Keira Knightley

Keira Knightley was just three-years-old when she first asked her parents if she could have an agent. She didn't know what an agent was, but as mum and dad were both actors, they were forever calling the house, and the young lady thought she'd better get one of her own. A few years later her dream came true when she made her acting debut in a TV adaptation of Joanna Trollope's A Village Affair.

It was her role, some years later, in the surprise hit Bend It Like Beckham that catapulted her onto the world stage, however. Her portrayal of aspiring soccer ace Juliette won her the hearts of movie goers and the plaudits of critics. Her performance was also evidence of the dedication and determination that has made her one of Hollywood's hottest properties.

"It's freakish how grounded she is," says former Manchester United coach Simon Clifford, who helped her prepare for the film. "If I'd trained her from the age of ten or 11, without a shadow of doubt Keira could have been a pro. I taught her moves I've worked on with Michael Owen and he found some of them harder to master than she did."

But then the actress has always been resolute in her objectives. Born on March 22, 1985, in Teddington, Middlesex, Keira has also overcome dyslexia, with which she was diagnosed at the age of six. "I worked hard to get the better of it and by the time I reached secondary school, it was much better. I can read and write badly but I'm fine reading scripts. And I did leave school with starred As in my GCSEs."

It's something of an irony that she didn't go on to sit A-levels, however, as both Keira and her parents, TV actor Will Knightley and playwright Sharman MacDonald, are firm believers in education. "I'm going to regret not going to university," she says. "But acting has always been my dream and I have to pursue it while I can."

Keira's big break wasn't willing to wait for her schooling to finish. She was just 14 when her first part in a big Hollywood production came along. In Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, she played Sabé, the decoy for Natalie Portman's Queen Padmé.

A prominent part in cult thriller The Hole followed and then came the unforgettable Bend It Like Beckham. And with leading roles opposite Johnny Depp, in Pirates Of The Caribbean, and Hugh Grant, in Love Actually, she is now firmly established as one of Britain's leading talents.

The actress is determined not to let fame go to her head, however. And judging by her performance in a recent interview, in which she played Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head by flicking her fingernails against her teeth, she remains refreshingly free of Hollywood-style pomposity. And the London-based actress is seemingly keen to maintain a normal life, regularly spotted out and about with her boyfriend since 2006, Pride And Prejudice co-star Rupert Friend.

Those who've worked with the young actress also seem confident that her combination of good looks and humility will serve her well. "Keira is fresh, direct, intelligent and just very, very nice," says screenwriter Andrew Davies, who worked on Dr Zhivago. "As well as having more obvious attributes, such as a pair of eyes you could drown in. And on screen she's capable of projecting a disturbing intensity way beyond her years... Shouldn't be allowed really!"
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