By Toby McNair, Daily Mail - 16 January 2003
Eight years ago Russell Crowe sought the advice of a seasoned showbusiness friend. He was in love with his girlfriend, he told veteran entertainer Stuart Wagstaff, and yet he knew he needed to go to Hollywood to advance his career.
'He wanted to marry Danielle Spencer,' says Wagstaff, who starred with the actor in The Rocky Horror Show back in the late Eighties. 'The trouble was he was totally focused on his acting career. He knew if he married Danielle that would have to be compromised.'
In the event, Crowe took his friend's advice. 'He who travels fastest, travels alone,' Wagstaff told him and so off set the hungry 31-year-old, determined to become the greatest actor of his generation.
That the romance has come full circle, with Crowe tipped to wed in Danielle April, has delighted no one more than Wagstaff. 'He needed to go off and prove himself and he's done that in spades. It's now the right time for him to settle - if not slightly belatedly,' laughs his friend.
Much was made of the impending nuptials at Crowe's annual party, held at his farm north of Sydney, between Christmas and New Year. Whereas a few years ago it was simply a gathering of old mates, Camp Crowe is now like a minifestival running over several days with barn dances, cricket matches, bands and movie screenings.
Forever the showman, this year Crowe gathered his fellow revellers one evening and with great ceremony led them in a song culminating in the announcement of his engagement. A few days later he abandoned his favoured one-finger salute to photographers and instead gave his fiancee an intimate kiss and hug when she met him as he finished a yacht race along Australia's east coast.
Any engagement - famous or otherwise - is generally accompanied by the 'Will it last?' whisperings. Witness the guffaws that followed the Jennifer Lopez/Ben Affleck engagement. That Crowe and Spencer have not faced such speculation from friends is a measure of their long friendship and compatibility.
Yet the announcement, coming hard on the heels of Crowe's latest foulmouthed skirmish, has prompted the inevitable question: Can she tame him?
'Of course, she won't,' laughs a film executive and long-time friend. 'Don't you think if she could calm him down and keep him on track she'd have done it already? That's not to say she's a walkover - she's a strong woman but Russell is Russell and does what he wants.'
Friends say he has observed the relationships of showbusiness colleagues and shrewdly deduced that the marriage of two celebrities - particularly A-listers - is usually doomed.
He saw at first hand the breakdown of Nicole Kidman's marriage to Tom Cruise and comforted Meg Ryan as her relationship with Dennis Quaid collapsed. The men who have successful marriages - he must have noticed - are those such Mel Gibson and Denzel Washington, men who have chosen women of stability rather than celebrity.
In Danielle, Russell has found a woman who possesses the quality he admires most: loyalty.
They met in 1990
on the set of a movie called The Crossing and enjoyed a fiveyear relationship
before the pull of Hollywood made their split inevitable.
They always stayed in touch, according to Danielle's father, Don Spencer, a children's entertainer. 'Russell and Danielle have never stopped caring about each other even though they first got together 12 years ago,' he says.
In the meantime, of course, Crowe has enjoyed a high-profile romance with Meg Ryan and a questionably close friendship with Nicole Kidman.
Danielle, as Crowe recently admitted, has coped admirably with the constant rumours yet, incredibly, he took no responsibility for his actions which have helped propagate them.
The truth is, he and Nicole are closer than most people, including Danielle. In the past 18 months he has gone to great lengths to see the redhaired Australian star. He flew to Sweden, where she was filming, to meet her on Valentine's Day, jetted to the remote Wakuda Island to join her on holiday, and a few months ago helicoptered her to Mexico where they holed up in his hotel for 24 hours.
According to friends, there have been a string of other secret meetings. Says a source: 'Russell reveres Nicole - he calls her "The Princess" and she adores his tactile attentiveness. There's definitely something burning between them but she's aware of his reputation and wants to keep the exact nature of their friendship secret.'
Yet the way they have spoken about each other publicly, with curious intimacy, is almost like a private game. Last year Nicole told People magazine how Crowe likes her to look natural: 'Russell always says: "Nic, just wear your hair curly and leave your glasses on. That's how you look best," she said.
In return, Crowe gushed about Nicole in a manner which would test the love and trust of most girlfriends, telling Premiere magazine: 'Nicole is nurturing by instinct, loyal beyond question, wise beyond her years. Her friendship is a constant gift of joy.
'I've put her on a pedestal, not because she is untouchable, simply because she deserves my respect, for the bravery she applies to her work and the thoroughness with which she attends to life.'
Friends defend these poetic missives as the right of an emotive man wishing to express himself, but his detractors regard them as the ramblings of an egomaniac obsessed with his own celebrity.
Take, for example, the response to his drunken and abusive antics in a London restaurant last November. Others would have cancelled their commitments and taken time out, instructing their publicists to issue a terse 'No comment.' Not Crowe.
He got on his rock band's website and personally issued an explanation. His schedule had caused 'massive stress' he wrote, and he was going home to see Danielle. 'I feel a great need to wake up with her.'
Publicly, Danielle's support has been unwavering. Only her family and Russell himself know exactly how she regards reports of his womanising and friendship with Nicole.
'She's inscrutable,' says a friend of the couple. 'She genuinely loves him but she's not a Princess Diana-type who weeps about every headline about him and Nicole. She's savvy and strong and I'd imagine when she has a go at him, she has a real go.'
Before Christmas there were reports that she was furious at him for inviting his exgirlfriends to his annual party but in the event they didn't turn up. Nicole has been in Australia with her family but notably she and Russell have not been spotted together.
Commendably, Danielle has not used her famous boyfriend to further her own career as a singer-songwriter. He may have directed her latest video, Tickle Me, and can occasionally be spotted in the back of the small Sydney pubs where she sings, but in interviews he is off-limits.
She has mastered a method of discussing him without actually saying anything. ' Talking about it lessens it,' she says simply. Their wedding will be a private affair and probably held at his farm.
As far back as 1995 Crowe was discussing his desire for children and friends say he is fantastic with everyone from babies to teenagers.
Says one: 'He doesn't just pat them and say: "Oh, isn't he cute?" He gets down with them and their toys and makes up special games. With the older ones, he asks their opinions and takes them seriously.' At last count, Crowe had 13 godchildren.
With Danielle equally keen to become a mother - 'I'd like three, but maybe after I've had one or two I'll think: "That's quite enough"' - it seems likely that family will soon become the couple's focus.
Like all actors, however, Crowe will face spending long periods away from them, particularly if, as is likely, Australia remains his base.
'I doubt he would ever move to America,' says Wagstaff. 'Being an actor is like being a sailor - you have to go away. Fortunately, Danielle's in the business so she understands.'
The crucial question, however, is how will he treat her? Professionally, he has a reputation for being difficult and demanding, often urging costly and time-consuming changes to script and direction. Yet he gives it his all - and expects the same from his co-stars.
Socially, as has been welldocumented, he can be rude, drunk and boorish. Yet Don Spencer argues that his future son-in-law upsets people because he is 'passionate about what he believes in'. So how will he behave within a marriage?
Friends say he will be loving and devoted but point out that he has chosen someone who tolerates his behaviour. While he's unlikely to embark on a series of affairs, the test will come if Danielle ever chooses to challenge the close nature of his friendships with other women.
Undoubtedly his parents, Alex and Jocelyn, will be his role model. They have been married for 40 years and their enduring love still captivates Crowe. He tells of how they 'still cuddle up in a corner' and dance together. More than anyone, they are hoping that Danielle, whom they adore, will keep Crowe out of trouble.
When he used to come home to the farm, Beacon Hill, in Coffs Harbour where they also live, they would sit around in the evenings and chat.
During the day, Crowe would walk or ride on horseback round the property, tending to the animals and often not returning until dusk.
Now, when they see him, he is either surrounded by his minders or tucked away reading scripts and fielding calls from Hollywood. Whereas once the farm was an escape, it has now been transformed into Crowe Central.
'It's like Graceland,' says a friend of his parents. 'There's a gatehouse with men on walkie-talkies and all the facilities you'd expect at a five-star hotel.
'He's got a cinema, swimming pool, tennis court and cricket pitch with a picket fence which looks like something from the English countryside.
'Everyone who visits is welcome to use what they like but most of the time you barely see Russell - even at his annual party. When he does come out of his office a hush descends and he's like a groom at his wedding - a few words for everyone but no time for proper conversation.'
This year safari-style tents were erected and caterers delivered 300 crayfish, 500 bottles of Krug and 2,000 cans of Crowe's favourite Victoria Bitter.
As Don Spencer has previously commented, all the 'usual suspects' were there but as well as old friends there were some new companions, including Australia's top crocodile hunter Steve Irwin. A few weeks earlier Crowe had toured Irwin's zoo after Danielle had become friendly with him at a photographic shoot.
Crowe's loyalty and generosity to friends is legendary and he still invites mates from as far back as his school days to rugby league fixtures and motorbike trips to the Outback. Yet this year at camp Crowe the mood was more like a publicity fair than mates round the barbie.
Music from the actor's band, 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts pumped over the speakers and guests were treated to a preview of his forthcoming film Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World.
Against a black screen a tall ship could be seen sailing on choppy waters and a voice boomed: 'On the far side of the world the future of 197 men and the hopes of a nation are in the hands of one man.'
Guests were in no doubt that Crowe has produced another Gladiatorstyle epic as Napoleonic war hero Jack Aubrey in the film based on the books of Patrick O'Brian.
The film, which also stars British actor Paul Bettany, tells the story of Aubrey and a doctor who joins his crew. The pair connect through their music and Crowe had to learn the violin to an acceptable standard.
He was taught by the director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Richard Tognetti, who was impressed by his pupil's formidable power of concentration.
Plans for a Gladiator sequel are in the pipeline and the actor is anxious to make his directing debut with The Long Green Shore, the story of soldiers fighting in New Guinea in the closing stages of World War II.
Yet his greatest role this year will be as groom. His performance, like his movies, will be faultless - but that's acting, for which he has an incomparable talent.
It is the long, hard haul of marriage which will prove the ultimate test.