Benedict Cumberbatch

A terrifying incident in 2005 led to a change in Benedict Cumberbatch's attitude to life. The actor was filming in South Africa when he was the victim of a carjacking.

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He and his colleagues were abducted overnight but eventually released without explanation. "It taught me that you come into this world as you leave it, on your own," he said. "It's made me want to live a life less ordinary."

Since then very little has been ordinary. The English thesp is now Hollywood's favourite shapeshifter, slipping between accents, time periods and parallel realities with the ease of Sherlock Holmes on the scent of a criminal.

The piercing blue eyes and high cheekbones have also earned him the affection of female fans who initially styled themselves 'Cumberbitches' – later changing the name to the CumberCollective after their hero objected.

Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch was born in London on 19 July, 1976. His parents were actors Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham.

He was the star of his productions at Harrow, the elite private school, where his drama teacher called him "the best schoolboy actor I have ever worked with".

From there the boy wonder went on to Manchester University and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA).

From 2001 on, major stage roles on stage and unshowy TV fare came his way. The gamechanger, though, was Sherlock in 2010 with him in the title role.

Tinseltown also took notice. Soon it would become easier to list the big screen productions that the English thesp wasn't in.

Those on his CV included The Fifth Estate, as WikiLeaks controversial founder Julian Assange and the dragon Smaug in Peter Jackson's film adaptations of The Hobbit.

Benedict Cumberbatch also had parts in War Horse, Brad Pitt-produced 12 Years a Slave and August: Osage County. He then went on to star in The Imitation Game as gay mathematician Alan Turing who broke the Enigma Code, helping the allies to victory in World War II.

Despite his screen heart-throb status, Benedict Cumberbatch tries to keep his private life under wraps. He has mostly succeeded too. When his parents announced his engagement to girlfriend theatre director Sophie Hunter via the Times marriages section, his fans were stunned and – rather delighted – by the return to etiquette of a bygone era.