain’s biggest style icons.
Victoria’s long-awaited autobiography made the best-seller lists in 2001, while Beckham clinched England’s place in the 2002 World Cup with a superb free kick against Greece.
While one entertainment writer said the Beckham name had lost some of the power it once had, others said they were still the definitive celebrity couple.
“David’s got more popular,” said one. “It used to be the other way round as she used to be the one earning all the money, whereas now he is. I think they’re still the biggest showbiz names in Britain.”