Amal Clooney Speaks Publicly About "Gentleman" George for First Time at AFI Life Achievement Gala

In an emotional speech, Amal talked about her husband's generosity, morals and penchant for pranks and described him as "the great love I always hoped existed."

On a night Hollywood celebrated the life and works of George Clooney, there was gushing praise from co-stars, colleagues and friends, but it was his wife, Amal, who gave perhaps the most heartfelt and intimate portrait of the Oscar-winning actor. 

Before beginning her speech, Amal Clooney told the audience at the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award gala dinner at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood that she had agreed to speak publicly about her husband for the first time. She began by outlining "a few things you may not know about George." 

"First, he is a gentleman. He is a gentleman in every sense of the word and in a way that seems so rare these days and perhaps even outdated," Amal said adding that George has never forgotten his Kentucky manners.  

The 40-year-old human rights lawyer cited examples of George's gentlemanly conduct on his sets, including the time on the set of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind in Montreal, he "refused to wear a warm winter jacket unless every actor got the same one even though it was 40 degrees below zero."

The second thing about George that Amal raised was his generosity. "He is generous with his time. He finds out about people who have suffered the same health issues as him and he writes to give them advice. He helps young people pursue their passion for film. He'll visit an elderly lady at our local nursing home as he thinks it will make her day," she said. 

Referencing the famous story of George giving his "boys" a huge cash present, Amal said: "He must surely be the only person in the world to invite his 13 closest friends to dinner one night and give them a suitcase filled with $1 million in cash. But it must be said, the 14th closest friend is still upset about it."

Amal's third thing was George's commitment to "good fights." She listed his work in Sudan, work with the UN and more recently mentoring some of the survivors of the Parkland school shooting in their efforts to achieve gun control

To illustrate George's "moral conscience," Amal read out a letter from famed newsman Walter Cronkite who said that the actor had "character and "class" and also "a thoroughly admirable lunatic courage, diving off the high board without knowing if there's any water in the pool."

Amal ended the speech by revealing how before she had met George at the age of 35, she had "become quite resigned to the idea that I was going to be a spinster." She said that from those early days hiding from the press in her London flat she knew she "would never want to be with anyone else."

She spoke of how George "is the person who has my complete admiration and also the person whose smile makes me melt every time," and with her teary-eyed husband looking on, she added, "My love, what I have found with you is the great love I always hoped existed. And seeing you with our children, Ella and Alexander, is the greatest joy in my life."

On the subject of their children, Amal said that George fills their home with laughter and happiness even "before the children have worked out that ‘da-da’ is actually Batman, a talking fox and friends with Mary Poppins." She concluded that by reiterating her pride in his accomplishments that "when our children find out not only what you have done, but who you are, they will be so proud of you too."

A full transcript of Amal Clooney's speech is below, followed by video from inside the event.

“Here are a few things you may not know about George. First, he is a gentleman. He is a gentleman in every sense of the word and in a way that seems so rare these days and perhaps even outdated. Everyone who knows him, even those who oppose him politically or who have quarrelled with him professionally, will tell you, he has not forgotten his Kentucky manners.

On every set I visit, I’m told by the crew that George sticks up for the most vulnerable. His security team told me that when shooting [Confessions of a Dangerous Mind] in Montreal, George refused to wear a warm winter jacket unless every actor got the same one even though it was 40 degrees below zero.

Now it's true that George's pranks, that we have heard about tonight, are an exception to his gentlemanly comportment. As Matt Damon found out when despite his rigorous workouts his trousers kept getting smaller, and tighter and tighter every time he appeared on George's set. 

But other than that, George is definitely a gentleman. 

The second thing is that George is incredibly generous. He is generous with his time. He finds out about people who have suffered the same health issues as him and he writes to give them advice. He helps young people pursue their passion for film. He'll visit an elderly lady at our local nursing home as he thinks it will make her day. He has a big heart and he puts it into everything he does, whether its making movies, hosting a fundraiser or often as quite often happens these days pranking our latest guest by using a nappy and a pot of Nutella. But George is generous in traditional ways too, by donating money to causes he believes in and spoiling loved ones. He must surely be the only person in the world to invite his 13 closest friends to dinner one night and give them a suitcase filled with $1 million in cash. But it must be said, the 14th closest friend is still upset about it. 

Third, George picks good fights. Even before I knew him, I admired George's commitment to taking up causes like exposing corruption in Sudan. And to taking moral stances like opposing the War in Iraq when it was far from popular to do so. Recently he worked with survivors of the Parkland school shooting on the campaign for gun control and he continues to mentor some of them today. He was even the UN's messenger of peace, but the reality is he fights for what is right as a way of life. George shows us all what it is to have a moral conscience and how powerful it can be when combined with eloquence and courage. This aspect of George's character was noted many years ago by Walter Cronkite, the famous newsman, who wrote George a letter that I found in our home. Here's how it begins: 

"Dear George, In the course of my chequered career I have encountered a fair number of movie stars. Most of them used their power badly, usually to prop up a frail ego. Some of them had style, not many had character, very few of them had any real class. You have character and you have class. You also have a thoroughly admirable lunatic courage, diving off the high board without knowing if there's any water in the pool. 

Walter was right and his words are all the more poignant at a time when many of us feel that character is lacking in some of the leaders we count on most." 

Although George modestly attributes much of the success we are celebrating here tonight to luck, I think it’s incredible talent and character that got him here. And these attributes also make him an amazing husband and father. I met George when I was 35 and starting to become quite resigned to the idea that I was going to be a spinster. Then we met and started hiding out in my London flat and very soon it felt like, no matter what happened, I would never want to be with anyone else.

I couldn’t sleep when we were apart and I’m told that I would display a particular grin and head-tilt when reading his text messages or the letters he would hide in my bag. Five years later, none of that has changed. He is the person who has my complete admiration and also the person whose smile makes me melt every time. My love, what I have found with you is the great love I always hoped existed. And seeing you with our children, Ella and Alexander, is the greatest joy in my life.

You fill our home with laughter and happiness and that’s even before the children have worked out that ‘da-da’ is actually Batman, a talking fox, and friends with Mary Poppins. I’m so proud of you, my love. Congratulations on this great honor that you’re receiving tonight. I’m proud of you, but I also know that when our children find out not only what you have done, but who you are, they will be so proud of you too.

 

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