Actress, model and beachwear designer, Elizabeth Hurley, is one Britain’s most recognisable faces. Starring in a number of international movie hits including Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Bedazzled, she has recently used her profile to help raise awareness for charitable causes close to her heart. She talks with Reyhaan Day about fame, family and her memories of Mayfair, as she prepares to turn on the Shepherd Market Christmas Lights.
You will be appearing at the Shepherd Market Christmas lights in Mayfair. What appeals to you about the area?
I’m fascinated by the history of Mayfair and have always thought it one of the most special places in London. I rarely go further east in London than Mayfair, as everything I like is there: Farm Street Church, Thomas Goode, my hairdresser Jo Hansford, Scott’s, 5 Hertford Street, 34, Annabel’s, Sexy Fish, the Curzon cinema – all of which are fabulous.
Mayfair must have been a fascinating place in the 90s. What are your fondest memories of that time, and how do you think London has changed since then?
Thankfully, I don’t think the atmosphere of Mayfair has changed much at all, which is why I like it. All the restaurants and shops are vastly improved, although, like everywhere, parking is now a horror. But I was working all though the 90’s – I didn’t go out much.
Did you know from a young age the life you wanted to enjoy when you were older? Were you after a career or a lifestyle?
I didn’t even think about a lifestyle until I had my son; for me it was always all about work. I grew up in the suburbs and was lucky to have wonderfully supportive parents. From a very young age I did hours of dance and drama classes after school every night and moved to London when I was 18 to continue training, where I didn’t know a soul.
When did you realise that you would be able to make a career out of acting and modelling?
I got my first agent in my third year of college and started working right away. First in commercials, then I got a play and then film and TV. I lived in LA for ten years and worked like a dog – but I had the best time.
You’ve had a long association with Estée Lauder. How has being involved with a global brand like that helped your career?
I’m in my 22nd year of working for Estée Lauder and they have been the most incredible company with whom to work. I’d never modelled before and they took a real chance on me. As well as shooting their campaigns, I’ve been the global ambassador for The Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign (BCA) for over twenty years, and it’s one of the most important things in my life.
Do you see yourself as an actress first and foremost? Or do you think that your fashion business is more representative of where you are now at?
I took eight years off from acting to raise my son, and was incredibly lucky to get back into the industry. I did a season on Gossip Girl; a movie with Gerard Depardieu; and am now playing the Queen of England in The Royals – we just wrapped on the third season. I started my beachwear company, Elizabeth Hurley Beach, while raising my son and still put a great deal of energy into it, but I am really enjoying acting again. My heart is in show business.
Why did you decide to get involved in fashion from a business perspective? What are you bringing to the table with your beachwear line?
I decided to venture into beachwear not only because I’ve always been obsessed with holiday clothes, but also because it’s an area where women, regardless of shape or size, can either look amazing or really get it wrong. I wanted to develop resort collections which make women feel fabulous at any age. We have a very loyal fan base and are in great department stores around the world, like Harrods and Saks 5th Avenue; and we’re in lots of fabulous smaller stores and luxury resorts.
You are heavily involved in charity work. Tell me about a couple of projects that you are working on that are close to your heart – and why do you think that it’s important for you to put the spotlight on these issues?
In addition to serving as the global ambassador for The BCA Campaign, I support several charitable causes and organisations—particularly those focused on health, children and the military. I am a strong supporter of Elton John’s charity, Elton John AIDS Foundation; I’m the president of Hop, Skip and Jump, an organisation focused on providing high quality respite care for children and young adults with disabilities; and I’m a patron of the City Veterans Network and Walking with the Wounded.
In what way have your priorities changed over the years?
Everything is a juggling act and, as every working mother knows, something always has to give. Once I had my son, I decided that he would not be the one losing out – which is why I stopped doing movies and TV for the first eight years of his life. I don’t regret it for a moment. I adore my son and we are very close. I am more like an Italian mother than an English one, and I think he’s the bee’s knees. I’m pretty strict and he’s very well behaved. He has been very well socialised from a young age and I can take him anywhere.
Do you see similarities between your son and your teenage self?
When I was a teenager I had pink hair, a nose ring and ripped up clothes. I wasn’t really rebelling against anything though; it was just fashion. Plus, I really loved the music and still often have the Clash blasting. My son is extremely focussed and just had his first acting role in The Royals, where he plays Prince Hansel von Lichtenstein – a rich, spoilt, royal, reality TV star. He loves show business too and would love to leave school and start working. Cruel Mummy says no.
What dreams do you have for you and your family? Have they changed as you’ve become wiser and more successful?
My friends and family mean the world to me and without them I’d be truly sunk, so no matter what I’m doing, I always find time for them. I long for everyone I love to be happy.
What is your relationship like with fame? There must be both positive and negative aspects…
If I could choose success or fame, I’d definitely go for the former. However, in my business they are closely intertwined, and losing some privacy is the cost of doing business. I try as hard as I can to retain some privacy though and, over the years, I have carved out ways to achieve that. I go through stages of living like a recluse but, as a mother, I have to moderate that a bit so my son has as normal a life as possible. Nevertheless, he’s always on ‘binocular duty’ when we go on vacation and scans the horizon for stalkers with long lenses.
Do you see yourself as a positive person?
I love my life, I love change and I love new experiences. Saying yes is so liberating; it’s my favourite word. I have the same friends and still do most of the same things that I’ve loved to do for thirty years. I’ve always been ambitious and determined – but I like to giggle along the way.
What has been your proudest moment so far? What is there left for you to achieve – professionally and personally?
Professionally, as the global ambassador for the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, there are two research scientists at The Royal Marsden Hospital and Institute of Cancer that share a grant in my name based on funds raised through The BCA Campaign. To know that through my work as the Campaign’s global ambassador I can help such important research be achieved, is something that I am proud of and has had a profound impact on me. Personally, having my son and watching him grow up and develop makes me an extremely proud mother.
Do you have regrets?
My father died before I had my son Damian; the fact that they never knew each other is a constant source of regret. I worshipped my dad, and would have loved to have had him in my son’s life. Nevertheless, Damian has been regaled with hundreds of Grandpa Bear stories over the years.
When are you most ‘yourself’? Is it hard to really be yourself when you are constantly in the public eye?
I’m pretty much myself the whole time – there’s no Jekyll and Hyde thing going on. I’m definitely more comfortable with people I know and trust, but they are the people I’m with 99 per cent of the time.
Where do you feel most relaxed – physically and mentally?
When I head west, to my home in the country, I feel my shoulders relaxing and a calmness befall me. I love going home – the hair goes in a ponytail, the Ugg boots go on and my spirits rise. I play with the dogs, the cats and the parrot, I garden, I light bonfires, I read and I giggle with my son and friends. Bliss.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Hopefully still working. I can’t imagine not having a project.
The Shepherd Market Christmas Lights switch on takes place on December 8.