Monday 16 September 2019

Liz and Damian Hurley and the multi-million pound inheritance dispute that rocked the family

'That dress' became an iconic moment of the 1990s - and now Damian (17) is strutting the catwalk. Donal Lynch looks at the multi-million pound inheritance dispute that rocked the family

British actress Elizabeth Hurley (R) and her son Damian pose on the red carpet as they attend the 62nd London Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2016 in London
British actress Elizabeth Hurley (R) and her son Damian pose on the red carpet as they attend the 62nd London Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2016 in London
Damian recreates the safety pin look made famous by his mum Liz
The safety pin look made famous by his mum Liz at the première of ‘Four Weddings And A Funeral’
Liz and a young Damian pictured on the red carpet
Rafferty Law
Kaia Gerber
Lourdes Leon
Donal Lynch

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 perhaps 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 turns 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 accurately predicted the celebrity trend for porn star chic. And it was the defining snapshot of Liz and Hugh, who were probably the ultimate 1990s IT couple in Britain.

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Damian's clumsy tribute lacked all of these interesting overtones but his striking androgyny sets 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 modelling success. "He's very striking," says 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, on Instagram he wrote: "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 the person that I am."

The safety pin look made famous by his mum Liz at the première of ‘Four Weddings And A Funeral’
The safety pin look made famous by his mum Liz at the première of ‘Four Weddings And A Funeral’

She, 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 had 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. 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 had initially claimed Damian was not his. "Ms Hurley and I were not in an exclusive relationship when she became pregnant. It is her choice to be a single mother," Bing said in a statement at the time. "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, but 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 Damien 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 and a young Damian pictured on the red carpet
Liz and a young Damian pictured on the red carpet

Liz for her part said Steve has "provided financially for Damian's support" and she and Steve have had joint custody of Damian 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 her own upper class diction.

In her teenage years she was punk, complete with nose ring and pink hair, and for a while she was in a band called Vestal Virgins. But a school tutor once recalled Liz had an affinity with the writer Evelyn Waugh and like Waugh she 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 which 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."

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 ever more "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 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, and 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, for her part, later said she "felt like I'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 made them grow apart, she later said.

Following giving birth to Damian, she began seeing 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. She hardly had need of acting however, because by now she was a full-time spokesmodel.

Marcelle D'Argy Smith, a former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, once described Hurley as "witheringly boring" and added: "Liz Hurley 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, she 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 break-up: "Not a great day. For the record, my husband Arun & I separated a few months ago. Our close family & friends were aware of this."

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

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

As for Hugh Grant, now 58, in 2018 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 his 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 since 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."


The eyes have it... Famous offspring who went their own way

Rafferty Law

Rafferty Law

With 33,000 Instagram followers, model and musician Rafferty (or Raff as he is often called) is a well-known face on runways - he's appeared in campaigns for Dolce & Gabbana - is a producer of his own music, and one of the founders of the creative collective Something to Hate On which he plans to turn into an independent record label. The 22-year-old has a brother, Rudy, and a sister, Iris Law, a model who has appeared in Miu Miu and Burberry campaigns. It helps, of course, that he's the spitting image of his handsome father Jude.


Lourdes Leon

Lourdes Leon

The eyes and the mouth are unmistakably recognisable and they are not all 22-year-old Lourdes Leon has inherited from her mother, Madonna.

She also shares the Material Girl's daring sense of style and it has landed her endorsement deals with companies like Miu Miu and Burberry.

Despite this, she doesn't have an Instagram account, is rarely seen at Hollywood parties and generally keeps a fairly low profile.


Kaia Jordan Gerber

Kaia Gerber

She doesn't have the famous mole, but this 17-year-old model has pretty much inherited every other aspect of her mother Cindy Crawford's era-defining beauty.

This, along with Gerber's enviable connections, has meant she is already one of the top models in America, fronting campaigns for Chanel, Calvin Klein Jeans and Burberry.

Her supermodel mother also recently shared an image showing just how similar she looked to her daughter when she, too, was aged 17. They are dead ringers for each other.

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