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Kylie, Dervla and me; Why Rupert Penry-Jones hopes that true-life drama Cambridge Spies will finally divert attention from the famous women in his life.

Byline: Barbara Davies

He is tall, handsome, talented and a successful stage and screen actor, but, much to his irritation, Rupert Penry-Jones has always been far more famous for the women in his life than his acting skills.

It's hardly surprising given that he is dating Dervla Kirwan - they recently co-starred onstage in Les Liaisons Dangereux - and he counts pop princess Kylie Minogue among his old flames. But Rupert is hoping that his latest TV role, as a double agent in this week's fact-based BBC2 drama Cambridge Spies, will put the spotlight firmly back on him.

He met Kylie in 1997 while working on a production of The Tempest in Barbados. It was a dream job. He would arrive to work on a jet-ski, skid up the beach and find the petite Australian singer waiting for him.

"You could see the Caribbean behind us glinting in the moonlight, it was great," sighs Rupert, 32. "Kylie wasn't so talked about when I was seeing her."

He won't say why they broke up, but his choice of phrase, "She's a very free spirit", is rather telling.

"We saw each other for quite a while," he says. "She's a wonderful girl. We're still in touch and there are no hard feelings between us. We're still friends. It was a brilliant time."

For the past two years, Rupert has been in a relationship with former Ballykissangel star Dervla. They have a lot in common, including a hatred of the party circuit.

"Dervla's in a slightly different league to me," he says. "But anyway, we don't do the celebrity couple thing. If anything we actively avoid it. We wouldn't do the Hello!/OK! thing either. If we got married Dervla would refuse, even if we were desperate for the money."

Not that a wedding is on the cards - they are not even in a hurry to move in together.

"There's no rush," says Rupert. "And we both have our own homes in London, which we love. Lots of my friends are struggling because they dived in too early. I'm definitely not going to be doing that."

At the moment, Dervla is in Newcastle filming The Seduction Club with Kelly Brook and Emily Woof. It's about women taking classes in the art of seduction.

"I don't know if she needs lessons, but she tells me she's learning a lot," he grins.

Given that Rupert's mum is To The Manor Born's Angela Thorne and his dad is stage star Peter Penry-Jones, you could say that acting is in his blood.

"I was brought up in the theatre," he says. "Instead of having babysitters I was stuck in a dressing-room backstage. I still love it - television doesn't feel as real. And I get bored sitting around on film sets. But to earn good money you have to do both."

At the age of 13, he appeared in The Tempest at Dulwich College, a private boys' school in South London, and was bitten by the acting bug. The show was a success and he went to the National Youth Theatre. After failing his A-levels, Rupert studied drama at Bristol Old Vic theatre school, but was kicked out after two years for being a "bad influence". But then, his blond, "posh boy" good looks have taken him further than mere academic achievement ever could.

Rupert has done Hamlet with Ralph Fiennes, co-starred with Cate Blanchett in Charlotte Gray and played barrister Alex in North Square. And now his suave demeanour has landed him a part in Cambridge Spies as Donald Maclean.

The drama is the true-life tale of four undergraduates at Cambridge in the mid-'30s. Courted by Soviet agents, the friends - Donald Maclean, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess - were seduced into the world of international espionage. Their double-dealings led to the deaths of many British and Americans before they were exposed as traitors.

Later this month, Rupert will appear at London's Cottesloe Theatre in Power, by Nick Dear. It runs until November, by which time he reckons he will be skint.

"I'll have to do some more TV work again," he shrugs. "I've got nothing lined up. I'm completely open to offers."

l Cambridge Spies, Friday, BBC2, 9pm.


BABE MAGNET: Rupert with ex-love Kylie (left) and new love Dervla
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 3, 2003
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