We have all been saying it for years. Liz doesn’t need Hugh anymore; it’s a sham, a convenient ruse, perpetuated for the benefit of photographers and a public always fascinated by beauty.
And how we love to be cynical. Liz Hurley, we decided, was the one pulling the strings, the actress who never quite made the big league but who, in association with the handsome Hugh Grant, could pull off the £3 million modelling contract. The arrangement enhanced Hugh’s standing too. We didn’t believe in them as a relationship but we swallowed them whole as a Hollywood couple. That’s what Hollywood does, isn’t it?
Then, this week’s split. No surprise there. She doesn’t need him anymore, we chorused. And playing into our hands came the close friend who confided: “No third party was involved… part of the reason they have stayed together is that they have been working together.”
No tears either. There was Liz in full professional make up and a furry jacket chosen, one assumes, because the image she wanted to project was that even on a May day she needed comfort. But where was Hugh? Out of sight, out of shot. And that was the first clue that all might not be as it seemed.
Yesterday another friend, and one who knows Hugh and his family, spoke of a further reason for the separation. Fynvola Grant, Hugh’s mother, is believed to have cancer. Hugh adores her, and during her recent stay in a London hospital he was constantly at her side. Put simply, this is not a time that Hugh needs to share with a semi-detached partner. Fynvola Grant does not in any case care for Liz and always asserted that Hugh would never marry her.
It is natural therefore, and understandable, that Hugh should wish to concentrate his attention and affection on the woman who has always been a pivotal influence on him. If you think that you could lose your mother, you adjust your priorities, and that, says his friend, is what has happened.
You also retreat. This does not mean that as an actor you no longer work. Hugh is filming BJD in London. It does not mean that you no longer attend events at which you might be photographed. Rather, it means that you are selective about the people with whom you spend your time, the people to whom you talk.
In such circumstances, vanity can seem cheap, starry tantrums can seem pathetic (and Liz has had a few). Hugh, it is believed, had enough of being the papier mache arm who guided Liz across red carpets; he would rather be with the woman who matters to him most, and that is his mother.
He once said that his mother gave him so much love that “You almost take it for granted. It doesn’t leave any room for wanting to go out and look for love later on in life.” He has also described his upbringing as “not at all stiff upper lip. But there was that English tradition that if something’s going very badly, rather than freak out and cry you just make a joke about it and have a drink.” His mother, a retired comprehensive schoolteacher of 62, is warm, likeable and hugely capable and, in the best English tradition again, brushed with eccentricity. Bringing up Hugh and his elder brother Jamie, she would move between a repertoire of characters. If she wanted to get her sons to bed quickly she would turn into Brunnhilde, a formidable German au pair. Last year Hugh said that she mimics Wussy, the long dead family cat. “A nasty piece of work. When she’s being the cat she swears like a trooper”. Which, like the best English mothers, she would never normally do, of course. “My mum’s a very moral person. Her big thing has always been ‘Be nice darling. Just be kind and nice.’”
He has spoke too of his pride that his mother was never a lady who lunches but a frontline worker who, during dinner party discussions about socialism, actually understood the issues being debated.
Hugh grew up in a Victorian semi-detached house in Chiswick, West London, where his parents still live. His father, James, left the army to sell carpets and is now a painter. Hugh’s wealth has enabled him to buy back the top floor of their house, which they had let out, and he has given them central heating, though he doubts that it is turned on. “Anyway it’s pitiful compared with what they have done for me and my brother” he commented last year.
So he is loved, and knows it. His is a close warm family that measures good fortune by happiness rather than materialism or popular success. It is hardly surprising that such values stay with Hugh or that his mother’s illness should make him appreciate them even more. Neither is it surprising that, faced with a threat to the family stability he has always enjoyed, he should feel he can live without Liz Hurley, a woman never known for her humour or compassion.
Hugh and Liz were together for 13 years, first as boyfriend and girlfriend, then in a more distant brother-sister arrangement and as business partners. And while Hugh remained a West London boy, unfazed by Hollywood and still charmed by the character and idiosyncrasy of his parents’ world, Liz metamorphosed into the full-on babe. He sees the scriptwriter Richard Curtis in Notting Hill and turns up to low-key book launches; she has become transatlantic and moves in billionaire circles. At this year’s Cannes festival she turned up with Elton John and his partner, David Furnish.
Tolerance, as he has said, is not Liz Hurley’s greatest quality. She has opinions, she has a “frightful temper” and a drive he has watched accelerate to a point where he could no longer identify with it. Or indeed with her. His dreams are different. To have a curry in private, to amble along Chiswick High Street without inviting attention. A giver, rather than a taker, he would rather exchange gentle jokes with his parents than return to the circles where ego is feted more than good humour.