Caroline finds happiness

by RICHARD SHEARS, Daily Mail

Caroline Aherne is dating an Australian computer millionaire in what friends are describing as a serious relationship.

Asked about 34-year-old Brett Whitford yesterday, the comedy star replied: 'I'm enjoying a friendship, but then isn't that what friends are for - to be enjoyed?'

Miss Aherne dropped out of the entertainment scene for a year to take a long break in Australia. In April, the star of Mrs Merton and The Royle Family said she would never again appear on television because of the pressure of being under constant scrutiny.

But her troubled mood appears to have been transformed since settling in Sydney and meeting Mr Whitford, who lives ten minutes' drive from the suburban house she has rented.

Friends she has made since arriving last month say she is 'noticeably brighter' than the morose woman who left England.

Mr Whitford has not discussed his feelings for Miss Aherne but friends and colleagues said last night that he was 'thrilled' by the new lady in his life.

The couple met earlier this month at a pub patronised by British visitors. 'They hit it off so well that it was almost as if he was waiting for her to walk in through the door,' said one customer.

A female friend of Mr Whitford who is in the same business said: 'He has been totally smitten by her.

'He didn't know who she was when he met her but he was completely knocked over by her and he is walking around with stars in his eyes.'

She said that Mr Whitford was not one to flaunt his wealth. 'He doesn't whizz around in a Ferrari or anything like that,' she said. 'He's got an old Land Rover thing that he drives about in because he says it does the job and he enjoys it.

'Brett is quite a catch. He's very smart and is making waves in the computer industry. He's concentrating on beating computer fraud.

'His company went public last year and the industry has shown its faith in him because it is now worth several million dollars.'

At the age of 22, Mr Whitford founded the Beaumont Publishing House which produced books for the business world, particularly the computer industry.

Since then he has become one of Australia's leading business authors, with five best-selling titles to his name.

He is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of eTick, a company which helps fight Internet fraud, and a director of the Customer Service Institute of Australia.

Miss Aherne, 37, has not been in a serious relationship for three years. She has received almost as much publicity for her wild social life as for her award-winning comedy shows.

At a celebrity party in 1996, there was a brawl between her former husband Peter Hook and her boyfriend at the time, Matt Bowers, who was later to die of cancer.

She has admitted that she once had a problem with alcohol and was treated at the Priory rehabilitation clinic after a suicide attempt three years ago.

The massive success of The Royle Family has not stopped her suffering bouts of depression in the last year.

Earlier this month she revealed that she was planning a documentary about the Australian sense of humour.

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