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May 21 2002

By Tom Bodden Welsh Affairs Correspondent

HOLLYWOOD superstar Catherine Zeta Jones was urged yesterday to come home - to a castle in North Wales.

The Swansea-born actress's affection for Wales is well documented and yesterday the Daily Post reported she had let slip to friends how she would love a permanent address on home soil.

But for Catherine, husband Michael Douglas and baby Dylan, 20 months - with six homes already in Los Angeles, Beverley Hills, Bermuda, Majorca, Colorado and New York - it needs to be something special.

She is believed to be on the look-out for a "Welsh castle complete with turrets and banqueting room" to entertain in.

Which is where the Welsh Development Agency could step in with some handy property advice.

Jeff Porter, the WDA's environment manager based in St Asaph, believes he has just the place.

"We have Gwrych Castle right on our doorstep, standing derelict for many years, in private ownership and an ideal setting, with all the turrets she could want," he said.

The WDA has been trying to market the castle near Abergele and find a suitable use for the site.

Some Americans have already been to North Wales to view the rundown castle, which overlooks the North Wales coast. It is actually owned by an American - businessman Nick Tavaglione - whose original idea was to convert it into an opera centre.

One party from the US considered turning it into a film graphics production centre.

The only other option they had discussed was in Hawaii.

"If anyone has the money to invest in this property Catherine Zeta Jones does," Mr Porter said. "And just think of what an attraction it would be to the area to know that it was owned by such a famous couple. I think it would be ideal for her and for the area."

A Trust set up by Prestatyn schoolboy Mark Baker is commissioning a feasibility study into the refurbishment of the castle.

Last night one of the Trustees, Coun John Pitt, welcomed the WDA's suggestion.

"I think it's a marvellous idea - I couldn't think of a better person to come to Abergele, or a better place for her to buy," he said.

"Gwrych Castle even has a lovely golf course nearby for her husband to enjoy," he added.

Catherine was in Wales a few weeks ago when she took part in the last stages of the Ian Botham Walk which raised £800,000 for the Noah's Ark Appeal to help build a children's hospital in Cardiff.

That ended at Cardiff Castle, the imposing former home of the Marquis of Bute, now owned by the city.

The ancient monuments agency in Wales, Cadw, says that none of its historic properties was for sale, although one private castle recently seeking a loving owner was Cardigan Castle in West Wales. There has been a 40-year campaign among locals to try to transform the place of historic interest.

Little now remains of the original stone castle which was built in the 12th century and the site is now overgrown and off limits to the public.

Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd, the Prince of Deheubarth, seized the fortress from the Normans in about 1170 and rebuilt the timber castle in stone.

But it was virtually destroyed by Cromwell's army in the 17th century during the English Civil War.

But Catherine Zeta Jones is keen to find a big house so she and her family have somewhere to stay when they visit her Welsh homeland.

She says her Hollywood mansion is a firm attraction for Welsh friends travelling to the USA.

"We've always got Welsh rugby players coming over to stay," she said...SUPL:

©Mark Baker 2003