The extravagantly dressed woman posed for the cameras as she stood arm in arm with her male companion. The dapper looking man alongside her was noticeably younger looking, to the extent that he could feasibly be mistaken for her son. It was the Harpers Bazaar magazine’s Women of the Year Awards in London on October 29, 2019, and the woman in question was Helena Bonham Carter. The English actress would have been unaware at this point how the confession she would make just days later about the man who had accompanied her on that night would cause a major stir.
Bonham Carter is a classic English eccentric; a unique and unconventional actress who has always appeared to do things on her own terms. Her demure beauty is as immediately notable as her peculiar dress sense. She is a complete one-off. With her striking, seemingly ageless face and untamed brown hair, it is easy to imagine why the man she accompanied on that glitzy night appeared to be so enamored with her.
Indeed, Bonham Carter is no stranger to having men in thrall to her, as we shall soon discover. From a four-year dalliance with a Northern Irish thespian to a 13-year relationship with an equally eccentric American film director, she has seduced several high-profile men into falling in love with her. Yet in the fall of 2019, it was her statement about her new man that got people talking.
Before we get to the bombshell confession though, we should fully introduce the woman behind it. Helena Bonham Carter was born in Islington, north London on May 26, 1966. She was the youngest of three children, with her two older brothers, Edward and Thomas, born in 1960 and 1961 respectively.
Her father was Raymond Bonham Carter. He had strong British roots as the son of politicians Lady Violet Bonham Carter and Sir Maurice Bonham Carter. Raymond was a high-flying merchant banker who served as a director for S G Warburg & Co. His banking credentials were so respected that in the 1960s he became a representative of the Bank of England on the International Monetary Fund.
Bonham Carter’s mother, Elena Propper de Callejón, hailed from a very mixed background. As her name suggests, she possessed Spanish roots, and was the daughter of Don Eduardo Propper de Callejón (who once served as the Spanish Ambassador to Norway). Don Eduardo was half-Czech too, and Elena’s mother Helene “Bubbles” – who was an artist, scribe and hostess – was a mix of Russian, French and Austrian-Jewish. “I look completely like my mum,” Bonham Carter told The Guardian newspaper in 2006. “She’s very foreign, very Jewish.”
As illustrated by her distinguished family tree, Bonham Carter was certainly not born into poverty. As a matter of fact, she came from a prominent British bloodline on her father’s side. Most notably, her great-grandfather was former British Prime Minister Herbert H. Asquith, a Liberal Party politician who served as Britain’s PM from 1908 until 1916, a tenure which included the opening three years of World War One. Asquith was the father of Helena’s grandpa Sir Maurice Bonham Carter’s wife, Lady Violet Asquith.
Bonham Carter’s illustrious background would not insulate her from the near-inevitable pain that life brings however, and in truth her early years were far from plain sailing. At the age of five, she endured a horror that would have a lasting impact on any child. Her mother Elena had a nervous breakdown, and would be laid up in bed for close to three years. The young Bonham Carter was by her mother’s side throughout the frightening ordeal.
However, just a few years later, when she was 13, another tragic event would occur that had a seismic effect on Bonham Carter. While in hospital having surgery to remove a tumor on his brain, her father Raymond suffered a major stroke. It would leave him in a wheelchair for the remainder of his life, as well as partially blind.
It was a cruel blow for the young English rose. However, the heartbreak of seeing her father confined to a wheelchair would serve as a significant motivator for Bonham Carter to pursue her dreams of acting stardom. As well as her father’s stroke, 1979 would also see the creative 13-year-old achieve second place in a national poetry-writing competition.
The young teen would invest her winnings wisely, using the prize money from the poetry competition as a means to getting her portrait published in a casting directory. The ploy worked wonders, with Bonham Carter getting her first agent off the back of it. During this period of her life she would be educated at South Hampstead High School and Westminster School in London, though it was becoming increasingly apparent in her mind what she was aiming to do with her life: acting.
In 1982 Bonham Carter would take the first major step in her acting career, appearing in the British TV adaptation of K.M. Peyton’s novel A Pattern of Roses. She would make her big-screen debut a few years later in A Room With A View. Her first starring role in Lady Jane would hit cinemas in 1986, and it was a breakthrough role in which she expertly portrayed the Tudor Queen Lady Jane Grey, who infamously ruled Britain for just nine days.
Soon after, Bonham Carter would appear in a couple of episodes of the classic ‘80s TV detective drama Miami Vice. She played Theresa Lyons, a scheming doctor and narcotics addict who jeopardizes an investigation by destroying evidence. Bonham Carter was by now a constant screen presence, and she would make a number of appearances on TV and in movies up to 1994, the year she would meet her first high-profile love interest.
Yes, in 1994 on the set of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bonham Carter would meet the Belfast-born actor and director Kenneth Branagh. The Northern Irishman – who was both directing and acting in the movie – was married to English actress Emma Thompson at the time. When Thompson and Branagh split in 1995 and he began dating Bonham Carter, gossip emerged that the pair had begun an affair on set. The pair would split a few years later, however, in 1999.
A couple of years before her split with Branagh, Bonham Carter had made her most acclaimed performance yet, as the calculating Kate Croy in the motion picture The Wings of the Dove. She garnered Best Actress nominations at the 1998 Golden Globes and Oscars for the role. Though she wouldn’t emerge victorious on either occasion (losing out to fellow Brit Judi Dench and Helen Hunt respectively), Bonham Carter was now a bona fide A-List star.
Bonham Carter would begin to branch out from her usual period-piece roles even more by the late 1990s, appearing in David Fincher’s acclaimed Fight Club alongside Brad Pitt in 1999. But it was on the set of a remake of Planet of the Apes where Bonham Carter would find love once more. Yet again, the man in question – this time American director Tim Burton – was with someone else at the time they met, namely actress and model Lisa Marie (who also appeared in the movie). The actress, director and his then-girlfriend even attended premieres of the film together. How awkward.
Bonham Carter had won the heart of Burton though, and after the movie came out in 2001 Burton ditched Lisa Marie and the pair began dating. The actress would become something of a muse for Burton in the next decade or so, as he repeatedly cast his partner in his films. Bonham Carter starred in a number of blockbuster hits including Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and Alice in Wonderland.
For many years, Bonham Carter and Burton were one of Hollywood’s most dependable – and eccentric – couples who were regularly spotted at premieres and award ceremonies together. Although they never tied the knot, Bonham Carter and Burton demonstrated their commitment to one another by having two children together; a son named Billy Raymond and a daughter called Nell. However, by 2014 their 13-year relationship had run its course.
Yes, in December of that year Bonham Carter and Burton announced to People magazine via a spokesman that they were breaking up. “The couple separated amicably earlier this year and have continued to be friends and co-parent their children,” he revealed to the celebrity publication, before appealing for privacy for the well-known celebrities and their kids. The split was something of a surprise.
Two years later, the actress told Harper’s Bazaar she longed to put tape on her forehead with “handle with care” written on it after her relationship with Burton ended. “You go through massive grief — it is a death of a relationship, so it’s utterly bewildering. Your identity, everything, changes,” she told the upmarket publication. “Everyone always says you have to be strong and have a stiff upper lip, but it’s okay to be fragile… sometimes you won’t know where to go next because you’ve lost yourself,” she added.
Bonham Carter’s career continued to flourish after the split though, with the actress appearing as the Fairy Godmother in a live-action remake of Cinderella in 2015, which interestingly was directed by her former lover Kenneth Branagh. That year she also played Edith Ellyn in Sarah Gavron’s right-to-vote movie drama Suffragette. Between 2016 and 2017 Bonham Carter would appear on the big screen in Alice Through The Looking Glass and 55 Steps and in the TV mini-seriesLove, Nina.
In 2018 Bonham Carter appeared in Ocean’s Eight, the fourth installment of the heist franchise that hit cinemas in June of that year. A month after that movie was released, Bonham Carter started filming for the third season of the hit royal drama The Crown. She would play Queen Elizabeth II’s wayward younger sister Princess Margaret in the Netflix series.
Her role as Margaret would bizarrely be mirrored by a major development in her personal life. Yes, it was in the summer of 2018 when Bonham Carter’s life would change in an unexpected way. Whilst she was at the nuptials of a friend in August of that year, the actress would meet a dashing young Norwegian man named Rye Dag Holmboe. The two of them hit it off, and began dating that October. But perhaps strangest of all, their union would create a remarkable symmetry between her personal and professional life.
That’s because Bonham Carter’s relationship with Holmboe would echo that of the woman she was now portraying: Princess Margaret. As the princess’s marriage to her first husband Lord Snowdon (previously known as Antony Armstrong-Jones) collapsed, she found love with a man named Roddy Llewellyn. The unlikely couple were introduced in Edinburgh’s Café Royal on their way to Margaret’s pal’s home.
When the princess met Llewellyn in 1973 he was a mere 25 years old. The landscape gardener, who bizarrely would go on to briefly pursue pop stardom, was a whopping 17 years her junior. Not surprisingly, the relationship proved of great interest to Britain’s tabloid newspapers. The royal and Llewellyn were snapped in the ocean enjoying a romantic getaway on the paradise island of Mustique in February 1976, and the subsequent avalanche of attention prompted the young gardener to issue a statement to the press expressing his regret if he’d caused any embarrassment to Her Majesty, whilst also asking for privacy.
In November 2019 Chris Granlund, executive producer of the documentary Margaret: A Rebel Princess, told Town and Country Magazine, “When it emerged that Margaret was having the relationship with Roddy Llewellyn, we were absolutely in the age of tabloid gossip and celebrity news, and this was the perfect story was to feed that machine,” He continued, “Feminism was growing but still there was a double standard that for an older woman being with a younger man at that time was a huge thing… he was constantly referred to as her ‘Toy Boy.’”
The princess and Llewellyn would be together for around eight years until they finally split. He moved on with his life and wed Tatiana Soskin in 1981, with the still-married pair having three daughters together. In 2002 Llewellyn commented on the infamous period of his life when he was dating the Queen’s sister. He said, “I didn’t think about the consequences of such a high-profile affair,” adding, “If we all had crystal balls, we’d all know which horse to back, wouldn’t we? I was just following my heart.”
According to the Princess’s biographer, Christopher Warwick, Her Majesty initially “didn’t approve of Roddy or of the relationship, and she thought that in all of this Roddy business, her sister was behaving badly.” However, at her sister’s funeral, Elizabeth apparently told Lady Ann Glenconner, who had introduced her younger sibling to Llewellyn, that she was pleased she had done so, given that her partner had made her “really happy.” The gardener, pop star and journalist finally had the royal seal of approval.
Bonham Carter then, had by sheer coincidence found herself hooking up with much younger man at the same time she was portraying the princess who had somewhat infamously done so. Her burgeoning relationship with Holmboe began while she was filming the story of Margaret’s split from Anthony Armstrong-Jones and subsequent romance with Llewellyn. Exactly like the princess too, Bonham Carter is a mother to two children, a boy and a girl. Life was really imitating art for the star.
For her part, Bonham Carter didn’t think that her new romance gave her any special insight into portraying Margaret. “It’s strange, though,” she admitted to The Times newspaper. She noted, “It was odd timing that I seem to have a similar age gap as her, but I think it would have happened whether I was playing her or not.”
In the interview with The Times, Bonham Carter was clear to stress that she had no concerns about the eye-watering 21-year age difference between her and Holmboe. In fact, the 53-year-old bullishly argued that there were considerable perks to hooking up with an older woman like her. “Everybody ages at a different rate,” she said.
Bonham Carter then confessed to the British newspaper what she liked most about her dashing young man. “My boyfriend is unbelievably mature. He’s an old soul in a young body, what more could I want?” she said. “People are slightly frightened of older women, but he isn’t.”
In the same Times interview, Bonham Carter took aim at society’s common perceptions about older women, sex and dating. “Women can be very powerful when they’re older. Why can’t we be sexually and romantically attractive just when our eggs are expired?” she asked. “Actually it’s much more fun because we’re so freed of the terror, there is no consequence, it’s all just for fun,” she insisted.
Bonham Carter then turned her ire on the notion that a younger man who chooses to date an older woman is nothing but a fancy plaything. “Toy boy is really a sexist remark,” she told The Times. “It implies he’s got nothing to offer other than his body. He’s got a great mind and a great humor.”
Bonham Carter later revealed that her boyfriend had made a positive connection with her two kids. She told the The Times that it was important for him to do so. “It won’t work unless the other person realizes he’s got to have different, separate relationships with the children as well,” she stated. “One thing about my boyfriend, he’s always thought he mustn’t represent a loss to my children, they mustn’t think his presence means they’re going to lose their mum on some level. He’s tried to forge – and very successfully – his own relationship with them and not be another father,” she added.
Bonham Carter, who landed the British Icon gong at the Harper’s Bazaar Women of the Year Awards in 2019, recently told the December issue of that magazine how happy she was at finding love with Holmboe after her painful split from Burton several years earlier. “You break up, you grieve, you get bored of grieving,” she told the glossy title. “And then you finally move on. I’m very happy with someone else. It’s been a bit of unexpected magic in my life.”
The English rose went on to explain to Harper’s Bazaar that Margaret was not a complete enigma to her; as a matter of fact she had met her numerous times and the princess had even dated her uncle. “She was a lifelong friend of my uncle Mark,” Bonham Carter explained. “He was in the Grenadiers, I think, and he guarded Margaret and Elizabeth at Windsor. And then they met, and I think there was a romance. He was really dashing,” she concluded.
Bonham Carter’s uncle and Princess Margaret would split up, but remain on good terms, and the actress remembers going to parties at her uncle’s home when she was a little girl when the princess was in attendance. She recalled to Harper’s Bazaar one particular time she met the royal with an amusing anecdote. After a blaze at Windsor Castle, she was invited there to toast its refurbishment. “Margaret was on her own with a drink in her hand and she talked to me,” Bonham Carter explained. “She said, ‘Oh, Helena, you are getting better, aren’t you, at acting.’” “Typical Margaret!” she concluded.
Bonham Carter revealed in the aforementioned Times interview just how meticulously she prepared for her role as Princess Margaret for the third and fourth seasons of The Crown. The actress left no stone unturned, reading biographies, seeking advice from numerous people who knew the deceased princess well, including her close pals, her ladies-in-waiting, and her one-time hairdresser. She would even pick the brain of a psychic. “I could win Mastermind [on Princess Margaret],” she joked to Harper’s Bazaar.
The princess’s friends were more than willing to help. “They spent hours talking about her, mainly because they loved her… they felt very strongly that a whole chunk of her character had never been recorded,” Bonham Carter revealed. The actress would also seek out one of the main protagonists of the third season of the show, a certain Roddy Llewellyn. She explained to The Times how the meeting went down. “He came to tea with me and Harry [Treadaway], who plays Roddy,” she said. “He was so fun and warm — that’s what she [Princess Margaret] needed. He’s very musical. He started singing a song in my kitchen,” the actress revealed.
Bonham Carter also detailed what Llewellyn had told her about his notorious relationship with Princess Margaret. “He said they found each other just at the right time,” she explained. “They were both very lost, both felt somewhat outsiders, just not quite accepted by the family – or not quite good enough. The actress also drew parallels between the treatment of the princess and Llewellyn and the tough ride Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have received from sections of the press.
Bonham Carter’s performance as Princess Margaret has won widespread acclaim, with Season Three of The Crown achieving a 89 percent fresh rating from 79 critics on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The Los Angeles Times newspaper’s TV critic Lorraine Ali noted that “the troubled Princess Margaret is played with zest by the brilliant Helena Bonham Carter. The royal black sheep has finally found an era that suits her: the swinging ’60s, where anything goes. She smokes, drinks, parties and wears colorful minidresses, all outside the castle walls. The crown frowns, but the public loves her.” And, with an elegant young boyfriend and a continuously vibrant career, it is fair to say that life is also very good for the 53-year-old English actress who plays her.