A sudden late snow is falling, bright with just a touch of magic, as the automatic gate to Aberlash House opens. It’s an afternoon in March but, in this powdery landscape, could be January. Footprints lead a few steps down a drive, between a row of trees, and climb to a small colonnaded entryway. A breeze is up; the air is bracing. Amal Clooney swings open the door and gathers me inside.
“I feel as if I know you already,” she says oddly, setting a latch against the cold. Tall, poised, and—unexpectedly for someone often seen in somber barrister’s robes—funny, Clooney is an easy host, and dashes off to hang my coat. She wears a red thigh-length Giambattista Valli sweater, jeans, and leopard-print boots she picked up years ago in Capri. The stately entry hall around us (towering ceilings, crisp Georgian molding) is trimmed with personal details. A softly faded Persian rug extends down the stone corridor. A side table, lit by a simple lamp, bears silver-framed black-and-white photos of her with her husband, George, and friends.
The two of them bought this house, set on a tiny island in the Thames called Sonning Eye, around the time they married, and then spent their honeymoon here, camping out in the unfurnished rooms. Last June, Amal gave birth to twins, Ella and Alexander, and since then the house—much like the Clooneys themselves—has grown giddy with the trappings of first parenthood. “We’ve had some ‘Mamas’ and ‘Dadas,’ ” Amal says. She smiles coyly. “George was very careful to ensure that ‘Mama’ was the first word.”
The many charms of her life, in other words, have not arrived without some background work. I’ve spent the morning interviewing members of her family, but it’s when I meet her that I learn—and this is why she feels we know each other—that she also subsequently interviewed them about me: a barrister’s instinct for discovery, the better to respond by knowing how things stand.
Many people first encountered Amal Clooney in 2014, on her engagement to George. By then, though, she had already built a notable career as a London barrister in international human rights law—the system through which some of the world’s slipperiest transnational villains, such as ISIS, can be held accountable in court. “I remember all the stages in my career where I almost didn’t have enough confidence to try for something,” she says, “almost didn’t have the guts to follow something I was excited about doing, because I didn’t know anyone else who’d done it or other people made me question it.” Recently she’s tried to help young women approach similarly unconventional paths in law.
“What distinguishes a really great barrister in international-law practice is creativity,” explains Geoffrey Robertson, a cofounder of Doughty Street Chambers, the firm where Clooney works, and one of the giants of the field. International law is, as he puts it, “newfangled”: It requires an eye for synthetic connections and an ear for deft persuasion. “She’s been a leading intellectual thinker on the concept of fairness—in a trial where you don’t have a jury and where, sometimes, you don’t have a defendant,” he says. “That set her apart even before she met George.”
If the standard model for Hollywood marriage is either celebrity pairing or quiet consortship (a spouse outside the limelight, a supportive partner on the running board of the career), Amal Clooney quickly flouted such customs. She was not a celebrity, yet she rose to fame’s conventions and constraints. At the same time, she remained carefully herself, heralding a subtle, welcome change in social expectation on the way. Once, a high-achieving working woman would have been trapped in the shadow of her leading man. Now you go out evenings and expect to find women outshining, in their brilliance and accomplishment, whoever dangles on their arm—even George Clooney.
“She’s the professional, and I’m the amateur,” says George, who’s done a share of humanitarian work on his own. “I get to see someone at the absolute top of their game doing their job better than anybody I’ve ever seen.” He was not alone in feeling so, and a shower of jokes followed news of their vows across their world. “Internationally Acclaimed Barrister Amal Alamuddin Marries an Actor,” went one version of a popular headline gag. At the 2015 Golden Globes, Tina Fey met their match with a punch line: “Amal is a human rights lawyer who worked on the Enron case, was an adviser to Kofi Annan regarding Syria, and was selected for a three-person U.N. commission,” she said onstage. “So tonight her husband is getting a lifetime-achievement award.” Nobody in the audience seemed to laugh more joyfully than George.