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I'm single again; STEVE COOGAN ON WHY HIS MARRIAGE LASTED ONLY 16 MONTHS.

Byline: JOHN HISCOCK

THE suite at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel is a world away from the Norwich Travel Tavern which comedy chat-show host Alan Partridge made his home.

Deliberately so. Sitting on a plush sofa, Partridge's creator Steve Coogan reveals for the first time that his marriage is at an end and he has quit Britain for the bright lights of Hollywood.

The reasons for his flight to the US run far deeper than simply shrugging off Partridge's Pringle sweater. Coogan, 38, is determined to bury the drug and drink-fuelled sex scandals of his sordid past.

"I was the village idiot," he says. "Here, I'm a new face with new opportunities."

His 16-month marriage to 32-year-old society beauty Caroline Hickman has finally foundered in the wake of his self-confessed drug-taking and constant womanising.

"Right now, I'm single," he says, "but I have a seven-year-old daughter who is a very important part of my life. People don't recognise me here. In England I have a lot of attention and I'm often pursued by the paparazzi, so it's kind of nice not having to deal with that."

He fidgets uneasily when confronted with some of the more shameful episodes which have dogged his personal life. He hit rock-bottom in April when he was caught with a buxom lap dancer Joanne Young and her friend Jenny Ryan after a performance at a charity gig at the Royal Albert Hall.

Joanne revealed that he had joined in the hotel-room antics while repeating Alan Partridge's comic catchphrases "A-ha" and "Back of the net".

"I'm such an idiot for doing it," he says. "I did a few lines of cocaine. It is madness - getting drunk, doing drugs, then going back to the hotel with two girls."

Today he is promoting his first Hollywood starring role in Around The World In 80 Days and he clearly does not expect to be asked about sex, drugs and alcohol.

When I ask him about his alleged intention to seek professional help for his sex and drug problems, he stammers: "I was misquoted. I didn't say that. I sought help once before, seven years ago, but I never made those comments."

His long-suffering wife - great-niece of the late Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Basil Hume, is expected to file for divorce soon because of Coogan's womanising.

Caroline has moved out of their pounds 850,000 double-fronted home in Hove, West Sussex, to a flat in West London. She insists she doesn't want his money.

When they married in December 2002 Coogan described it as "the best thing I've ever done", but their relationship soon foundered under the weight of his infidelities. There were early warning signs. Just eight months before they tied the knot, they split up temporarily and Coogan had brief liaisons with US gossip columnist Catherine Townshend and lap dancer Terina Newman.

Even before Caroline, the comic genius had set the pace for his troubled private life. In 1996 he was dumped by solicitor Anna Cole, the mother of his daughter, after affairs with THREE women.

One, topless model Nancy Sorrell, revealed how Coogan flung pounds 5,000 in pounds 10 notes on his bed and told her: "Lie on them. Go on - lie on them." Now, sheltered by his virtual anonymity in the US, Coogan, the fourth of seven children born to an Irish Catholic family in Manchester, is hoping to immerse himself in work and distance himself from his messy past. But he is looking forward to showing daughter Clare his new life in America.

He gives a rare smile: "I think she'll love Disneyland and we'll do all the tourist things that I haven't done since I've been here. It'll be fun."

He adds: "I would never abandon England. I love England and I like working there. " But so far the move to Hollywood has been good for him. His starring pounds 3million role as pompous adventurer Phileas Fogg in the remake of Jules Verne's comedy adventure Around The World In 80 Days has set him on the brink of international stardom.

He has finished two other films - Happy Endings with Friends star Lisa Kudrow and Coffee And Cigarettes with Cate Blanchett, Alfred Molina and Bill Murray. And he is about to start work on a thriller, The Alibi.

He says of his role as Fogg: "I was a maverick choice because I'm not a big international name." And filming his first big-budget movie was certainly an eye-opener. "One scene was quite surreal - when I was sitting in the Jacuzzi with Arnold Schwarzenegger on one side and Jackie Chan on the other," he remembers. "I phoned home to tell my mum, because it was quite an unusual situation to find myself in.

"They're both big-muscle guys and I'm not the same shape as either of them. We had to be in swimming costumes, so before we did the scene I did as many push-ups as I could to build myself up so I didn't look too wimpish between those two guys.

"I was in awe of Jackie Chan but in the end he became a friend. We made each other laugh and he made me feel at ease. He couldn't have been more sweet. He had an assistant who would peel grapes for him and take the pips out, which I thought was the height of luxury, and he would give me half the bowl."

Whether his new-found success in Hollywood will help Coogan put his philandering days behind him remains to be seen. His off-screen antics could have easily warranted a triple-X rating, but on it he is now trying to keep his work suitable for young children.

He explains: "As a parent, you become concerned about the sort of things children see. A lot of the work I have done in the past hasn't been child-oriented, and the opportunity to do something like this that appeals to children is something I really want to do.

Whatever the critics say, the person I want to like it the most is my daughter. If she likes it, then I don't care what anyone else thinks."

Picture: KATZ

CAPTION(S):

MATES: with Jackie Chan in Around The World...; NOT KNOWING ME: Coogan enjoys going unrecognised in the US; SPLIT: Caroline has moved out
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 14, 2004
Words:1048
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