Stars’ weddings are fuelling false expectations of marriage
David Leppard Published: 18 November 2012
Sir Paul Coleridge has overseen many divorces (Francesco Guidicini)
A SENIOR High Court judge has warned young people against viewing
celebrities as role models while a study reveals that the marriages of
superstars are twice as likely to end in divorce as those of ordinary
Sir Paul Coleridge, who has presided over dozens of high-profile divorces,
including that of Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills, described the
figures for celebrity break-ups as ‘alarmingly high’ and ‘tragic’.
He believes magazines such as Hello! promote unrealistic expectations of
marriage that have contributed to a dramatic increase in divorce and family
‘My message is that . . . people should be very careful. It would seem that
they [celebrities] are rather less happy than those of us who live a more
humdrum existence,’ he said.
The new figures will be released this week by the Marriage Foundation, a
charity that helps to combat marriage break-up, which Coleridge founded
early this year.
The figures are based on research by the Office for National Statistics and
an analysis of 572 ‘better known’ celebrity couples who have married since
2000. The study found the divorce rate among celebrity couples who had been
married for 10 years was 40%. The UK national average after the same period
The differences were even greater for shorter periods. One in 10 celebrity
couples were divorced after only two years, compared with one in 100 for
other couples; 25% of celebrity marriages ended after five years, compared
with 7% for the rest of the population.
The report highlights 11 celebrity marriages that lasted 14 months or less,
noting that the number of non-celebrity marriages that were equally short
was less than 1% — about half the celebrity ratio.
The ‘very short’ celebrity marriages included those of the comedian Russell
Brand and Katy Perry, the pop star, which had lasted 14 months, and the
entertainer Jennifer Lopez to a dancer, Cris Judd (eight months).
The study comes after the number of divorces in England and Wales was shown
to have risen to 119,589 in 2010, the latest year for which figures have
been published. That was an increase of 4.9% for 2009, when there were
113,949 divorces after several years of decrease. Marriage rates have fallen
in recent decades with growing numbers cohabiting.
Coleridge, who has been married to Lisa, his wife, for 40 years, is
particularly concerned about the impact of marriage breakdown on children —
an estimated 3.8m are caught up in the family justice system. He admits his
charity¹s study does not establish a causal connection between fame and
marital misfortune, because other factors such as education and social class
could also be responsible. ‘It could be just coincidence. But this research
is completely unbiased and these kind of cases come before me in court all
the time,’ Coleridge said.
‘There is a disconnect between the nature of real long-term relationships
and the dramatised and apparently more exciting versions portrayed on
screen. And this is surely exacerbated by the huge expensive fairytale
weddings attended by the icons of the day. This must create a false
expectation within the participants that in some way their relationships
will be better, easier and, above all, more exciting than the average.
‘Unfortunately all men and women, glamorous or not, are riddled with the
same weaknesses and shortcomings which surface even quite soon after the
excitement of the wedding has died down.’
Ayesha Vardag, a divorce lawyer who has acted in several high-profile cases,
said celebrities often came under pressure to marry early to generate
publicity. ‘Careers are launched and relaunched on who you marry, divorce
and sometimes marry again. Celebrities, therefore, are pushed to marry
rather than undergo the less headline-worthy process of moving in together,’
Coleridge argues that rather than the ‘fairytale’ image created by Hello!,
marriage should instead be compared to a cricket Test match.
‘Most of the time not very much happens,’ he said. ‘The beauty of the match
is that it is played out over a long time and at the end there have been
ebbs and flows, happy times and sad, exciting times and more mundane times,
all going to make up the whole memorable experience.’