Sparkling with lights that twinkle from its mirrored walls and bounce off its polished marble floors, Claridge’s is always a magical place for a wintry rendezvous. And this grey, chilly lunchtime, the establishment has truly outdone itself; for there, tête-à-tête in a cosy corner of the restaurant, sit Lily James and Matt Smith, better known as Cinderella and Doctor Who, in close confabulation. No wonder the small children sitting at the next door table have swiveled round on their seats to gaze in unabashed wonder.
And who could blame them? James is enchanting, adorable, a star who appeals across genders and generations. From her breakthrough role as Lady Rose in Downton Abbey, to Disney’s new Cinderella, followed by the beguiling Natasha Rostova in War and Peace, and then, last year, stepping into Meryl Streep’s dancing shoes for the Mamma Mia! sequel, she has embodied a series of delightfully giddy heroines. More surprisingly, her innate sunny likeability has cast the same glow over other, less immediately appealing roles, including a diner waitress in the action film Baby Driver and Churchill’s conscientious secretary in Darkest Hour. Her relationship of four years’ standing with the equally beloved Matt Smith seems to be just another chapter in a fairy-tale career. “I think charm is the most important ingredient in a human being ... That is what Lily James has,” Downton Abbey’s creator Julian Fel