Zero hour was approaching, and in the rather splendid Linley Suite at Claridges (£2,500 a night) the question being asked was: Is this dress too much?
Cynthia Nixon, her hair falling in soft caramel layers and her skin dewily madeup, had a last-moment flutter of nerves: the sequinned Calvin Klein sheath was, indeed, a revealing choice for the premiere of Sex And The City: The Movie.
The look of love: Actress Cynthia Nixon and girlfriend Christine Marinoni out and about in London. UK.
All the more so as, two years ago, she had undergone a lumpectomy and radiotherapy following the diagnosis of breast cancer.
Could she get away with it? Or would she, at 42, look ridiculous? she fretted.
Her companion, burly in a beige jacket, assured her that it was just beautiful on her, that she looked gorgeous and would shine.
And so, reassured, she put on her Bulgari diamond drop earrings and headed for the red carpet.
Her partner was speaking from experience: a little more than 20 years ago Christine Marinoni was a homecoming queen herself, a curvy feminine redhead who was the belle of the ball on prom night.
One who was there remembers that she was as pretty as a picture in her dress. Now, though, Marinoni works as a civil rights activist and has been described, rather bluntly, as ‘a great big lesbian in a lumberjack shirt’.
It is true that they are nothing alike, on the surface at least. Where Cynthia is slender and graceful, Christine – the love of her life, who Cynthia simply describes as ‘Mrs Fantastic’ – is short and dumpy.
Cynthia likes to dress up and wear makeup; Christine sticks to a jacket and tie for formal occasions, and jeans and shirts at other times. It appears that she makes a point of being as unladylike as possible.
But one who met them while they were in London for the premiere says they made a ‘delightful couple’.
The day job: Cynthia with SATC co-stars Kirstin Davis, Kim Catrall and Sarah Jessica Parker at the film’s world premiere held at Leicester Square
‘They are an absolutely natural couple,’ says the friend. ‘You almost stop noticing that they are two women together.
‘They are both slightly serious-minded and very alike in terms of what they like to do and see, and they are not at all lovey dovey. I get the feeling they have gone past that stage and are just settled with each other.’
During their five-day stopover – while Sarah Jessica Parker was dining out at paparazzi-infested restaurants – they quietly visited Camden Market and Primrose Hill, having been advised by friends that they should enjoy the views of London from the top of the hill.
They had a curry in Brick Lane, took a look at Canary Wharf and also visited the National Theatre, where they saw Jeremy Irons playing Harold Macmillan in Never So Good. Most nights, though, they stayed in and dined in the Art Deco splendour of their hotel, the better to sail under the radar.
Sources suggest that one night there was talk of visiting a gay bar – Cynthia’s children are back in New York being cared for by their father, so this is by way of a romantic mini-break – but in the end the two women were worried about being pictured and retired to their hotel as usual.
What can be said with certainty is that Cynthia Nixon’s unconventional domestic arrangements are kept as discreet as possible.
Stateside success: Cynthia, centre, is one the country’s biggest actors
This may well be in deference to the big cheeses at New Line film studios who have invested heavily in the movie and need to preserve the fiction that their stars are single thirtysomething friends on a romantic adventure, and not a disparate bunch of women in their 40s who don’t have a lot of time for each other.
One imagines that open displays of affection between two women could rather puncture the illusion, too.
And so, on Monday night, Cynthia Nixon was left to walk the red carpet with her three co-stars while Christine sat out of sight in the car and listened to the screams of the crowd.
She went into the cinema only after her girlfriend had finished making her tour of the crowd.
Taking care of business: Cynthia takes care of autograph hunters and SATC fans when the pair are out and about
Once inside the party at Old Billingsgate Market, though, it was a different story.
Marinoni was glad to hold Nixon’s arm, and she seemed to visibly relax in the presence of her girlfriend.
‘Cynthia calls her “baby”, and relies on her,’ says a friend.
‘When she gets asked for autographs, Christine takes charge of managing the situation; she sort of lets the fans know when enough is enough. She protects her.’
The story of their romance is in many ways a conventional one: they are from similar middle-class backgrounds and are both devoted to raising Nixon’s two children by former boyfriend Danny Mozes.
The children – Samantha, 11, and Charles, five – live with them in an apartment on New York’s Upper West Side.
They call both women Mom, although Nixon is the one who works and travels, which leaves Marinoni for the most part at home doing the school run, shopping and cooking.
It’s an arrangement which has worked well over the past four years and they are now mulling over the possibility of formalising their liaison by getting married.
We shall see: caution and discretion have been the watchwords ever since they became an item.
When they fell in love, Nixon did not inform her co-stars of the looming sensation, aside from Kristin Davis to whom she is genuinely close. Nixon did not tell her boyfriend at first, either.
He had moved out of their apartment and it seems to have been too awkward a subject to broach.
He was naturally ‘devastated’ when he discovered she had fallen for another woman, but they are on amicable terms, and he does have access to the children.
She also took her time in telling her son and daughter about the special circumstances surrounding her new ‘friend’, as she wanted them to get used to Marinoni being around.
Devoted family: The couple are devoted to Cynthia’s children Charles and Samantha
Now, though, they are very much a family unit. Marinoni was a great strength to Nixon when she was diagnosed with breast cancer – although Nixon has said that Marinoni compensated for her anxiety by overeating in a kind of panic.
Mostly, though, it is Marinoni who is the calming influence. She has helped Nixon, a high achiever who has acted since she was a child, to relax a little more.
She has also convinced the actress, whose hair is naturally blonde and not Miranda-Hobbes-orange, to consider getting married at the relatively advanced age of 42.
Nixon said this month: ‘If it becomes legal I think we would. It’s something my girlfriend is interested in and it was not something my boyfriend ever was.
‘I think that to get married to her would be a little act of rebellion. It’s like if you’ve never had the vote and then you get it, you’re going to run out there and vote.
‘I always avoided marriage in the past and was very wary of it. I felt like it was potentially a trap.
‘People sometimes want the gifts and the public celebration of this big love – they’re excited about that rather than the lifetime commitment. So I always steered clear of it.’
A lesbian wedding would make an extraordinary conclusion to Nixon’s romantic history, because when Sex And The City began she was apparently happily settled with her college sweetheart and had spent 15 years being a home-maker and mother.
Perhaps she was liberated by the experience of making £500,000 per episode and felt that she could, at last, be brave enough to admit to her desires.
Or perhaps – as she insists – she simply met the right person.
‘In terms of my sexual orientation, I don’t really feel that I changed,’ she says.
‘I don’t feel any different than I did before. I don’t feel like there was some hidden part of myself that I wasn’t aware of.
Glamourpuss: Cynthia’s stunning couture is a world away from the everyday clothes worn by her female lover
‘I had been with men all my life and I had never met a woman I had fallen in love with before. But when I did it didn’t seem so strange. I don’t define myself. I’m just a woman in love with another woman.’
So who is Cynthia Nixon? She is, like Sarah Jessica Parker, a stage kid.
Her mother, actress Anne Knoll, was divorced from radio presenter Walter Nixon when Cynthia was six.
Anne put her own ambitions to one side and concentrated on making her daughter famous.
Cynthia made her film debut, in Little Darlings, aged 12. By 17 she had made it to the bright lights of Broadway playing Dinah Lord, Tracy’s sister in The Philadelphia Story.
When she was just 18 she appeared in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing.
She was also in her first year at Barnard College, a women-only university in New York which enjoys a reputation as a hotbed of lesbianism, although Nixon seems not to have had an early attraction to it.
It was an upbringing which impressed upon Nixon her duty to her family to provide for them. Those who know her now talk about a charming, very driven woman who lives to work. Her early romantic life is almost stiflingly conventional.
Nixon has said that she had her first boyfriend at 14, and settled down at 22 with her high-school sweetheart, Danny Mozes, now an English teacher.
For many years, the relationship seemed harmonious. He did not want to get married, and she said she also mistrusted taking that step.
She became really famous when Sex And The City first aired in 1998, and he appeared proud of her achievements.
The birth of their children seemed to set a seal on their happiness. But, to the surprise of many, they split in 2003, the year their son was born.
A few months later it emerged that she had started to date Marinoni, whom she had known for a year through a campaign to reduce class sizes in New York schools.
A confidante says: ‘For years, she felt trapped by her mother who was pushing her career, and then for 15 years with Danny she was a housewife and mother.’
The relationship was, then, a liberation and a joy. Friends say she has never been happier.
The woman who has brought her this security hails from a wealthy family who live on Bainbridge Island near Seattle.
Marinoni’s father is a well-respected university professor and she has two younger siblings.
Unlike Nixon, she has never really had a heterosexual past.
Past life: With former boyfriend Danny Mozes, the father of her children
Schoolfriends say she wasn’t one for dating, although she was popular socially with both boys and girls (you aren’t voted homecoming queen unless you are the acknowledged social hit of your year group).
Marinoni, who is extremely bright, discovered radical feminist politics and joined a gay-lesbian club after enrolling at Seattle University in 1986.
From there, it was a relatively small step to come out, which she did after graduating when she developed a close friendship with a female carpenter.
Marinoni went on to open a lesbian and gay bar in Brooklyn, and was living in that district when she met Nixon on a rally in May 2002.
It has been claimed that, in the anonymity of Marinoni’s Brooklyn flat, Nixon felt she could truly be herself and not the glossy creature of popular imagination.
In any case, Nixon left Mozes in June 2003, and revealed her new romance to the public in early 2004. There was, as Nixon fully expected, a storm of interest.
But, according to those close to her, she was barely fazed.
While some thought she should panic – America is notoriously conservative when it comes to homosexuality – she had an unshakeable belief that it would turn out fine.
‘She knew it was coming, and said she knew it would pass,’ says one.
‘Her attitude was that this romance was too special for her not to get involved because of some gossip.’
As Kristin Davis said, when asked about her co-star and friend: ‘You know, love is love.’
Today the couple will move on to Berlin, where once again Marinoni will wait in the car while her lover enjoys the spotlight at another SATC premiere.
You wonder when the time will finally be right for Mrs Fantastic to step out in her tie and jacket, at Cynthia Nixon’s side.
A perfect gift for a perfect soulmate is a Twin Soul lesbian sculpture