From the Clintons to the Horners: The celebrity couples that have mastered the art of the united front

'There is an art to the united front shot,' says Eleanor Steafel

It’s an absolute masterclass in how to portray a united front. You’ve got a kiss, a firm hand hold, confident but neutral smiles, a look of slight sheepishness on him, an outfit that says “don’t any of you go thinking I’m remotely phased by all this” on her (the sleek white dress and pearls are really projecting an easy breezy, faintly minor Royal at Wimbledon aesthetic). Truly, the pictures of Geri and Christian Horner tick every box.

The couple walked in front of the cameras at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday, appearing to be very much together in the wake of reports of his allegedly “controlling” behaviour, and sending a clear message that they are brushing off the whole sorry business. WhatsApp messages? What WhatsApp messages?

Christian and Geri Horner shared a kiss before the Bahrain Grand Prix
The pair shared a kiss before the Bahrain Grand Prix - David Davies

No matter how far we travel from the kind of showbiz gossip that filled column inches in the Nineties and early Noughties, a celebrity couple in the midst of a scandal in 2024 seems to have the exact same weapons in their arsenal as they always have done. The rules remain the same – namely, if you are choosing to weather the storm, you’ve got to prove it in front of the cameras. You’d better get yourselves a nice set of pictures taken, then. Big smiles, a bit of staged affection, and you can deal with the real feelings behind closed doors.

There is an art to the united front shot. Here are some true classics of the genre.

Hillary and Bill Clinton, 1998

Hillary Clinton appeared unfazed as her husband denied allegations of an affair - getty

It is January 26, 1998 and Bill Clinton is taking a press conference in the White House, telling America he categorically “did not have sexual relations with that woman”. “I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never. These allegations are false,” he said.

Behind him, in a canary yellow suit, is Hillary, her face fixed with an expression somewhere between stern and neutral. Her body language is sending a clear message – she isn’t rattled by this.

By that point, Hillary had had some practice in the art of projecting marital harmony. In 1992, when Bill was governor of Arkansas and a presidential candidate, a tabloid published an interview with a woman who claimed to have been his mistress for 12 years. The Clintons appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes in the slot after the Super Bowl to respond to the story. “You know, I’m not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” Hillary said.

“I’m sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honour what he’s been through and what we’ve been through together. And you know, if that’s not enough for people, then heck – don’t vote for him.”

They did, though commentators later suggested this particular moment (and the interviews she gave after the Lewinsky affair) haunted Hillary during her own presidential campaign. “She projected a set of complicated, even conflicting images,” wrote one Politico commentator during the 2016 election. “Forthright but defensive, feisty but dutiful – triggering the mix of sceptical, antagonistic feelings that have defined her with a share of the American public ever since.”

David and Victoria Beckham, 2004

'Victoria does a lot of the heavy lifting her,' says Steafel
'Victoria does a lot of the heavy lifting here,' says Steafel - getty

In 2004, amid the media frenzy that followed news of his alleged affair with Rebecca Loos, David and Victoria’s PR team released a statement dismissing the claims and, days later, happily posed for a scrum of photographers after a family dinner to celebrate Posh’s 30th birthday. “They emerged smiling from the restaurant as they appeared determined to give the impression they were a happy couple despite the week-long series of allegations about David’s private life,” so the story went in the next day’s Daily Mail.

It was classic Brand Beckham. Their publicist released a statement rubbishing the “absurd” claim – all they needed to do was give the papers a set of pictures that said “we’re very much in love, very much still the people’s Posh and Becks”.

In hindsight, Victoria does a lot of the heavy lifting here. Walking out of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at Claridge’s, David looks awkward and shiny with a smile that is borderline sheepish. Posh, meanwhile, holds his hand, smiles brightly and convincingly, and off they go into the night. Mission accomplished.

Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, 2020

Timberlake and Biel appeared sporting 'big smiles and sunglasses to hide any lingering resentment'
Timberlake and Biel appeared sporting 'big smiles and sunglasses to hide any lingering resentment' - AKGS

This appears to be something of a theme in the annals of celebrity united front photos – dress alike and you’ll appear more like a partnership. Two months after photos emerged in 2019 of Timberlake looking rather cosy with a co-star on a night out in New Orleans, the couple stepped out for a walk in New York presenting what could be called the united front trifecta: firstly, linked arms; secondly, big smiles and sunglasses to hide any lingering resentment; and thirdly, a bag to hold so you look like you’re having a totally normal morning running errands.

Timberlake denied claims of an affair, but admitted to participating in an “embarrassing situation”, citing his “strong lapse in judgement” in a letter on Instagram in which he apologised to his “amazing wife”.

Dominic West and Catherine FitzGerald, 2020

The couples appearance came after West was photographed kissing Lily James in Rome
The couples appearance came after West was photographed kissing Lily James in Rome - MEGA

You slightly felt as if you had blinked and gone back in time 20 years when the Wests stepped outside their house to tell the world “our marriage is strong and we’re very much still together”. Pictures had emerged days before of West kissing actress Lily James in Rome while they were filming the BBC drama The Pursuit of Love.

But this was 2020 – the unwritten showbiz rules had changed. The couple could easily have simply ignored the stories and waited for them to go away. Instead, they took back control, coming out and doing what could only be described in tabloidese as “packing on the PDA” in front of the waiting cameras. Dominic looked oddly formal in a crisp shirt and coat; his wife Catherine looked the picture of calm confidence in a polo neck and jeans. It seemed to do the trick, and they are still together today.

Liz Hurley & Hugh Grant, 1996

Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley at Cannes in 1996: all smiles
Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley were all smiles at Cannes in 1996 - getty

Hurley and Grant showing exactly how it’s done here. It was May 1996 and you’ll recall Grant had been in a spot of bother the year before, when he was caught with a sex worker in Los Angeles and got himself arrested. He and Hurley hadn’t been seen together much since. A year later, still very much together – and with the film she had produced and he had starred in to promote, Extreme Measures – it seems they decided to send a message that all was well.

“All eyes were turned seaward for a stage-managed move worthy of any of the films presently showing at the Cannes Film Festival,” wrote the Associated Press at the time.

“British celebrity couple Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley let it be known they would be sailing up to the waterfront to attend a cocktail hour screening of clips from their latest project.

“As a result, more than 200 cameramen and photographers and more than a thousand interested onlookers crammed onto the foreshore for a glimpse of the duo.

“Some journalists even hired boats to get a better shot of the couple on board.”

They were all smiles as they walked straight up to the huge crowd and posed for photos, dodging any questions lobbed at them by the hungry mob. Hurley looks powerful, in control, utterly unphased. Grant, meanwhile, looks about as awkward as William Thacker in Notting Hill. They were together for another five years, and are still great friends. In fact, he is godfather to Hurley’s son Damian.

Tess Daly and Vernon Kay, 2010

A month after Kay was found to have been sending explicit texts to a glamour model, he and Daly were hosts at the Prince's Trust Celebrate Success Awards
A month after Kay was found to have been sending explicit texts to a glamour model, he and Daly were hosts at the Prince's Trust Celebrate Success Awards - Dominic Lipinski

There’s nothing like having to host an awards ceremony after your husband has been caught sexting a glamour model – that must surely be a specific kind of hell. A month after Kay was found to have been sending explicit texts to Rhian Sugden, he and Daly were hosts at the Prince’s Trust Celebrate Success Awards. Reports from the night tell how they slipped in a side entrance rather than walking the red carpet. There was no staged photo of them holding hands – rather, they presented as a professional team. They were Tess and Vernon, here to get the job done.