George Clooney's English Neighbors Downplay Security Spat
Amid reports of locals being upset about the actor's plans for CCTV cameras around his new $16 million country manor, THR visits the small village of Sonning-on-Thames.
George Clooney might not have upset his new British neighbors as much as previously thought.
Just a week ago, it emerged that the actor had come up against the residents of Sonning-on-Thames, a sleepy English village 33 miles west of London where he recently purchased a $15.57 million mansion for himself and his new wife, Amal Alamuddin.
A planning application for 18 CCTV security cameras, including eight on wooden poles up to 16 feet high around the sprawling nine-bedroom, 17th-century manor — known as the Mill House — had forced an objection by the local parish council, the local civil authority.
“When you are strolling next to a pretty riverbank, it’s a visual intrusion close to where people are walking,” said David Woodward, chair of the Eye and Dunsden Parish Council, at the time, adding that the cameras could also be a privacy concern for Clooney’s neighbors.
But when THR visited Sonning-on-Thames, this reporter couldn't find a single disgruntled villager, much less a pack of angry locals with raised pitchforks and shotguns.
“I think [the parish council members] just like to have something to complain about,” one resident tells The Hollywood Reporter while rolling his eyes, pointing out that he could actually walk to the Mill House through the field at the back of his garden. "But it’s so well covered that even if they had floodlights on there, I wouldn’t be able to see them. And anyway, there’s a lot of money here, so there’s a lot of big gates and security."
He’s not wrong.
Straddling the famed waters of the Thames but far from the bustle of London, Sonning was once described as "the most fairy-like nook on the whole river." And with a population in the low thousands, it’s about as quintessentially upper-class rural English as they come. Enormous converted farmhouses with names like 'The Homestead,' 'Long Gardens' and 'Heather Cottage' sit by the lush green banks of the water, while ancient crumbling barns are a reminder of the region's agricultural past. The whole area is somewhere you can easily imagine Richard Curtis scripting a wedding, complete with Rowan Atkinson as a bumbling vicar falling off a bicycle as Stephen Fry roars past in an open-top Jaguar, colorful scarf flapping in the wind.
Clooney apparently fell in love with the area while shooting The Monuments Men here in 2013, snapping up the property last October. But he’s not the only celebrity to call it home. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page has a house here, as does spoon-bending self-proclaimed psychic (and former Michael Jackson BFF) Uri Geller. "If you want to see security, check out the gates on HIS place," one local tells THR.
Clooney’s manor actually sits on an island between two branches of the river, an even smaller collection of estates known as Sonning Eye. Surrounded by dense, towering trees and weeping willows that droop lazily into the water, it comes with a fairly sturdy — and undeniably picturesque — natural security system already in place. From the opposite bank, there are only a few glimpses of the property available through the leaves, limited to the roof, while the occasional flash of yellow betrays the presence of a bulldozer (the noise of drills and hammers suggests there’s a great deal of work already going on). The intermittent boats that slowly cruise past would have little idea there was even a house there, let alone one with A-list celebrities within.
“I suppose people could reach him by dinghy, and that’s what he wants to stop,” another local resident tells THR, pointing out that he couldn’t see the place either. “If he wants to put up cameras and a big gate, fair play to him. I know I would.”
But it’s not just about security. Two months ago, an application was put in for a new swimming pool, pool house, glasshouse, home cinema room and annex, plus the demolition and rebuilding of a river house and new boundary fencing. The parish council objected, reportedly wanting the fencing pushed further back, but the local district council — the bigger governmental entity — overruled and approved the plans, asking only that Clooney reduce the size of the river house. The actor agreed.
“The Mill House actually used to be a bit of a problem,” one resident of 30 years tells THR, saying he was pleased someone was finally fixing the place up. “Years ago, there were illegal parties there that would go on till three in the morning. You could hear it all night. Once the police were called to shut it down.”
The only real issue with his new celebrity neighbor, he envisaged, would be the influx of visitors and media looking for photos. "Once they’re ensconced there, there’s only a single-lane bridge over the river, so it could become a problem," he said, adding that he'd heard the couple were moving in this September.
Just a short walk over this single-lane bridge lurks another spot where Clooney has also generated headlines for coming up against local resistance, although this time from a far higher power.
The Bull Inn, set in building that dates back to the 16th century, is a traditional Shakespearean-era English drinking hole, replete with white walls, dark wooden low beams and dim lights inside. So taken with his new local was Clooney — reportedly calling it “the greatest pub in the world” — that he made an inquiry about purchasing the place.
But the Church of England, which owns the site (St. Andrews Church sits just next door) and leases it to the brewer, Fullers, isn't looking to cash in.
“The church won’t sell it to him,” The Bull’s barman explains to THR, affectionately referring to his new celebrity regular as "Georgey." “Fullers has been trying for years.”
While Clooney’s plans to enter the pub business might have stalled, THR found that his imminent arrival in Sonning hasn’t rustled as many feathers as previously reported. Aside from a few extra camera clicks, it seems this picture-postcard village will remain just that, with the new couple safely concealed behind some of mother nature’s thickest defenses.
And as for the security cameras, few locals believe the parish council will manage to stop the plans. As one says to THR: “He’s got clout and he’s got money.”