Amal Clooney: Making headlines for all the right reasons
The media clamoured to see the global human rights lawyer in action
this week. She was simply doing her job
Friday 30 January 2015
There is no doubting George Clooney’s eye for beautiful women, but
until October 2013 his relationships followed a certain pattern.
Actress; cocktail waitress; waitress and reality show contender;
underwear model and actress; professional wrestler – each abandoned in
turn, the gossips tell us, when commitment raised its ugly head. As
recently as September 2013, the actor told GQ magazine in answer to a
question about marriage: “I haven’t had aspirations in that way, ever.
I was married in 1989. I wasn’t very good at it.”
And now here he is, hitched – to another great beauty, to be sure, but
a woman from a totally different place, in every sense, than her
No less in the public eye than her husband, this week Mrs Amal Clooney
was in the headlines on her own account, standing in a courtroom at
the International Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg before an
international bench of judges, wearing black lawyer’s robes and
“falling bands”, the two plain linen rectangles that cover the shirt
The subject was one of vast importance: the mass murder of some 1.5
million Armenians during the First World War – long regarded as the
first genocide of the 20th century, but which her antagonist in the
case, Dogu Perincek, chairman of the Turkish Workers’ Party, claims
was nothing of the sort.
The court was packed with far more journalists than the question at
issue would normally draw, many of them from organisations whose
interest in matters Turkish and Armenian is marginal at best. Geoffrey
Robertson, the veteran human rights barrister and Clooney’s colleague
in the Doughty Street Chambers where they both work, twisted on his
chair at her side. But Amal Clooney, speaking in the English vowels
chiselled at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, betrayed no nerves. She knew
very well what she was about.
Amal Clooney is no less in the public eye than her husband (Lauren Crow)
The Armenians were killed, she told the court, “with specific
genocidal intent”. There are photographs of the River Euphrates filled
with blood. “A campaign of racial extermination was in progress
against the Armenians,” she insisted. Its object was “the total
obliteration of Armenians”. She quoted a contemporary Turkish leader’s
statement that there was “no room for Christians” in Turkey.
The court was hushed. God knows what some hacks were making of it. The
world of Vegas cocktail waitresses and underwear models and curvaceous
young women wrestling in bikinis seemed a very long way away. George
Clooney had fallen head over heels for what one reporter called “the
allure of the brainiac”.
The daughter of a prominent and intellectual Lebanese family, her
father a Druze, Amal Alamuddin was brought to London aged three with
her siblings, fleeing her homeland’s civil war. The family was well
off: a government minister and the founder of Lebanon’s airline were
among their relatives, and they settled in a comfortable home in
Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire.
Alamuddin – who turns 37 next week – shone at Dr Challoner’s High
School in the same county, winning an exhibition to St Hugh’s, the
formerly women-only college which was also alma mater of Aung San Suu
Kyi. Gaining a 2.1, she went on to take a master’s degree at New York
University. While there she received the Jack J Katz Memorial Award
for excellence in entertainment law – probably the first time that her
world and that of the playboy film star, twice declared “sexiest man
alive” by the US’s People magazine, came within shouting distance of
Alamuddin was already clear that her future lay in international law,
and graduation was followed by stints with the International Court of
Justice and the special UN tribunals for Lebanon and former
Yugoslavia. She was not only very gifted but also a workaholic of huge
ambition. Over the following years she was involved in some of the
highest profile international cases on the planet, including those of
Yulia Tymoshenko, Muammar Gaddafi’s former intelligence chief Abdallah
al-Senussi, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
When she returned to London in 2010 and knocked on the door of Doughty
Street Chambers, there was no doubting that she was a prize: not only
a superb lawyer, but also one with unusually strong motivation.
Geoffrey Robertson said that she showed strong commitment to “the
basic idea that everyone is entitled to a basic level of dignity… We
offered her an exceptional pupillage, which we do for exceptional
people, and she indeed was exceptional.”
Nor was it surprising – to those familiar with the sort of dedication
that lawyering at this level requires – that Alamuddin had not yet
married or even, leaving aside vague suggestions of close friendship
with Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, paired up with a serious
boyfriend. As Robertson points out, human rights law is not
intrinsically glamorous work – “cramped over a desk with thousands of
pages of case law to get through in an evening”.