Belfast Telegraph

'That dress' shot Liz Hurley to global fame, but she has found it much harder to maintain relationships

As her son Damian takes to the catwalk in apparent homage to his mum, Donal Lynch looks at the multi-million pound inheritance dispute involving his paternal grandfather that rocked the family

Liz Hurley in ‘that dress’, her son Damian, with Shane Warne and with Arun Nayar
Liz Hurley in ‘that dress’, her son Damian, with Shane Warne and with Arun Nayar

By Donal Lynch

In 1965 the English writer Quentin Crisp predicted that one day husbands and wives would borrow each other's clothes. Even he could not have foreseen a time in which sons copied their mother's outfits to wild applause. But so it was this past month as the world took in the news that there has been a second coming of Liz Hurley in the form of her only son, Damian.

At an event in London in July the younger Hurley paid tribute to his mother with black cigarette trousers and a matching black blazer, emblazoned with seven oversized gold safety pins.

The original look, which turned 25 this summer, and is thus significantly older than 17-year-old Damian, was shocking because it involved an English rose wearing a dress that predicted the celebrity trend for porn star chic. And it was the defining snapshot of Liz and Hugh, who were probably the ultimate 'it' couple of 1990s Britain.

Damian's clumsy tribute lacked all of these interesting overtones, but his striking androgyny set him apart in a different way. Designer Pat McGrath, who has already signed a deal with the teenager, declared "a supermodel is born". Jonathan Phang, who managed Jerry Hall and Naomi Campbell and was a judge on Britain's Next Top Model, said Damian could surpass his mother's success. "He's very striking," added Phang, "and his looks will only improve with age. He's got beautiful blue eyes and his mother's cheekbones."

Liz and Damian are unusually close. As a child, he would act out scenes from her films with her, especially Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. His social media is adorned with dozens of images of Liz, whom he calls 'mama', 'madre' and 'mummy'. Last March he wrote on Instagram: "Happy Mother's Day to the person who continues to inspire me every day. I love you more than life itself and I couldn't live without you. Thank you for always bringing a smile to my face and for always comforting me no matter what insane rant I go into. You're so important to me, whether I'm begging you to critique my scripts or trying to beat you at Rummikub, and I just want to thank you for making me into the person that I am."

Liz, for her part, says: "I've simply been blessed with a child whose personality gels with mine. He's an only child, we spend a lot of time together and we are utterly comfortable in each other's company."

The intensity of the mother-son bond was heightened by the fact Liz raised Damian alone. He is the son of movie producer Steve Bing, whom Liz briefly dated in 2000, after she split from Hugh Grant. Their relationship involved a jet-set lifestyle of trips to New York and Europe and Bing reportedly showered Hurley with expensive jewellery.

Liz Hurley with her son Damian as a child
Liz Hurley with her son Damian as a child

The couple, whose relationship remained non-exclusive, separated briefly in March 2001. They reconnected soon after and in August of that year visited Elton John's holiday home in Nice, where, it was said, Damian was conceived.

Bing initially claimed Damian was not his. He released a statement saying: "Ms Hurley and I were not in an exclusive relationship when she became pregnant. It is her choice to be a single mother. If indeed I am the father, I will be an extremely involved and responsible parent."

A paternity test proved he was the father and he began to provide financially for Damian. The younger Hurley was also in line to inherit part of the fortune of his biological grandfather, Dr Peter Bing, a billionaire philanthropist who donated $50m to Stanford University in 2006. However, it turned out Bing senior was determined to stand in the way of that happening.

In March of this year, following enquiries by Damian's half-sister, Kira Kerkorian, as to her entitlement under the trust, one of the trustees filed court papers seeking to clarify the meaning of the term 'grandchild'. In his written evidence, Peter Bing testified that regardless of whether Damian and Steve had a relationship, he - Peter - did not consider Damian a grandchild of his.

In July of this year a court in California ruled Bing senior's assertion that he didn't consider Damian a grandchild was neither here nor there for the purposes of the trust. Judge Daniel Juarez said: "Although wills are to be construed in accordance with the testator's intent, it is the intent expressed by the words of the will itself which must be given effect, rather than some undisclosed purpose or intent that may have existed in the mind of the testator."

Liz said Steve had "provided financially for Damian's support" and she and Steve have had joint custody of their son since his birth. She accused Peter of having "misdirected anger" towards Steve that has "nothing to do with Damian". 

The younger Hurley's grandparents on his mother's side had much less money - Liz's father was an army officer, her mother a homemaker - but considerably more familial stability. They raised Liz and her brother and sister in Basingstoke, where Liz learned to talk with upper-class diction.

In her teenage years she was a punk, complete with nose ring and pink hair, and for a while was in a band called Vestal Virgins. But a school tutor of once recalled that she had an affinity with the writer Evelyn Waugh and, like Waugh, had a fascination with the upper classes, seasoning her speech with enough 'horrids' and 'frightfuls' to sometimes pass as one of them - she still prefers 'Elizabeth' to 'Liz'.

She won a number of small roles in TV and film in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but it was her relationship with Hugh Grant that thrust her into the public spotlight. The couple became lovers in 1987 while making a Spanish film about Lord Byron. "I met her at the audition," recalled Grant. "At the time I had an offer to do a serious BBC project. I couldn't decide between that and this absurd, career-damaging Spanish thing. Then I saw Elizabeth and went for the absurd Spanish film."

Liz Hurley and Hugh Grant in the 1990s
Liz Hurley and Hugh Grant in the 1990s

She made it up to him later by making the Four Weddings premiere as significant to tabloid British folklore as the nativity is to Christianity. For evermore 'that dress' would always mean the barely-there Versace number Liz wore that night.

Suddenly she was offered modelling contacts left and right - she eventually signed for Estee Lauder - and acting went on the backburner. "It's quite a weird feeling if you've really struggled for a long time to get somewhere in your chosen profession and then suddenly someone offers you something in a different profession which is immediately at a higher stage than you've managed to achieve so far," she later recalled. "I've never got anything for nothing in my life, but that was one thing that I did get absolutely for nothing."

She stood by Grant in 1995 after he was arrested in Los Angeles for receiving oral sex in a public place from a prostitute called Divine Brown. Days after the arrest Grant said: "I've done an abominable thing and she's been amazing about it. Contrary to what I read in the paper today, she's been very supportive and we're going to try to work it out."

Liz later said she felt like she'd "been shot" when she heard about the arrest, but she and Grant would stay together for five more years. It would be his mood swings, rather than his infidelity, which would make them grow apart, she later said.

After giving birth to Damian, she began dating Indian textile magnate Arun Nayar. They were soon married, with Elton John giving away the Versace-clad bride amid a wedding party of 16 children, including Damian. Then it was off to India for a five-day affair involving dancing "virgins", a hot-pink Versace bridal sari, fire-eaters, camel rickshaw transport and Nayar mounting a black stallion for his groom's entrance.

Despite the grandeur of the ceremony, behind the scenes there were problems. Arun's father, Vinud, later claimed in an interview that a family party for the newlyweds had been snubbed to satisfy the terms of a Hello! magazine deal.

Arun Nayar raised Damian as his own child, however, and they lived between London and Mumbai. Liz put her career on the back burner as she said she felt a return to the long hours on set would disrupt Damian's schooling. In any case, she hardly had need of acting because by now she was a full-time spokeswoman and model.

Marcelle D'Argy Smith, a former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, once described Hurley as "witheringly boring", adding: "(She) has no fashion experience whatsoever. She wore a dress and has appeared at premieres." But in a world where most film stars now endorse perfumes and cosmetics, Liz actually seems ahead of her time.

In 2010, while still married to Nayar, she began an affair with Australian cricketer Shane Warne. They managed to keep it quiet until they were photographed kissing outside a London restaurant, after which Hurley took to Twitter to announce the end of her marriage: "Not a great day. For the record, my husband Arun & I separated a few months ago. Our close family & friends were aware of this," she wrote.

There was no reference to Warne, but they soon had a short-lived engagement, after which Hurley declared herself, "alone again, naturally".

Really, however, she has never been truly alone. Hurley has remained on good terms with all her exes. She holidays with Nayar - they were pictured on a yacht with his new girlfriend last summer - and she and Warne remain good friends and he has spoken of her fondly in recent interviews.

As for Hugh Grant, now 58, last year he married his longtime Swedish girlfriend, 40-year-old Anna Eberstein, who is mother to three of his five children - he is now father to a seven-year-old, two six-year-olds, a three-year-old and a one-year-old (he has two children with former partner Tinglan Hong). He is also godfather to Damian.

Liz and the actor remain best friends and perhaps hold something of a torch for each other. "Sometimes Hugh and I can get morbid and say we could have had five children by now because we were together when I was 21," she says. "But there was never a time when either of us wanted it, so you can't really regret that."

She has no regrets about wearing 'that dress', even if she wouldn't do it again. "Just because I fit into it doesn't mean it would be appropriate to wear it," she said earlier this year. "Some things you only do once."

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