From a Hampstead teacher to... Keir Starmer? Who’s who in the real-life Bridget Jones

Sir Keir Starmer has long been rumoured to be the inspiration for Mark Darcy, played by Colin Firth (right)
Sir Keir Starmer has long been rumoured to be the inspiration for Mark Darcy, played by Colin Firth (right) - Everett Collection / Rex Features

Singletons, rejoice! I’ve got some v good news: Bridget Jones will soon be back on our screens, with Renée Zellweger set to reprise the role in a fourth film in the hit franchise. The new movie, based on Helen Fielding’s 2013 novel, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, is due to start shooting in London this May.

Although previous film instalments – beginning in 2001, and continuing with sequels Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason in 2004 and Bridget Jones’s Baby in 2016 – saw our Bridge finally bag handsome lawyer Mark Darcy and become a mother, it’s not all smug-married domestic bliss when we rejoin her.

In fact (spoiler alert!) Mad About the Boy begins four years after Mark Darcy’s tragic death: he was killed by a landmine while trying to help aid workers in Sudan. A bereaved Bridget is now cautiously re-entering the dating scene in her fifties, rather than being the quintessential thirty-something, and she’s also a single mum to two small children.

That gives filmmakers plenty of new material to play with, while still giving us the neurotic Bridget we know and love. She’s just as obsessed about her weight, her drinking and her love life, but she’s got modern stresses like Botox to factor in, and she can now embarrass herself in whole new arenas, such as social media and dating apps. Imagine those big knickers on Tinder…

Bridget will also be hot for teacher in this upcoming movie. Fielding’s novel Mad About the Boy features a delectable new man: the initially stern but ultimately heroic Mr Wallaker, a teacher at her son Billy’s school. Huzzah!

The great appeal of the author’s enduring creation has always been her judicious mix of the everyday and the fantastical; the family and friends, the work struggles and dating efforts, the fears, desires, laughs and humiliations that everyone can relate to – alongside love interests who are heightened into smouldering sex symbols.

It definitely helps that Fielding bases many of her characters on real people, giving them the ring of truth, before applying her romance novel magic. Here are some of the inspirations for the books’ dramatis personae…

Bridget Jones

Bridget x Fielding
Bridget x Fielding
  • Played by: Renée Zellweger

  • Based on: Helen Fielding

There are definitely elements of Fielding herself in Bridget, as the author has admitted.

She drew on many of her own thirty-something anxieties: calorie-counting and her oft-judged singleton status for her beloved comic creation – while also nicking the plot of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for that Bridget/Daniel Cleaver/Mark Darcy love triangle.

Mr Wallaker

  • Played by: Daniel Craig?

  • Based on: Andrew Walliker, history teacher and head of games at University College School in Hampstead, which Fielding’s son Dashiell attended.

Fielding phoned Walliker to check if she could use his name. Oh, plus she added a dash of James Bond, giving the character the good looks of actor Daniel Craig. (Walliker has joked that he’s “more Wendy Craig”, and his wife has called him “more Mr Arsey than Mr Darcy”.)

Mark Darcy

Firth x Starmer
Firth x Starmer
  • Played by: Colin Firth

  • Based on: Keir Starmer?

Rumours abound that Fielding had the Labour leader in mind when she dreamt up her principled human-rights barrister and Bridget’s great love. She’s admitted they’re “very similar” – both “decent and intelligent, but so buttoned up”.

Of course, Mark Darcy is also inspired by Colin Firth’s wet-shirt BBC version of Austen’s Mr Darcy – bringing that casting full-circle.

Daniel Cleaver

Cleaver x Mr Wickham
Cleaver x Mr Wickham
  • Played by: Hugh Grant

  • Based on: Mr Wickham, Pride and Prejudice

Bridget’s sleazy boss is a rough match with Austen’s unreliable charmer Mr Wickham, although Grant made him an irresistible cad.

Fielding also reportedly drew on stories from friends of several real-life publishing titans (and rampant sexual harassment in the literary workplace). Plus there’s another political allegory: Fielding quipped “When [Starmer] and Boris [Johnson] spar, it does remind me of Mark and Daniel.”

Jude

Henderson x MacLeod
Henderson x MacLeod
  • Played by: Shirley Henderson

  • Based on: Tracey MacLeod

MacLeod is a journalist, presenter of programmes like BBC2’s The Late Show – and one of Fielding’s besties, along with journalist turned film director Sharon Maguire, while the author was dreaming up Bridget Jones.

MacLeod has recalled that she and Maguire noticed their group’s antics kept appearing in Fielding’s writing “with suitable comic effect”; she’s also married to journalist and author Harry Ritchie, who, like Fielding, also worked at The Sunday Times. MacLeod subsequently scored a cameo role in the first movie.

Shazza

Phillips x Maguire
Phillips x Maguire
  • Played by: Sally Phillips

  • Based on: Sharon Maguire, Fielding’s other ride-or-die pal from her partying days.

Maguire apparently gifted her lots of the classic Bridget lingo, such as “emotional f---wittage” for rascally men, and those two stark dating groups: “smug marrieds” and “sad singletons”.

Fielding, in turn, asked Maguire to direct Bridget Jones’s Diary – even though it was her first feature film – and Maguire returned to helm Bridget Jones’s Baby.