Confident, self-reliant, able to rustle up lamb chops… In her first joint interview with her son Damian, Elizabeth Hurley opens up to Judith Woods about what it takes to make a man.
Blazing sunshine. High-luxe lounging in stunning swimwear. Mutual adoration. It is single motherhood, folks, but not as we know it. Like everything else Elizabeth Hurley undertakes, she make it looks remorselessly, intimidatingly stylish.
She’s a flawless 53. Her son Damian is a handsome 16-year-old who doesn’t scowl. They look eyes-and-teeth fabulous together. What’s more, his photos of his svelte mother in designer bikinis (her own eponymous line) are so alluring they’re almost unseemly. It is the sort of celestial mother-son bond that makes the rest of us feel awkward. Flawed and awkward.
Still, at least she takes no credit for it. ‘I rather think I’ve simply been blessed with a child whose personality gels with mine,’ she says. ‘Friends who have several children always admit, although they love them all equally, inevitably there’s one whose personality mirrors their own and they “get” each other better. It’s definitely nature not nurture.’
Elizabeth has always been fiercely protective of her son. But since he turned 16 in April, and has already followed her into showbusiness and now modelling (he has been signed to the same agency as her – Tess Model Management), they have discussed him having a higher profile: hence his public Instagram account with 30,000 followers (still some way to catch up to his mum’s one million followers, but not a bad start).
Today, he is joining her to highlight this year’s Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Campaign, founded by Evelyn H Lauder of the Estée Lauder empire, a cause Elizabeth has supported for more than 20 years. He says, articulate to a public-school fault, ‘Since I was aware of anything, I have known my mother spends every October travelling the world increasing awareness of breast cancer and has helped raise more than £58 million. I’ve accompanied her on fund-raising trips abroad and helped her illuminate famous landmarks in pink. The best trip was to India – I wore a pink turban, which I still have.’
They’re unmistakably mother and son: the physical resemblance is uncanny. Elizabeth, with expensively perfect highlights and the serene, preternaturally unfurrowed brow of a milkmaid, is posh but not grand – and unexpectedly funny. Damian is tall and lean and charming, with a thick tumble of artistically Byronic hair. Oh, and he has a recurring role alongside his mother in The Royals, the fabulously melodramatic US soap opera about a fictional British royal family in which his mother plays Queen Helena.
‘I took off the first eight years of his life from acting so I could be at home with Damian but it transpires that being on set is where he’s happiest,’ shrugs Elizabeth, with a ‘what-can-you-do’ smile. ‘He loves reading scripts, running through everyone’s lines and soaking it all up. The role of Prince Hansel from Liechtenstein was specially written for him and I was amazed at just how good he was.’
Damian remembers accompanying her on set in his school uniform. ‘Everyone would spoil me,’ he says. ‘I knew all the actors’ lines and would hide behind furniture and prompt them. I was even younger when my mother first went back to work and did a season of Gossip Girl in New York [she played ruthless newspaper proprietor Diana Payne]. The director used to let me shout “Action!” and “Cut!”’
It was rather more of a shock to the system when he was cast in The Royals – first in a cameo, then in a recurring role, and found himself expected to keep up with the professionals. ‘I came back as Prince Hansel in season four and had scenes opposite the queen and the rest of the royal family. We were shooting 16-hour days over a swelteringly hot week, with Dame Joan Collins. It was memorable and hilarious – I hope I’m invited back.’
Rumours of the show’s demise have been wildly exaggerated, adds his mother. Although any fifth season won’t run on cable channel E!, it is very likely to be taken up by another broadcaster. Meanwhile, Damian is already writing his own scripts, making short movies and, eventually, wants to go to drama school. Most acting professionals dissuade their kids from following in their precarious footsteps, but in a glorious inversion of normal life (in so far as life chez Hurley could ever be anything as mundane as normal) she would be delighted if he pursued his dream.
‘But you know, if he does a complete U-turn and wants to pursue a career in… [I could swear she gulps with horror before enunciating] in banking, then of course as his mother I will fully support him.’ I think that catastrophic outcome is unlikely, not least because mother and son are so spookily attuned to one another. Which leads me to the slightly sensitive issue of salacious newspaper headlines claiming Damian trails round the world taking pictures of his mother in revealing (OMG, is she topless?) swimwear, something that sounds wrong on so many levels, especially in his GCSE year. Elizabeth laughs, a sexy throaty chuckle.
‘It’s just complete nonsense that somebody made up and everybody else ran with,’ she says. ‘He took one or two shots ages ago and that was it. He’s at boarding school, for heaven’s sake. I can assure you I do not drag him to Mauritius every weekend to take my picture. Damian is a great photographer, and he instinctively knows what younger people want to see, but that’s all. Our downtime together is usually spent watching something scary on Netflix or Vikings on Amazon Prime. Because he’s away all week and has to make his own bed and tidy his room, I’m probably overindulgent when he’s around to make up for it. Given I’m a single mother and he’s an only child, by default we spend a lot of time together and we are utterly comfortable in each other’s company.’
Damian’s father – American businessman and film producer Steve Bing, with whom Elizabeth had a brief relationship – denied paternity until a DNA test proved otherwise, which speaks volumes about him and explains why he is not in the picture. For Elizabeth, Damian’s dad is her ex-husband, Indian textiles heir Arun Nayar, whom she married in 2007 when her son was five. She divorced him four years later but they stayed friends, as she has with all her long-term exes. ‘Arun is Damian’s daddy and a very good one too, they see each other a lot,’ she says. In July of this year she and Damian holidayed on Mykonos with Arun and his girlfriend, the way modern blended families do.
Although she keeps a pied à terre in West London’s Kensington, home is Elizabeth’s £6 million Herefordshire estate, where she has two labradors and a spaniel and makes vast amounts of jam (yes, really), having gently bullied Damian into picking whichever fruits are in season. When in London, she lives quietly and the focus is on her successful swimwear company. In the country, she is sociable and keeps an open house. She enjoys the energy and noise of Damian’s mates and likes him to meet her friends and family; his godfathers include her ex-partner Hugh Grant, himself now a father and married, as well as Sir Elton John. ‘I think it’s important for him to be around creative, inspiring people,’ she says.
‘I wanted to bring up a really nice boy, and he is self-reliant and confident around adults but he can’t cook properly yet which is a major failing on my part. I hate boys who can’t even rustle up lamb chops with mashed potato, so it’s the next thing we need to tackle. I think we’ll start with an omelette. I love my son completely but I do realise I can only prepare him for life, I can’t control the world.’
I wonder aloud, how would she react if Damian brought a girlfriend back? She wouldn’t be the first mother to feel dismay or (whisper it) competitive. Elizabeth, as you might expect from a former face of Estée Lauder, airily waves away such suggestions, saying she would ‘welcome it’. She adds drily, ‘In that respect we’re quite evolved.’ As far as her own personal life is concerned, she admits to being slightly more circumspect. ‘I’ve been single for three years; my last proper boyfriend was Shane [Warne, the Australian cricketer] and I’m always slow to introduce anyone to Damian – until I know how long they’re going to stick around, there’s no point.’
Could it possibly be, in fact, that Damian is the greatest love of her life, the benchmark by which all future suitors will be judged and found wanting? She looks out-and-out horrified by the question, which is reassuring: there’s only so much extravagant mother love any young man can have piled on his shoulders. ‘That would be overstating things,’ she says, carefully. ‘I am seeing someone at the moment but I’m fairly private about that sort of stuff.’
She declines to be drawn, even a little, on whom she is dating, maintaining a well-bred but brook-no-argument smile. But it is good to know that front of dignified composure does crack occasionally. ‘The Hurley character is to laugh until we cry,’ she admits. ‘We’re an overemotional lot; if it’s sad we get weepy and if it’s funny we cry with laughter. During the summer, someone came to lunch: he was striding towards us across the garden and his foot slipped into a hidden rabbit hole. When he fell over, we laughed ourselves silly all day.’ But what about the teenage tantrums, the nagging? Surely even the fragrant, beach-body perfect Elizabeth Hurley has had to bend her son’s ear on occasion?
‘Of course I find myself saying exactly the things my mother said to me, about picking up my clothes or bringing my plate over to the sink,’ she says. ‘But we’ve got each other’s backs, always. We’ve never had a horrible fight, we’re never rude to each other and I’ve always encouraged him to speak up when something is annoying or upsetting him. I try really hard to avoid stony silence.’
Wow. I have a 16-year-old daughter. Stony silences and shouting are domestic staples on a par with milk, bread and eggs – and we consider ourselves to be close. Perhaps that is just mothers and sons for you. But like every mother, Elizabeth questions herself (hurrah!). ‘I do worry sometimes that I’m overbearing. The one thing I didn’t realise about being a parent is how you have to adapt your behaviour as they grow. You might treat your son one way for 13 years then, almost overnight, it sounds patronising and bossy.’
Damian clearly knows what he wants to do. ‘I’ve always loved The Chronicles of Narnia, so starring in a remake of that would be a dream come true. And Austin Powers is my favourite of Mum’s films; I watched it when I was really young and didn’t realise how rude it was.’
Elizabeth is keen to continue acting for the foreseeable future but, having produced a couple of films before her son was born, would eventually like to move behind the cameras. ‘I’d love to be part of a really good TV show,’ she says. ‘One of those edge-of-the-seat dramas that make you shout “No!” at the television. My favourite series have been Breaking Bad and Homeland; I like being really scared when I watch things.’
Not that her sylvan idyll has been entirely free from its own drama. Her elder sister Kate, 54, and her son Miles, a model, stayed in Elizabeth’s house to recuperate after he was stabbed in London earlier this year. But now, on a happier note, Elizabeth’s mother is due to move in with her and Damian. ‘I love the idea of generations living together,’ she says. ‘I’d be thrilled if Damian were to keep a room here after he leaves home.’
By her own account, in the country Elizabeth is a different creature: hair scraped up, very little make up, expensive athleisure wear. ‘I tend to wear Damian’s cast-offs,’ she says. ‘His 14-15-year-old trackie bottoms fit me perfectly.’ Of course they do, she’s Elizabeth Hurley. And Damian is cool with it. ‘Friends come and go but family is for ever,’ he says, sagely. How reassuring to discover the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.
think it is fair to conclude that the son feels every bit as blessed as his mother. And the rest of us will just have to look on in envy.
The pink ribbon success story
Founded in 1992 with the launch of the iconic Pink Ribbon, the Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Campaign has raised more than £58 million for research, education and medical services, tackling a disease that one in eight UK women will develop during their lives. Elizabeth, whose grandmother died of breast cancer, has seen the campaign’s results first-hand – ‘from a woman telling me she got a mammogram because she heard our message about early detection, to the impact on patient care and treatment’. This year’s theme is #TimeToEndBreastCancer. Further details can be found at ELCompanies.com/BreastCancerCampaign.