Keira Christina Knightley was actually christened as Kiera, and was born in Teddington, a quiet suburb of south-west London. She has one brother, Caleb, who is five years older than her. Keira's Scottish-born mother, Sharman MacDonald, had formerly worked as a stage and TV actress, appearing in the popular detective series, ‘Shoestring’.
After Keira's mother gave up acting, she went on to pursue a successful career as a playwright. Keira's father was Will Knightley, who was also a stage and TV actor. With such a theatrical background, it was hardly surprising that young Keira should grow up wanting to act.
Much to her parents' amazement, she asked them to find her an agent at the tender age of three! Apparently, she'd already noted that her parents received frequent calls from their agents, asking them to appear in plays and TV shows, and so she'd already decided that she needed one herself!
Keira's mother refused, but her daughter persisted, and eventually, when she was just six-years-old, she got her own way.
As luck would have it, Keira's first agent succeeded in finding acting work for her, and Keira made her TV debut at the age of seven, playing the part of a little girl in a film called 'Royal Celebration', a drama set against the background of the marriage of Diana Spencer and Prince Charles.
Two years later, in 1994, she was given a small part in another drama called 'A Village Affair', starring Sophie Ward and Kerry Fox. But while Keira's acting career was already taking off, she was not doing quite as well at school as her parents might have wished.
Right from the start, Keira had serious problems mastering reading and writing, since she was dyslexic but her condition wasn't diagnosed properly until much later on. She was frequently teased at school for being "stupid" since her condition meant that she couldn't read properly, and wrote numbers the wrong way round.
Acting, however, was a constant source of solace and consolation for young Keira. In 1995, she acted in a wartime drama called 'Innocent Lies', swiftly followed by playing the role of The Princess in E. Nesbit's 'The Treasure Seekers', alongside James Wilby, Ian Richardson and Gina McKee.
Keira went to nearby Teddington School, and although she wasn't a star student, she revelled in the great facilities the school had to offer. She spent a lot of time hanging out at Heatham House youth club nearby, a social venue for young people where local artists, musicians and youth workers introduced Keira and her friends to the delights of photography, football, DJ-ing, skateboarding and acting. Despite her hectic schedule and her early learning difficulties, Keira succeeded in passing six GCSEs.
In 1998, she played the role of a quiet schoolgirl in the TV dramatisation of Rosamund Pilcher's romantic novel, 'Coming Home'. But whilst still at school, she received an amazing offer from Hollywood. George Lucas was in the process of casting 'The Phantom Menace', the first part of the Star Wars epic saga, and Keira was chosen to play the role of handmaiden to Queen Amidala (played by Natalie Portman).
The storyline required Keira to impersonate the queen, and to wear the same clothes as her, so her presence in the film was kept completely secret - with the result that this breakthrough movie role didn't do as much to enhance Keira's career as might have been expected. Around the same time, she acted in the role of Oliver's aunt in Alan Bleasdale's adaptation of 'Oliver Twist'.
Keira's next major movie role, however, set her firmly on course for the big time. She was offered the role of Juliette Paxton in 'Bend It Like Beckham' and gave a performance that won her Best Newcomer Award at the London Critics Circle in 2003. The film told the story of a football-mad tomboyish teenager and her friendship with an Asian girl. The film was an overnight smash in football-crazy Britain. It was a huge box-office earner too, since it cost only £3.5 million to make, but took over £11 million in Great Britain alone, and has since gone on to generate over US $76 million worldwide.
Unfazed by her growing success, Keira enrolled for her A level studies at Esher College in Surrey, choosing Classics, English Literature and Political History as her subjects.
Keira's academic ambitions were soon to be sidelined by better and better acting offers.
A chance meeting with producer Andy Harries at the London premiere of 'Bridget Jones's Diary' led to an audition for the lead role of Larisa Feodorovna Giushar, the heroine of an upcoming TV version of Boris Pasternak's classic novel, 'Doctor Zhivago'.
This big-budget production looked certain to be highly prestigious and Keira was delighted to land such a plum role. Keira's co-stars included Sam Neill and Hans Matheson and she'd be treading in the footsteps of the screen legend Julie Christie, who'd immortalised the role in David Lean's classic 1960s version.
Filming was scheduled to take place in Slovakia, and going on location was Keira's first real taste of independence. She had her own flat in Prague's red light district, with a bird's eye view of the local prostitutes and sleazy video stores!
On returning to London, Keira made three short films, but then it was full speed ahead for her biggest year to date. She took a chance and decided to attend the London auditions for a new blockbuster movie, called 'Pirates of The Caribbean' (2003), but got stuck in a traffic jam, and nearly didn't make it in time!
Working alongside screen idols Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom, as well as Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush, Keira was to play the part of Elizabeth Swann, the daughter of the British governor, who's kidnapped by ghostly pirates in search of long-lost treasure! This time, Keira got to go on location in Los Angeles and the Caribbean, and it was hardly a surprise that the film turned out to be a major smash hit. The box-office returns were phenomenally high, quickly exceeding $200 million.
Meanwhile, 'Bend It Like Beckham' had sneaked on to the American film distributors' lists and quickly made its way up the ratings charts in the US. When Hollywood producers realised it was the same young British actress playing the lead part in the two hottest films of the moment, Keira suddenly became one of the hottest actresses around.
Keira, who had just had her 18th birthday, had most definitely arrived. Back in England, Keira was cast in the rom-com movie, 'Love Actually' (2003), which told the story of ten parallel love affairs, continually crossing paths with each other. The film had a star-studded cast that included Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman and Liam Neeson, to name but a few, and Keira claims she was continually star-struck during shooting.
Next, it was back to Hollywood and the Caribbean, as Keira worked on two sequels to Pirates back-to-back. The second movie, 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest', was released in 2006, and the third film, 'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End', came out in the summer of 2007.
Changing pace yet again, Keira then starred in a stylish thriller that mixed fact and fiction called 'Domino' (2005), where she played the part of Domino Harvey, a beautiful model who gives up her career to become a bounty hunter.
Keira's appearance in 'Atonement' (2007) opposite British heart-throb James McAvoy increased her star power further as the film was well received by critics. Not only did she collect an Empire Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Cecilia Tallis, but she was nominated for a Bafta Award too.
She went on to star in 'The Edge of Love' in 2008 before her leading role in 'The Duchess', based on a biography of 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, landed her more award nominations.
British film 'London Boulevard', 'Last Night' and 'Never Let Me Go', which led to a British Independent Film Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination, ensured Keira remained busy in 2010. 2011 will see her appear in historical biopic 'A Dangerous Method' alongside Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Vincent Cassel.
2012 is also set to be a busy year for the young actress as she will be appearing in romantic comedy drama 'Seeking a Friend For The End Of The World' with Steve Carrell playing her love interest.
She will also be playing the title role in Leo Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina' with Jude Law and Aaron Johnson. Keira is rumoured to be appearing in 'Can a Song Save Your Life' and 'Untouched', which tells the story of the mysterious wedding night incident between Victorian artist John Ruskin and Effie Gray that led to their divorce, in 2013.
Keira resolutely refuses to discuss her private life in TV and press interviews, but it seems as though she's already enjoyed her fair share of romance off-screen. Her first real boyfriend was her co-star in 'Princess of Thieves' (2001), Del Synott, with whom she also co-starred in the movie 'Thunderpants' (2002).
Whilst on a photo shoot for the jewellery company Asprey in New York, she met and fell in love with Northern Irish model, Jamie Dornan.
But that romance ended and she went on to date fellow actor Rupert Friend, whom she met on the set of 'Pride and Prejudice' (2005). They dated for five years but the pressure of carrying on a romantic relationship under intense media scrutiny took its toll on them. It was revealed in January 2011 that Keira, who has grown to become Britain's best paid actress, and Friend had decided to end their relationship.
Breaking the news, her father told the Sun newspaper: "Yes, they have broken up. They were together for quite a long time and it is always hard breaking up. She's focused on her work."
Her love life is back on track as she is now engaged to be married. After her relationship with Friend, Keira was introduced to the keyboardist for the indie band Klaxons James Righton by their mutual friend Alexa Chung.
They have been dating for 15 months and in May 2012, it was confirmed by Keira's publicist that the couple were engaged to be married.