Wednesday 12 December 2018

Final credits roll on Grant's stellar career as bachelor #1

He declared marriage 'unromantic' - and yet eternal playboy Hugh Grant has tied the knot, writes Julia Molony

Hugh Grant weds Anna Eberstein in a low-key ceremony in London
Hugh Grant weds Anna Eberstein in a low-key ceremony in London

Julia Molony

Not just one, but two of Britain's most eligible bachelors were taken off the market in May.

And while no-one could have missed the marriage of Prince Harry - marked by street parties, pageantry, and the attention of the world press - the wedding of the UK's second most famous posh rogue, Hugh Grant, was a rather more discreet affair.

He slipped off and quietly wed his long-term girlfriend Anna Eberstein at Chelsea registry office in London. The bride looked insouciant in a pleated mini-skirt, their toddler daughter on her hip, and Grant - three years shy of his 60th birthday - made a distinguished-looking groom.

While the world remained conveniently distracted by the every movement of the newly- minted Duke and Duchess of Sussex, news of Grant's union with TV producer Anna, mother of three of his five children (their third baby was born earlier this year) rather slipped under the radar.

Even the newlyweds' first public appearance at the Grand Prix in Monaco was rather without fanfare.

Grant's wedding was the good news we never expected to hear. A career commitment-phobe, a few years ago he was accused by one British columnist as being "embarrassingly incapable of growing up." Even as recently as 2016, he declared the institution of marriage "unromantic" and decried the idea of "closing yourself off."

Tinglan Hong
Tinglan Hong

He was emphatic in an interview with American DJ Howard Stern that he didn't think human beings "are meant to be in 40-year-long monogamous, faithful, relationships."

Presumably, one advantage of leaving marriage till later in life is that it takes some of the dread out of the prospect of decades spent held captive. Marriage at almost 60 is more of a long-term than a life sentence. Or perhaps, Grant managed to negotiate a loop-hole to the fidelity clause. "I always admire the French and the Italians, who are very devoted to their marriages," he told Howard Stern. "They take them extremely seriously, but it is understood that there might be other visitors at five o'clock in the afternoon. You just never boast about it. They never say anything, but that's what keeps marriages together."

Maybe his views on the matter have changed since then. Or maybe his bride knows exactly what she is letting herself in for, and accepts him anyway for what he is.

In any case, Grant's family will always take a blended, unconventional form. Since he turned 50, his personal life has been both enriched and complicated by a spree of paternity. In one eventful 18-month period, he fathered three children by two different women, one of whom is his new wife.

Grant will remain forever associated with Liz Hurley
Grant will remain forever associated with Liz Hurley

His first-born - a daughter named Tabitha - was the happy result of what a spokesperson for Grant described at the time as a "fleeting affair" with a Chinese-born hostess named Tinglan Hong. Though it was perhaps not as fleeting as all that. Two years later, Tinglan Hong gave birth to their second child, a boy named Felix. Then, just as it appeared he might be settling down, in 2014 came the revelation that he had, in fact, fathered another child in between the birth of his daughter and son, a baby boy born three months before Felix, meaning that two women had been pregnant by Grant at the same time. When his son John was born, the father's name on the birth certificate was left blank. His mother was named as Anna Eberstein.

Two years later, the paperwork was quietly re-filed, with Grant now named on the birth certificate as the boy's father.

If there was one thing that Grant seemed ready to fully commit to, it was fatherhood. By the time he welcomed his first child, he'd been expressing an interest for some time.

"I remember reading a Warren Beatty quote when he finally had children and said what a relief it was not to be all me, me, me," he told American Vogue in 2007. "As much as I adore myself, I'm quite keen to find someone else to care about more."

Having children was the easy bit. Finding a partner to care about more than himself, seemed the more challenging prospect.

Grant spent over a decade with Liz Hurley, whom he met on a theatre set and started dating before either of them were famous. Having himself achieved success, he helped steward her to fame after she appeared on his arm on the red carpet wearing the infamous safety-pin dress that made her name. But their romantic relationship faltered not long after Grant was arrested in his car on Sunset Boulevard along with a prostitute named Divine Brown.

His apology was swift. Even in a sheepish mugshot, he was a picture of contrition. "I have hurt people I love and embarrassed people I work with. For both things I am more sorry than I can ever possibly say," he said at the time.

The film industry quickly forgave him and even Liz Hurley couldn't stay angry for long.

"I've done an abominable thing, and she's [Liz Hurley] been amazing about it, and contrary to what I read in the paper, she's been very supportive, and we're going to try to work it out,'' said Grant at the time.

Though they split the following year, they remain the best of friends. "We're like brother and sister," he recently said in an interview with the American broadcaster Jess Cagle.

"I think it's partly because we went from zero to somewhere together, and we went through terrible years at the beginning when neither of us had any work, living in a tiny flat. It was quite bonding."

For her part, Liz remains fiercely loyal to Hugh, who is godfather to her teenage son, to this day.

"We are 31 years into our friendship and he's still my best friend in the world," she said recently. "He's a really great guy. I see him a lot, I speak to him a lot. You know, he's now a father of five, he has five kids and is a great dad."

Grant was once famous in media circles in Britain as the man who can "fell a pair of knickers at 100 paces". But it's telling that, despite his chequered past, the women who have had a chance to really get to know him remain firmly in his corner.

He reportedly split with another glamorous, posh ex, Jemima Goldsmith, due to his "commitment-phobia" but she too remains a very close friend. The most plausible explanation for this is that they forgive him for his cavalier approach to romance, because they believe him to be fundamentally decent and good fun. And the clear-eyed Anna Eberstein has evidently decided that whatever Grant's flaws, those two things are enough to build a marriage on.

Sunday Independent

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