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As Sherlock Holmes, he has had more than his fair share of adventures. But Benedict Cumberbatch may now be learning that real life can be even stranger than fiction.

The actor has struck up a ‘very close’ friendship with Lydia Hearst, daughter of notorious kidnap victim and bank robber Patty Hearst. Cumberbatch, 35, has been seen at a number of Hollywood parties with the  27-year-old model over the past month. The pair were seated together at the 20th annual Elton John Aids Foundation Oscars Academy Awards viewing party on Sunday night, where one onlooker said they ‘only had eyes for each other’. And perhaps it’s no wonder the British actor is captivated by Miss Hearst, given that her family background is more dramatic than many film scripts. 

Her great-grandfather was William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate said to have inspired the megalomaniac central character in Citizen Kane. Her mother was an apolitical 19-year-old American heiress when she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a Left-wing guerilla group, in 1974. Her case grew even stranger when, during her captivity, she joined the SLA, denounced her former life, took the name Tania and carried out an armed robbery on a bank in San Francisco with other group members. She was arrested the following year and during her trial it was claimed that she had developed Stockholm syndrome, the condition in which hostages begin to identify with their captors in order to make sense of what is happening to them.

Patty was originally sentenced to 35 years in prison, but that was later reduced to seven and she served less than two before President Jimmy Carter cut her sentence further and she was released. She was granted a full presidential pardon by President Bill Clinton in his last official act before leaving office. Her extraordinary tale has spawned countless books and movies, including the 1988 film Patty Hearst, based on her autobiography and starring Natasha Richardson. Following her release from prison, Patty married her bodyguard, Bernard Shaw. Mr Shaw is now the head of security for the Hearst Corporation, while Patty, 58, has dabbled in acting. The couple have two daughters, Gillian, now 29, and Lydia.
Lydia, who uses the surname Hearst in her professional life but was born Hearst-Shaw, was spotted with Cumberbatch last month at a Vanity Fair party at Hollywood restaurant Cecconi’s. The pair arrived and left together and she happily posed for pictures with Cumberbatch’s arm wrapped around her. 

Cumberbatch is being courted by Hollywood after appearing in Oscar-nominated hits Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and War Horse. He is currently in the U.S. to film the Star Trek sequel, in which he plays a ‘baddie’. He also recently finished shooting Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, in which  he will voice both dragon Smaug and villain Necromancer. Martin Freeman, his co-star in BBC1’s Sherlock, has the title role.

Cumberbatch was in a relationship with actress Olivia Poulet, whom  he met at Manchester University,  for a decade, but the couple split up almost a year ago. Last month, his half-sister Tracy Peacock said that he struggled to find a girlfriend because he was too clever. The 53-year-old, who has the same mother – actress Wanda Ventham – as the half-brother she calls Ben revealed: ‘You would have to be a pretty smart cookie to keep up with him. I think that is why possibly he has trouble with girlfriends.’ Miss Peacock, a picture frame restorer, went on: ‘He is such a lot like Sherlock – he is quick-thinking like him, but not harsh. ‘He’s incredibly well read. In comparison to some he is quite an intellectual.’ But she added that unlike his loner alter-ego in the detective series, Cumberbatch is keen to get married and start a family.

He had a brief romance with fashion designer Anna Jones last year and his sister said: ‘One of his regrets is that he hasn’t found someone to settle down with. ‘I think they would have to be someone not in the acting profession. Someone who was happy to hold the fort while he went off and pursued his career.’ 

Last night, a spokesman for Cumberbatch confirmed he was ‘very close’ friends with Miss Hearst, adding: ‘They have been friends a while now, but to say they are dating is probably too strong.’