At home with George & Amal: 'The Clooneys' party with their new neighbors in the UK!

Published July 10th, 2016 - 07:24 GMT
The house sits on a five-and-a-half acre island on one of the most idyllic stretches of the Thames, at Sonning Eye. (Instagram)
The house sits on a five-and-a-half acre island on one of the most idyllic stretches of the Thames, at Sonning Eye. (Instagram)

There was much anticipation among the residents of Sonning when George and Amal Clooney finally moved into their 17th century mansion earlier this year after an intensive, 18-month long refurbishment.

The wives of this enchanting village were especially hopeful for an invitation from the new chateleine to a housewarming at Aberlash House — or even just a cup of tea.

But it soon became clear that only a select number of villagers from Sonning — which lies on the Thames just two miles outside Reading, Berkshire but feels like a fairyland at the end of the world — were to be welcomed into the Clooneys' orbit.

The Clooneys, one of the most high-profile couples on the world stage, have been virtually invisible in their home village, screened by a veil of lush foliage that reveals only a hint of rooftop and a glimmer of a boathouse next to the water's edge.

So the disappointed villagers decided that, if they were not to be permitted a glimpse of the Hollywood star and his barrister wife, they would have to create a George and Amal Clooney of their own.

They decided to create effigies of the pair which were displayed in the village during the recent Sonning Festival in May. The effigies reveal a splendid likeness, although they are, perhaps, more flattering to 55-year-old George than to his 38-year-old wife.

George is cool in one of those pale blue suits he favours and flip-flops on his feet. His wife, known for her extravagant dress sense, is in a red ruffled number adorned with gold stars, pointy black shoes and big black sunglasses. Cardboard boxes, symbolising the recent move, are scattered about them.

The Clooneys did not attend the Sonning Festival, just as they haven't yet attended any other village event. It is not clear whether they are aware of the models of them created by their neighbours.

But if they wish, they can check out the pictures of the effigies on the Sonning Scarecrow Trail Facebook page, captioned: 'At home with the Clooneys.'

And what a home it is. As planning documents submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council, and publicly available on their website, reveal, the building work commissioned by the couple has turned an illustrious property into a sumptuous home.

The Clooneys paid an undisclosed sum for the Grade II-listed property, which was put on the market for £7.5 million, in September 2014, a couple of weeks after their three-day wedding extravaganza in Venice.

Remodelled during the Georgian era, the house, stands on a five-and-a-half acre island on one of the most idyllic stretches of the Thames, at Sonning Eye, which marks the boundary with Oxfordshire.

The village is a higgledy-piggledy mix of half-timbered houses, some dating from the 13th century, and more austere Georgian properties. There is a slightly unreal feel to the place, as though it's part of a film set.

George is said to have told the builders at the start of the project: 'What Amal wants, Amal gets.'

It was evidently not a throwaway remark. Budget? There wasn't one.

The brief was to create the perfect family home — whatever the cost. Not long afterwards, intensive renovation work began, with a 20-strong workforce tasked to create a dream family home.

For many months, the villagers endured a cacophony of building work. The skyline, for a time, was dominated by a 200ft crane, the streets filled by a constant stream of HGVs and goods vans going to and from the property.

It was reported that neighbours had expressed their annoyance.

There were also complaints about the height of the poles on which CCTV cameras were to be placed, and concerns about the position of the wooden fence erected around the island perimeter to repel intruders attempting to land on the island from the water. Now the building work has finished however, difficulties have been resolved and tranquillity restored.

The finished product has been declared a Grand Design on a truly monumental scale.

It is for the couple, who are believed to have moved into the property in April, their very own Xanadu.

How much it all cost only the Clooneys know, but judging by the extensive work done, the final bill could easily be in the region of £20 million — at least twice what the couple originally paid for the property.

Everything has been designed in impeccable taste, with a dreamy, romantic feel — an American movie star's vision of an English country estate. The interior, comprising almost 11,000 square feet in total, has been completely overhauled.

Original features have been retained but the interior now has a light, modern feel compared with the more traditional fixtures of old.

Staff quarters include a professional kitchen (neighbours says the Clooneys have an Italian chef), bedroom and office.

At night, the sandstone property, with its newly relaid Yorkstone terrace, is illuminated by floor lights.

A walkway connected to the house leads to a glasshouse and a spacious pool house looking out over a 60ft swimming pool, hot tub and a terrace of reclaimed Yorkstone, lined with a row of pine trees.

Next to the pool is a shaded oak pergola area in which the couple can relax after a dip. The emphasis has been on making everything appear natural and organic.

To that end the pool, for example, has a hard, decorative finish in grey Marbelite rendered lining 'to appear like a garden pond'; much of the pool house has been constructed from reclaimed brickwork.

Within the state-of-the-art leisure complex is a 12-seater private cinema — a must-have for a Hollywood superstar like George.

A short walk from the pool is an AstroTurf-covered tennis court surrounded by a black netting.

The long lawn leading to the river has been re-laid and fitted with a subterranean irrigation system.

There is also a gym with accompanying shower and changing area (well, it is a long walk back to the main house).

The boathouse, which has its own landing stage, has also been refurbished.

One of the most romantic areas of the property is the River House. This was knocked down and rebuilt, weather-boarded and has stone steps leading down to the river.

Here George can relax with a glass of his own-brand tequila, Amal with a chilled Chablis, perhaps, and drink in the tranquillity while discussing their plans to make the world a better place — or George's plans to make some better films.

His most recent effort, the thriller Money Monster, was panned by critics.

They have planted, at what must be a phenomenal cost, an abundance of trees and plants around the perimeter of the island.

The property used to be one of the loveliest landmarks in Sonning. Now it is concealed behind dense foliage.

Among the fully grown trees transported into Sonning by lorry — and responsible for some huge traffic jams over the 18th-century Sonning Bridge — were white willow, goat willow, black poplar, aspen, hawthorn, hazel, holm oak, yew, holly, wild pear, wild cherry, crab apple and small leaved lime.Shrubs and flowers planted in the grounds include tulips, roses, geraniums, dahlias, magnolia, wisteria and jasmine.

It is George and Amal's very own garden of Eden.

In years gone by, King John and Queen Elizabeth I stayed at the Bishops Palace which used to stand on the other side of the river to the Clooney mansion.

Today, it is the mantle of Hollywood royalty that envelops this most beautiful spot.

Two weeks ago, they finally held a party, but only a select group of villagers are believed to have been invited.

They included Max McNeill, the multi-millionaire founder of the IT company Ultima Business Solutions, and a few friends George has made at The Bull pub, where he goes occasionally for a glass of whisky with his minder.

'We only got to know about it because there was music blaring from the property at 1.30am,' says a village source.

But might not the villagers catch a glimpse of the Clooneys out for dinner one night in one of the nearby restaurants? Unfortunately, that's proving tricky, too.

The couple only ever go to The French Horn, up the road from Aberlash House.

According to another village source, on at least one occasion when the couple have dined there, Clooney has requested a private area of the hotel where he and Amal can dine alone.

When they finished their meal, a car was called to return them to their home, about 50 metres away. 'He [Clooney] is a ghost,' says a village source.

'You just don't see him. He has decided the few people who he wants to be friends with. He doesn't mix outside of that.'

While understandable in many ways, there is disappointment among the villagers that George and Amal have been unwilling to date to take a stroll through the village together. It seems that while George goes to The Bull pub on occasion — one waitress who served him is said to have kept the glass he used as a memento — Amal has not been seen at all.

But what of the three dogs the neighbours say the Clooneys own — two spaniels and a bassett hound? Don't George and Amal take them out for a walk?

That duty, it seems, usually falls to their female Italian chef.

Indeed, despite their creation of a dream home, the couple do not seem to have spent much time in Sonning at all.

Last week, they were in Italy, staying at Clooney's palatial residence on Lake Como. Clooney also has a mansion in Los Angeles and a beachside property in Mexico.

'He's not here at the moment,' says a neighbour. 'He flashes in and flashes out. I think the weather's too bad.'

Other familiar faces in Sonning include 'spoon bender' Uri Geller and Led Zeppelin guitarist, Jimmy Page, whose leather-clad figure wandering around the village adds to its unique feel. The villagers wish that the Clooneys would follow the example of another well-known local, Conservative MP and leading prime ministerial candidate, Theresa May.

'George keeps very much under the radar,' says another villager, 'unlike our prime ministerial hopeful, Theresa May.

'She is great, she attends everything and is very supportive. She is very well liked here.

'We did a fundraiser at the school in March and she came and gave a speech. She was brilliant, very funny. You see a completely different side to her from what you see on TV.'

Perhaps Mrs May, then, can serve as an example to the Clooneys? Indeed, if she does become Prime Minister it's likely she won't be left off the guest list at the couple's next party.

After all, George, there's still plenty of time to make friends with the neighbours.

Click here for photos. 


By Natalie Clarke

Additional reporting: Dominik Lemanski and Andrew Buckwel

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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