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04.06.11

Why We Adore Liz Hurley's Love Life

When she split from Hugh Grant 11 years ago, she was dignity personified. Now, as she divorces her husband, Tom Sykes explains why we adore watching Hurley fall in and out of love.

Elizabeth Jane Hurley takes breakups in stride. The first time I ever encountered Liz, I was a cub reporter at the London Evening Standard, and a member of the press pack that camped outside the house she shared with Hugh Grant in Chelsea when their split was announced.

Such was the couple's fame in the U.K. that there were maybe 50 journalists and 200 photographers, all armed with telephoto lenses and step ladders, waiting outside the house before dawn that morning in May 2000.

Hugh emerged first and loudly declaimed from his doorstep what appeared to be a well-rehearsed line: "Golly, this is just like Notting Hill!" (He was referring to the scene where his character is besieged by the press after it is discovered that he is dating the film star played by Julia Roberts.) He had planned to hop into a waiting black cab, but we all descended on him and started yelling nasty questions about Divine Brown. He struggled in a very Hugh Grant-ish fashion to the taxi, which was chugging away like a prop in a London tourism shoot.

"Look, gosh, do you mind?" Hugh puffed, his hair flopping hither and thither as the photographers hosed him down.

Eventually he escaped. We settled down to wait for Liz. Half an hour later, a sleek black Mercedes pulled up outside the house. The front door opened again, and suddenly the yard was flooded with limelight.

It was only 10 a.m. and a warm day, but Liz was wearing a fantastic Versace dress, high heels, full makeup, and a fur coat. Her hair was coiffed and bouncy just like it is in the ads. The flashbulbs popped, and Liz — smiling if not actually waving—made her way down the little footpath of the London townhouse as if it were the red carpet at the Oscars. The ink-stained wretches parted like the red sea as the ethereal being floated toward her car.

And then she was gone. That's when we realized that we had been so dazzled by Liz that we had forgotten to ask her anything. All 50 of us. I distinctly remember a burly cockney snapper from one of the tabloids shouting, "Did not one of you useless c---s think to ask 'er a fucking question?"

Fast forward 11 years. Liz is dealing with another breakup, and showing the same dignified aplomb. Last week she formally filed for divorce from her estranged husband, the British-born, Indian-raised textile heir Arun Nayar, and has now, according to friends, jetted off to the Caribbean hidey-hole of Mustique with her son Damien—who has just departed his posh English prep school for the Easter hols—to nurse her broken heart.

It is not known whether Hugh—who remains, despite everything, her closest confidant, and also the godfather of her son—will be joining her at the private island and providing a shoulder to cry on.

Liz is dealing with another breakup, and showing the same dignified aplomb.

It had been assumed by the press that Nayar was divorcing Hurley on the grounds that she was having an unlikely affair with the Australian spin bowler Shane Warne, with whom she flirted in full view on Twitter. (Specimen tweet from @ ElizabethHurley to @ warne88: "Ah, you mean the games I kept winning when we played? Snigger. Me prefer Tiger-Man-Gun").

Divorce proceedings were in fact formally initiated by Hurley, with her citing Nayar's "unreasonable behavior" as the cause in court papers. But it is customary in (amicable) British society divorces for the gentleman to shoulder the blame, regardless of the sins of his wife. It's less embarrassing all around, and not many men want it to be recorded in the courts that they have been cuckolded. And Nayar, who announced his engagement to Hurley in the personal ads of The Daily Telegraph and has never given a press interview, is nothing if not the perfect gentleman.

He is sometimes caricatured as a feckless Mumbai socialite, killing time partying while waiting for his half of a family fortune, but, while he had a wild adolescence and has since the split been spotted out and about at some Mumbai nightspots (Riyhad Kundanmal, a Mumbai industrialist and Nayar's friend says, "Arun is in a good mood and having a good time. He is a private person and will not go around talking about his life") that's far from the whole truth about the man.

Nayar is half-German, and was born in a Leeds housing project in 1964. His family only became wealthy later, when his parents moved back to India and his father founded a textile company, Tijarat Impex, which boomed during the 1970s. Arun's money comes not from the family coffers, however, but from a computer firm he founded during the 1990s. He went to Oxford University. He no longer drinks. He collects watches. And he's made it clear that he doesn't want any of Liz's money despite the fact that nothing as tawdry as a pre-nuptial contract was ever signed. He is, friends say, "charm personified."

When Nayar met Hurley in 2002 through a mutual, London-based financier friend, they were both in the romantic wilderness. Hurley was licking her wounds after being humiliated in Vanity Fair by Steve Bing, the father of her son, and Nayar was separating from his wife of five years, an Italian model named Valentina Pedroni. They started dating.

It was hardly surprising that Hurley fell for the even-keeled Nayar. After her relationship with her soul mate Hugh fell apart despite her best efforts, she endured a string of busted romances and even more media speculation. She was allegedly linked with everyone from billionaire investor Ted Forstmann (unconfirmed) to the comedian Denis Leary (no truth in the rumor) to NBA star Steve Nash ("They vibed. The relationship is authentic," said Nash's agent at the time).

The relationship with Nayar seemed different. In November 2004, Hurley threw a three-day birthday party for him at an 18th-century hilltop fortress in Rajasthan, and in November 2005, Nayar was granted the divorce that allowed him to marry Hurley the following year.

Hurley met Shane Warne last July when she was presenting a prize at Goodwood races. She was wearing an "incredibly low-cut dress," one onlooker said.

"She was presenting the trophy and she was certainly flirting with Shane, but no one really thought anything of it because she flirts with everyone," says someone who was there and knows Hurley.

What is her flirting style? "She ignores all women and sticks her cleavage in the man's face. She does the, 'You are the only person on the planet' thing. But she is funny and down to earth and she puts men at their ease. She would be easy for someone like Shane Warne to get on with. He's an old-fashioned bloke, and she's blokey, but with fabulous bosoms."

Warne recently confirmed his separation from his wife but, after a fling with a porn star named Chloe Conrad, it seemed the Hurley-Warne relationship had fizzled out. Despite this, the tabloid speculation was reignited when, in March, Hurley and Warne met up in Los Angeles, where Hurley was filming Wonder Woman.

Speculation that the two are now set for a longer term relationship is rife, but it may be wide of the mark. Hurley's latest tweet on the matter read, "Apparently I'm getting married & moving to Australia. Wow, my fictional tabloid life is exciting! Breathlessly awaiting next installment..."

So are we, Liz. So are we.

Tom Sykes, 36, is a British writer and journalist. He was formerly nightlife reporter for the New York Post and now tries to live a largely blameless life in Ireland with his wife, two kids, three pigs, six hens, and a turkey. He is the co-author, with Detmar Blow, of Blow by Blow , a biography of Isabella Blow.