UK Politics

Hugh Grant reverts to type to charm Lib Dems

Media captionHugh Grant: "Publicity is not what you make your living off"

It was a winning performance.

Humorous and at times, a bit bumbling, it could have been one of the characters played by Hugh Grant in his various romcoms.

But it was the self-confessed "political virgin" himself, drawing the crowds to a fringe event at the Lib Dem conference on phone hacking.

No stranger to the tabloids, he has become something of a campaigner on the issue.

Few such events have their own press conference beforehand, but then few can boast one of Britain's biggest stars on the panel of guests.

Those who did not arrive early to the packed event at Birmingham's International Convention Centre were turned away, disappointed.

Romantic lead

Inside, as photographers descended on the star, a cheer went up as they were told to "move" to clear the view for the 200-or so activists who had bagged a seat.

And Grant - who has made his name as a self deprecating romantic lead - easily turned on the charm.

Sporting a bright yellow Lib Dem pass around his neck, he opened with: "I have never been to a political conference before, so I may get this wrong, but it's lovely to be here and very nice of you to have me. And thanks for the badge!"

The crowd loved it, some held their camera phones aloft to capture the moment.

While he was undoubtedly the star turn he was not given special favours by the panel and had been told to keep his speech to five minutes.

He was there to deliver a serious message. The phone hacking scandal had caught politicians' attention over the summer - but he was anxious to hold their feet to the fire.

Ultimately it was the politicians who would have to put it right, he said, and he would be at all three of the biggest parties' conferences "to try to identify those politicians really on our side".

'Goodies'

Framing the hacking scandal in terms of "goodies", and presumably "baddies", he questioned why the "good cops" involved in the Operation Weeting phone hacking inquiry were trying to use the Official Secrets Act to get the Guardian to reveal sources.

He lambasted the tabloid press - with whom he has had his share of clashes - over invasion of privacy and accused newspapers of having "effectively castrated our parliament for a long time".

Some politicians had "grown balls" over the issue - but could they be trusted to push through real change?

Mr Grant revealed that he had just come from a seven-minute meeting with Nick Clegg.

The Lib Dem leader has rubbed shoulders with another Hollywood Brit, Colin Firth, before the election, only to be abandoned later over his U-turn on tuition fees - was a new Lib Dem celebrity backer in our midst?

It didn't bode well for the party when the actor said Mr Clegg "did slightly depress me" by saying little could be done on hacking in terms of new laws until the Leveson inquiry reports back.

But he said he was hopeful the inquiry would keep the issue "hot" so changes could be made quickly when it finally reported back.

'Not Reagan'

Mr Grant said he was going to the Conservative and Labour conferences too and did not stress a political preference but cheered Lib Dem activists by adding: "You, more than any of the other parties, have a good bill of health. You have never been in bed with these scumbags."

As he was praised for speaking out against people "of great power", Mr Grant - who way back in 1995, made a film with Rupert Murdoch's company, 20th Century Fox - gave an embarrassed smile.

The star famously played a British prime minister in the Richard Curtis comedy Love Actually. Could he be thinking of throwing his hat into the political arena?

At the press conference, he put any rumours to rest - he had no "Ronald Reagan plans": "I don't have that brain power."

How about playing one of the party leaders in a film? How would he interpret David Cameron, for instance?

The star - whose characters in smash hits such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill tend to share the same personality traits - smiled and replied: "I only ever play one role - don't be ridiculous."

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