A COLLECTIVE swoon swept the land when Colin Firth - and his dripping wet britches - emerged from a lake during the BBC costume drama Pride and Prejudice.

Since then the Hampshire born actor has become one of our best-loved British film stars, appearing alongside Hugh Grant and Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones' Diary, as villain Lord Wessex in the 1998 hit Shakespeare in Love and more recently in British romcom Love Actually (2003).

Before hitting the big time Firth had a number of more minor film roles appearing alongside Minnie Driver in Circle of Friends before impressing critics with his roles in The English Patient and Fever Pitch.

He may have built up a reputation as the quintessential English gent but Firth spent his formative years in Nigeria.

He returned to England aged five and began to harbour dreams of becoming an actor.

It was during a drama school production of Hamlet that Firth was spotted by a theatre executive and whisked to the West End to make his London stage debut in the spy drama Another Country.

When this successful play was made into a film in 1984 a young Firth had his first taste of the movies.

He went on to star in a string of television productions, earning a BAFTA nomination and a Royal Television Society Best Actor Award for his portrayal of Robert Lawrence in Tumbledown (1989).

Firth is known for his active campaigning for Oxfam and was heavily involved in the charity's Make Trade Fair Campaign.

But for many people Firth will always be Mr Darcy - a role that defined his career and secured his place as everyone's favourite brooding Englishman.

Name: Colin Firth Occupation: Actor Date of Birth: September 10, 1960 Local link: Born in Greyshott, East Hampshire