LOS ANGELES—Hollywood's paparazzi and celebrity gossip-hounds were abuzz with excitement this year, when notorious party girl and multiple-BAFTA-award-winning actress Dame Judi Dench, 74, entered into a lesbian love affair with a popular nightclub disc jockey.

Dench, a knighted member of the British Empire and notorious tabloid trash.

Though Dench had never made her sexual preference public, most assumed her to be heterosexual, since she has been romantically linked to such hunky actors as her late husband, Michael Williams. But she shocked the media when photos emerged in early July showing the classically trained Dench and a 32-year-old female DJ canoodling in L.A. hotspot Chateau Marmont. The Royal Shakespeare Company veteran and tabloid favorite was soon swarmed by paparazzi, who also published images of Dench drunkenly making out with her gaunt-looking, bleached-blonde lover in the alley behind D.C.'s most elite club, the Lotus Range.

In September, Us Weekly ran an exclusive claiming that the tomboyish DJ treated Dench to a sexy lap dance in full view of the revelers at New York's Gramercy Room.

"They're definitely into each other," one club patron told the gossip rag. "It was hot and heavy."

The affair caps off a tailspin of erratic behavior by Dench. While shooting Notes On A Scandal back in 2006, the hard-partying septegenarian was known to show up on set late and hungover, or sometimes not at all. In March 2007 she was pulled over for driving under the influence with fellow starlets Dame Maggie Smith and Angela Lansbury, and exposed her crotch to paparazzi while exiting her SUV.

While some claim Dench's tryst with the lesbian DJ is bringing the former Masterpiece Theatre star back down to earth, the relationship has not been without its rough spots. This November, several witnessed the Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts sobbing outside the chic London nightclub Boujis, after the waifish disc jockey "went ballistic" on Dench for dancing suggestively with close friend and actor Patrick Stewart. The 68-year-old Stewart reportedly had to physically restrain Dench's lesbian lover, who was kicking the British screen legend and spitting in her face.

"The girls are fine," Dench's publicist Leslie Sloane Zelnick said. "They just had a little spat."

Though Dench has said in multiple interviews that her family is supportive of the relationship, her estranged 112-year-old father, Reginald Arthur Dench—a recovering alcoholic and ex-convict—has publicly condemned the romance.