Leading man: Benedict Cumberbatch and rumoured past romance Lydia Hearst pictured together last year in Los Angeles
When actors work on set, their every need is catered for. And when Benedict Cumberbatch, the Sherlock actor who was once described as looking like a Meerkat in a Magimix, is delivered his coffee in a Styrofoam cup, he has his own sardonic way of making the experience more fun.
‘I try to get [the assistants] to write Sir Benedict on the cup,’ he says. ‘Occasionally, they oblige.’
As it turns out, he may not be a Sir but he is even posher than most of his fans previously thought.
However, despite giving dozens of interviews, he has never previously disclosed quite how illustrious his background is.
Why? Well, Cumberbatch is rather touchy about the subject of class. He told the Radio Times in August that he was fed up with ‘all the posh-bashing that goes on … It’s all so predictable. So domestic, so dumb. It makes me think I want to go to America.’
He continued, with some energy: ‘I wasn’t born into land or titles, or new money, or an oil rig.’
Fair enough. But while his family isn’t exactly rolling in it, the Cumberbatches have long been extremely eminent in society circles — so much so that The Times newspaper extensively covered the 1934 wedding of his grandfather, Henry Carlton Cumberbatch, a submarine commander who was decorated in both World Wars.
Unusually, The Times illustrated the piece with a picture as well as a full description of the bride’s dress, flowers and headdress and a comprehensive list of the guests.
Henry Carlton Cumberbatch, by the way, was also described as a noted crack shot with a rifle, an exceptional rower and a ‘strong’ tennis player. His manly charm was noted by fellow officers.
Perhaps Benedict, who favours extreme sports such as paragliding and skydiving, gets some of his physical derring-do from that side of the family.
I can also reveal that his great-grandfather, Henry Alfred Cumberbatch, was the British Consul General in Smyrna, Turkey, and ruffled feathers with his protests against the slave trade in the area at the time.
Records show that in a single month in 1872, he made seven reports to the Foreign Office on the subject — and was instructed to turn a blind eye to the issue, and leave it to local authorities instead. He was also banned from sheltering slaves at the embassy.
Later, in recognition of his diplomatic service, he was created CMG — an honour sometimes known as ‘Call Me God’, a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael & St George.
Both men sound like the sort of relatives who would make one burst with pride. So why has Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch kept so quiet about them?
It seems Cumberbatch is rather sweetly angst-ridden about his high beginnings and the way he is publicly perceived. Nevertheless, he struggles to quash his patrician sense of proper standards.
Take the way he bemoaned modern culture in a recent interview: ‘It’s very hard getting into the car in the morning and listening to some radio station and thinking, “This is the level that people are engaging at on quite a few conversations.” ’
He went on: ‘I’m a firm believer in audiences being so much more intelligent than the s*** they get fed.’
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