Kid-friendly London is something of a Connelly family tradition. At
14, the actress went to the Royal City with her mother to film the
1986 movie Labyrinth, costarring David Bowie, and her memories
remain indelible. "I was there for five months for that," she says.
"I remember we stayed in a house in Hampstead, which I still love,
in a little cul de sac of houses in Hampstead Heath, which is a big
park. I just loved our house, the park, the swimming ponds, and I
thought London was just a beautiful, beautiful city." Connelly
regularly returned to London for short trips as her star rose in
Then she fell in love with an Englishman, Paul Bettany, who was
born in London. His maternal grandmother was an actress, as were
his mother and father, who served in the Royal Navy. Bettany was
classically trained at London's prestigious Drama Centre before
graduating to local stage, TV and film. He and Connelly met on the
set of A Beautiful Mind, for which Connelly won an Oscar for Best
Supporting Actress for her role opposite Russell Crowe as Alicia
Nash, the wife of schizophrenic mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr.
Bettany played Nash's imaginary Princeton roommate.
"Did Paul show you his London?" I ask.
Of course he did, she says, and names some adult-oriented hot spots
of the city. She adores Claridge's, the venerable art deco landmark
hotel in posh and proper Mayfair, whose every glamorous inch is a
1920s fantasy. They love breakfasts at the Electric Brasserie - "a
private-club kind of place right off Portobello Road where you sit
on couches, kind of a loungy atmosphere with a movie theater
attached" - and dinners at the theater district landmark the Ivy or
its sister seafood restaurant, J. Sheekey, see-and-be-seen places
with solidly phenomenal English food. On one of their first visits,
Bettany took her to the Cotswolds, where he introduced her to
friends and relatives, and they stayed in "houses in the country,
where the houses have names." They were married on New Year's Day
2003 in a very private and British affair at a manor house in
Scotland called Gilmartin, where, surely, Connelly's favorite song,
Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," wafted in the breeze.
"The people who own it, the baron and baroness, they rent it out,
and they run the place," she says. "The most extraordinary meals
and really lovely people. It was this big rambling stone estate,
not quite a castle. That's what I find astounding as well: The
castles still exist! That you can visit and stay in. It's such an
amazing thing that European children grow up seeing this!"
A dedicated and dexterous sportswoman, Connelly loves running
through Hyde Park, the greenbelt in the middle of the city. But in
the summer of 2003, the London of nightclubs, fancy dinners, and
jogging was very far away. "I didn't do too much running this last
trip, being pregnant," she says. But she was always hungry, as was
Kai. "I hear people say, 'Oh, London, the food's horrible,' but
it's so untrue," she says. Sometimes, she and Kai would walk the
streets and discover places whose names they never even knew. "I
enjoyed walking around, being pregnant. We'd just try places in
different neighborhoods. Primrose Hill. Notting Hill. Bunch of
great restaurants in Notting Hill."
But there was one restaurant name Kai could never forget: Nobu.
"Kai really likes Japanese food," says Connelly. "It's big, and
it's in the Metropolitan hotel. You walk in and there's a big bar
and people hanging about. To Kai, it's a superfancy sushi
restaurant, really special. He likes rolls with extra ginger. No
wasabi, extra ginger."
After lunch, they were on the run again, sometimes to Hampstead
Heath, where Connelly lived when she was 14.
"They have great swimming ponds," she says. "They were having an
unprecedented heat wave. One hundred and eight degrees. I was
trying to sneak Kai into the Women's Pond. But it didn't work. It's
definitely for women only. I thought, 'Women and six-year-old
boys.' But it's definitely a place to go back to, really great.
There's a Women's Pond, a Men's Pond, a Mixed Pond."
Despite his mother's best efforts on his behalf, Kai was more
interested in exploring than swimming. I can see him tugging at her
arm and leading her back into a cab, directing the driver to take
them straight to the Tower of London, the 900-year-old edifice that
no six-year-old (or 60-year-old) can resist. "Kai loved it," she
says. "It's not just all tower. It has a moat around it and turrets
and different towers. There's the collection of crown jewels and it
has armor. Then, in the fields outside, they do jousting and
re-enact sword fighting."
She is re-enacting her three months in London now, reeling off
place after place that she and Kai visited: the Tate Modern, which
she calls "awe-inspiring"; rowing in a wooden skiff on the Thames
River in Richmond in West London, where she and Kai would pass Eel
Pie Island (Henry VIII used to stop there for lunch while hunting)
before rowing up to a pub for a lunch of their own; Legoland, near
Windsor Castle, "a big hit"; the fish market, "I did lots of
cooking"; Buckingham Palace
all of the landmarks of what she
calls the "heartbreakingly beautiful city." The only thing she
didn't get to do that trip was to take Kai to Paris via the
Chunnel. "It's just a wonderful thing to be able to do, and I kept
wanting to, but didn't get around to it," she says.
Then, almost three months were gone, and her husband had a rare day
off. So Connelly, Bettany, Kai, and some friends walked miles
through Hyde Park, attending a crazy only-in-London event called
Red Bull Flugtag. It was, she says, "a competition where people
built these flying machines that went off this ramp, and they would
see how high the machines could fly before crashing into the water.
The most absurd thing. But I think we walked miles and miles in the
heat, with these massive crowds. It was so crowded, you could
hardly get close enough to see what was going on. I do remember we
walked practically all the way across the park in this heat
The next day, Connelly went into labor.