How a former British cop bagged Bridget Jones: He’s a twice-divorced ex-cop turned mechanic, she’s the Hollywood superstar Renée Zellweger who’s never found her Mr Darcy – but here, his best friend tells why it could be happy ever after
Just like her fictional Bridget Jones character, Oscar-winning actress Renee Zellweger hasn’t been the luckiest in love. Once engaged to comedian Jim Carrey, she then embarked on a brief, disastrous marriage in 2005 to country star Kenny Chesney that was annulled after only 225 days.
She famously then dated Hollywood actor Bradley Cooper from 2009 to 2011 and a five-year relationship with rock musician Doyle Bramhall petered out in 2019.
But now she seems to have found love at last with the unlikeliest of suitors — Ant Anstead, a twice-divorced, British father of three — a former policeman turned TV star, no less.
Renee Zellweger (left) seems to have found love at last with the unlikeliest of suitors — Ant Anstead, (right) a twice-divorced, British father of three
So who is this brawny 42-year-old who’s captured the heart of one of our favourite Hollywood actresses?
Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the brown-eyed Mr Darcy, he’s also a former semi-professional footballer who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty under a car bonnet.
One can assume that Bridget would be v.v.v impressed indeed.
The couple have been seen out and about in California, holding hands, kissing and looking blissfully happy. Renee has also been spotted moving a large bag of personal belongings into Ant’s home. And, we can reveal, it looks like the relationship is the real deal.
‘I think Renee has found her Prince Charming and Ant has found a real woman in Renee,’ says Mike Brewer — Ant’s close friend and co-star on the American reality TV show which has propelled him to fame. ‘He’s got a woman who cares about him, and he cares about her. They are both wonderful people and they deserve this happiness.
‘They just clicked, and the timing was right,’ says Mike. ‘They wanted to keep it private at first.
‘When you’re in a new relationship, you don’t know if it will work or not so you’re not sure if you should tell your friends or share it with your family.
‘But Renee is comfortable now with them being seen together, shopping at Home Depot or just doing the ordinary things other couples do.’
So who is this brawny 42-year-old who’s captured the heart of one of our favourite Hollywood actresses?
Born in Plymouth but largely brought up in Hertfordshire, Ant — short for Anthony — joined his local police force when he was 18 and became one of the youngest members of the country’s Tactical Firearms Unit, based in Welwyn Garden City. During his police career he received two commendations for bravery.
‘I was in Her Majesty’s police service for six years,’ he has said previously. ‘I knew I didn’t want to go down the education route with university etc, so I ended up becoming a copper, and I can honestly say it was the best decision I ever made . . . It forced me to grow up quickly . . . I saw and did things that people would shudder at.’
He certainly did. One of his tasks as a police officer was to help guard notorious serial rapist and killer John Duffy — one of the railway murderers who attacked lone women in southern England in the 1980s — at a safe house.
He’s also spoken of a number of ‘life-threatening incidents’ that ‘really opened my eyes to what humans are capable of’.
When you’re standing in front of someone armed — that’s real fear — it kind of makes standing on stage or in front of a camera easy.’
His transition from British bobby to Californian TV personality is worthy of a movie storyline in itself: in 2005 he was stabbed while apprehending a violent offender and the brush with death caused him to re-evaluate his life. He left the police force and began to pursue his passion for restoring cars.
He set up shop in a farmer’s derelict cow shed, renovating the place in lieu of a year’s rent, and funded his growing business by playing semi-professional football, amassing more than 700 games in 17 years.
After three years working at the farm alone, his business took off and he assembled a team of car builders. His company began to build bespoke cars for clients all over the world.
As Ant’s reputation as a master mechanic and car designer grew, he attracted the attention of television networks. After initially turning down an offer to appear on British television, Ant co-hosted Channel 4’s For The Love Of Cars in 2013.
In 2017 came the call that took him to California. He was invited to join the hugely popular Wheeler Dealers show which was co-hosted by his London-based car dealer friend Mike, and which has become the No 1 most distributed show on the Discovery Channel, making unlikely stars of the pair.
However, his burgeoning career took its toll on his marriage to first wife Louise, whom he wed in 2005 and with whom he has two children, Amelie, 17, and 14-year-old Archie. They divorced in 2017, and she and the children still live in Hertfordshire.
‘His first marriage broke down under the pressure of work and him being away from home so much,’ says Mike. ‘It broke him when he split up with Lou. It absolutely destroyed him because he was such a family man. He still came to work every day, but he was a mess and we all had to look after him.’
The 6 ft 2 in Brit found love again with American reality TV star Christina Haack. She was separated from her husband Tarek El Moussa, the father of her two children and her co-host on the home renovation show Flip Or Flop.
She recalled it was love at first sight when they met in late 2017, gushing on Instagram: ‘You take me for what I am, flawed and a bit crazy, and love all of me just the way I am.’
The British TV star was equally effusive, calling her ‘the most amazing lady I’ve ever met.’
The pair married in a surprise wedding at their home in California and had a son, Hudson, now aged 22 months, but by September 2020 it was all over.
‘It really hit me hard. I had so much love for her. I think everybody knows this was not my decision,’ Ant said in an interview about the split.
He recalled that he was in a ‘very dark place’ after the separation and lost 23 pounds but found help with an online course called The Breakup Recovery Recipe, which he praised on Instagram. He also went on a men’s retreat for three days which he called ‘intense, eye-opening’.
‘I had the choice to dwell on it, or move on and work on myself,’ Ant said, referring to his second divorce.
‘It was a whirlwind romance, maybe it was a bit too soon on the back of their previous marriages,’ says Mike. ‘When we talked about it he would say: “What’s wrong with me that women give up on me?” But he did absolutely nothing wrong. I don’t think Ant was what Christina wanted — he’s a mechanic and a man’s man and a humble guy. I think she wanted someone a bit more high-status.
‘He decided to work on himself, and he found cool people who had been through similar experiences, and they helped him.’
After the break-up of his second marriage, Ant says he ‘left everything’ in the marital home and moved into a rental flat in Laguna Beach, California, for nine months, before buying a new home.
Clearly a New Man, he complained recently about ‘another male restroom without a baby-changing table’ on Instagram.
His second ex-wife, meanwhile, marked their divorce by buying a yacht and naming it Aftermath after her split from Ant. She now has a new property developer boyfriend.
Ant wasn’t looking for love when he met Renee and the blossoming romance came as a welcome surprise, his friend says.
The couple met when she agreed to take part in an episode of Ant’s new show Celebrity IOU Joyride. The series helps celebrities give someone they love a one-of-a-kind car transformation. After the episode was filmed, Renee came back to the set to return a pair of boots and the pair’s professional relationship unexpectedly turned romantic.
Certainly, the couple looked distinctly cosy when they appeared together on the balcony of Ant’s oceanfront home recently after an apparent overnight date.
Renee was snapped wearing pyjamas and with her hair pulled back in a pink scrunchie. She was make-up free and held a coffee mug that said Home Is Where Dad Is in one hand and her phone in the other.Ant, dressed in a black T-shirt and grey sweatpants, stood close to the actress.
The British TV star was equally effusive, calling her ‘the most amazing lady I’ve ever met’
In other pictures, they have been seen out shopping for groceries and getting coffee, and Renee has been pictured holding Hudson.
The actress has never been a mother and no doubt enjoys the company of the toddler.
‘Renee has a great relationship with Hudson, something that’s obviously very important to Ant,’ says Mike.
Because of the pandemic, the car-centric TV presenter is reduced to talking to his two eldest children on FaceTime and is longing to see them in person and, no doubt, introduce them properly to his new girlfriend.
‘Ant’s an all-round good guy but one of the nicest things about him is that he’s a good dad. He’s always on the phone to those kids, even though he can’t see them right now. He’s such a devoted father he makes the rest of us look bad,’ says Mike. Ant will not be daunted by his new girlfriend’s Hollywood life, Mike adds.
Renee won her first Oscar in 2004 for the film Cold Mountain and won her second last year for portraying Judy Garland in a film about the performer’s final months before her death. For the role, she had to put on a prosthetic nose, coloured contacts and wigs and said she didn’t recognise herself.
‘Renee having two Oscars on her shelves . . . it won’t make an ounce of difference to Ant,’ Mike says. ‘I’m sure there’s a lot of noise going on around a Hollywood actress and Renee probably enjoys just going to the grocery store in her joggers and having a happy, simple life with Ant.’
Ant already has a number of celebrity friends in Los Angeles, such as presenter James Corden, and is reviving the iconic British coachbuilding Radford brand with former Formula One racing champion Jenson Button.
Nor does Mike, a successful TV presenter in his own right and owner of car dealerships in Sheffield and Luton, think the age difference between the pair — Renee is 52 while Ant is ten years younger — will be a factor. ‘When you care about somebody, age doesn’t matter,’ he comments.
Mike, 56, who lives in Warwickshire with his wife and daughter, has not yet met the new woman in his friend’s life because of pandemic travel restrictions.
‘I’ve spoken to Renee over FaceTime, and she seems like a wonderful, warm lady,’ he says. ‘It’s nice to see her and Ant so happy.
‘Renee is keen to meet me and my family and we’re keen to meet her. She also wants to meet Ant’s family, so I think she and Ant will come over here as soon as they are able to.’
Ant’s parents, Nigel and Sue, live in Bedford and recently their son, who has four siblings, called them ‘living legends’ and congratulated them on their 48th wedding anniversary. ‘I still believe in marriage and life-long love and commend and love you guys,’ Ant wrote on Instagram.
As for marriage between Hollywood’s hottest new couple, it is too soon to say.
He’s found love again with a wonderful lady and Renee realises that she’s found a great guy,’ says Mike. ‘He deserves Renee and she deserves him. They are both wonderful people — I couldn’t be happier for them.’
And is it mere coincidence or fate that Ant’s first love was an MG sports car he nicknamed Bridget?
‘I loved that car! Vermilion orange with a tatty, ripped black hood and tons of rust! All my friends were rolling around in Astras and Metros but I had a classic 1970s sports car,’ he recalled.
He has been trying to track the car down so he can restore it to its former glory. In the meantime, it seems he’s found another beautiful Bridget to make him happy.
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