By Judith Woods – www.smh.com.au
By any standards, Elizabeth Hurley is a woman who understands how to control her narrative.
Sassy, savvy, with an archly knowing gleam of amusement in her eye, even as her high-profile relationships fell apart and single motherhood loomed, she came to embody the well-bred virtue of grace under fire.
From That Dress, when a handful of gold Versace safety pins stole Hugh Grant’s thunder at the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral in 1994 to dazzling bikini shots posted online to boost her swimwear business, the 55-year-old mother of one has an indisputable flair for seizing the spotlight.
But yesterday she woke up to the shocking news that the father of her 18-year-old-son, Damian, appeared to have taken his own life. American multi-millionaire Steve Bing had died after a fall from the 27th floor of a high-rise apartment block in Los Angeles, allegedly because of mental health issues.
“I am saddened beyond belief that my ex Steve is no longer with us. It is a terrible end,” she wrote on social media. “Our time together was very happy and I’m posting these pictures because although we went through some tough times, it’s the good, wonderful memories of a sweet, kind man that matter.”
It was an astonishingly generous statement. Not least because as far as the wider world was concerned, she and Bing were entirely estranged.
How could they have failed to be? Their short-lived relationship in the early 2000s led to pregnancy but Bing vehemently, publicly denied being the father and only relented after a paternity test and a court case.
“Ms Hurley and I were not in an exclusive relationship when she became pregnant. It is her choice to be a single mother,” he insisted.
Hurley made into a dignified, heartfelt reply, saying; “I loved Stephen enormously during the 18 months we were together. Contrary to erroneous reports, we were still very much happy together when I discovered I was pregnant,” she said.
“I was completely loyal and faithful to Stephen throughout this time as, indeed, he assured me he was to me.”
After the case, Bing announced plans to pay £100,000 ($180,480) a year into a trust for his son that could be accessed when he turned 18, but Hurley made it abundantly clear his money was neither wanted nor welcomed. In a surreal twist, Bing sued his own father, who wanted to disinherit his son’s illegitimate offspring.
I interviewed Hurley two years ago, just after Damian’s 16th birthday, and enjoyed a couple of hours of her funny, frank, company. She made it clear that the father figure in her son’s life – other than celebrity godfathers Elton John, David Beckham, Denis Leary and, of course, Hugh Grant – was her ex-husband, Indian textiles heir Arun Nayar. They were married in lavish spectacle back in 2007 when Damian was five and divorced four years later. As with her other long-term exes – Grant, cricketer Shane Warne – she and Arun have stayed good friends.
“Arun is Damian’s daddy and a very good one too, they see each other a lot,” she told me. In July of that year she and Damian holidayed on Mykonos with Arun and his girlfriend, the way thoroughly modern families do.
Having very much warmed to Hurley over lunch, I find there’s something very admirable about the way she found it in her heart (her ego) to make peace with the rather complex man who had humiliated her.
Bing had a track record of denial. When he previously fathered a daughter, Kira, by former tennis pro Lisa Bonder, he refused to accept her paternity too, until that case went to court. Kira is now 21 and has stayed out of the limelight.
But a reconciliation between Hurley and Bing evidently took place over the past two years, which she referenced when she shared her feelings yesterday with her 2.2 million followers.
“In the past year we had become close again,” she said of Bing. “We last spoke on our son’s 18th birthday. This is devastating news and I thank everyone for their lovely messages.”
Damian also posted a response to the loss of his biological father. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone that has reached out following the devastating news… I will always remember your kindness. This is a very strange and confusing time and I’m immensely grateful to be surrounded by my phenomenal family and friends.”
It would be crass to speculate about the events surrounding Bing’s death. What I do know is that the relationship between Hurley and her extravagantly lookalike son may border on high-camp pastiche with the same tumble of glossy hair, piercing blue eyes and sculpted cheekbones, but it is founded on a deep emotional connection as well as a shared sense of the irreverent.
He has famously taken some of her daring photos, as she frolics in the grounds of her £6 million Herefordshire estate. She refers to him as her “twin”. “I rather think I’ve simply been blessed with a child whose personality gels with mine,” she told me in her gorgeous gravelly voice. “I have so many friends with several children, and they admit, although they love them all equally, inevitably there’s always one whose personality mirrors their own and they sort of ‘get’ each other better. It’s definitely nature not nurture.”
Hurley has gone to great lengths to avoid the isolation of single parenthood. Damian attended boarding school and whether in the country or their Kensington pied à terre, she has always kept an open house.
“Given I’m a single mother and he’s an only child, by default we do spend a lot of time together and we are utterly comfortable in each other’s company,” she explained.
“I also think it’s important for him to be around creative, inspiring people who expose him to lots of different ideas and ways of being. I wanted to bring up a really nice boy and man, and he is self-reliant and confident around adults.”
Hurley’s career has spanned acting, modelling, film production and business; her swimwear company is now her main focus along with an ongoing association with cosmetics giant Estée Lauder. Damian is gravitating towards acting and modelling as well as photography. He also cuts a soigné dash accompanying his mother to red-carpet events.
Back on her sprawling estate, she tends to wear his cast-offs; his 14-15-year-old trackie bottoms “fit her perfectly” as she yomps about with her various dogs.
In lockdown, Hurley has been in Herefordshire with eight other family members, including Damian and her widowed mother, his grandmother, Angela. “I have my whole family here, including my mother, an aunt and a friend who has severe respiratory problems,” she told Hello magazine. “If it weren’t for the fact that we’re terrified of losing loved ones, we’re actually quite happy cocooned up together.”
There will be plenty of people to turn to for both of them. “The Hurley character is to laugh until we cry,” she told me. “We’re an overly emotional lot; if it’s sad we get weepy and if it’s funny we cry with laughter.”
The terrible news of Bing’s death will clearly have a huge impact and there will doubtless be tears shed. Like mother, like son; mutual adoration, mutual support.
The Telegraph, London