It’s time to end breast cancer now Why elizabeth Hurley is heading up this worthwhile campaign
Global Ambassador for The Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Campaign, Elizabeth Hurley talks to Nathalie Whittle about what it means to her
From that safety pin dress she wore to accompany then-boyfriend (and now best friend) Hugh Grant to the 1994 premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral to those flawless Instagram selfies taken on sun-soaked beaches across the globe, the glamorous life of Elizabeth Hurley, 53, seems worlds away from our own. But when we meet at London’s Blakes Hotel, it doesn’t take long to realise there’s something very “normal” about this A-list celebrity.
She tells me she’s had to skip breakfast because she’s been rushing around like mad all morning to get her 16-year-old son, Damian, ready for a test shoot (he wants to be an actor), and to prepare for a meeting she’s scheduled with her accountant straight after this. And just as she finishes her sentence, she stares at her phone and gasps.
“I’ve accidentally replied to a text from Damian’s boarding school housemaster with a kiss,” she says. “It could be worse though, I suppose,” she adds. “I once said ‘love you’ at the end of a call with my accountant – I had to phone him back and say, ‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean that at all.’”
Elizabeth’s career has seen her appear in Hollywood blockbusters including Austin Powers and Bedazzled, launch her own swimwear range, Elizabeth Hurley Beach, and most recently star as the matriarch, Queen Helena, in hit US drama, The Royals.
But perhaps her most notable role has been serving as Global Ambassador for The Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Campaign. Since signing as a spokesmodel in 1995, she has embodied the late Evelyn H. Lauder’s – the daughter-in-law of Estée Lauder who launched The Campaign and created the famous pink ribbon – passion for speaking about the disease and raising funds to find a cure. And now in her 23rd year, that passion appears to be stronger than ever. Elizabeth is single and splits her time between Herefordshire and London.
When Evelyn Lauder came to me 23 years ago and said, “Would you help me with this breast cancer campaign I’ve just started?”, I didn’t have to think twice about it. Back then, women all over the world were dying of the disease and no one was talking about it. My grandmother was one of them and like her peers, she was too embarrassed to open up. It might sound hard to believe now, but there wasn’t even a question of a magazine like woman&home talking about breast cancer in those days.
I never dreamt the campaign would become what it has. Right at the beginning, I remember thinking, “Gosh, I’m going on the same TV shows, talking about the same thing, for the third year in a row.” I thought people would get bored. What I hadn’t realised though was that with every year that passed, someone else would have had their own experience with breast cancer. It was relevant to everyone.
I’ve had some really emotional moments over the years. I’ll never forget doing personal appearances with Evelyn where we’d meet members of the public who wanted to buy gifts – T-shirts and pink ribbon pins – to help raise funds. We’d sit at a table with this huge line of people in front of us, and every time we saw a teenage boy in the queue, we’d just know that his mother had breast cancer. And sure enough, he’d come over and tell us exactly that. It’s still hard now to hold it together in those moments.
My first mammogram was a gift from Evelyn herself. It was my 40th birthday and she made me promise to have one regularly from then on, which I’ve done. I must have had 10 by now and every year I sit there thinking, “This could be the year I get the news.” I worry about it all the time, not just because it would affect me, but because of what it would mean for Damian, too.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s how strong women are. One of my friends, Emma, has had an unbelievably tough time. She was struggling to have a second child naturally, but managed to get pregnant with triplets through IVF. And then? She got diagnosed with breast cancer. She ended up being a single mother of four kids under the age of four while battling the disease – and she’s just got on with it. She’s an amazing woman and there are so many more like her who I’ve met along the way.
The theme of this year’s campaign is #TimeToEndBreastCancer – and it really is, isn’t it? Even though mortality rates have decreased by 39% since the late 80s, 32 women a day in the UK still die of breast cancer and one in eight women will still be diagnosed in their lifetime.
It’s time for people to pull together and think, “What can I do?”. We can all make a difference, however big or small.
I feel like the time has come for me to take on a proper challenge. So next >>
year I’m going to do something physical to raise funds. I’m not allowed to tell you exactly what it is yet, but it’s going to be sporty – and let me tell you, I’m not a very sporty person! Watch this space.
People think I look reasonably fit, but I’m in my fifties now and my body is very different to how it was in my twenties, thirties or even forties. I’m becoming increasingly aware that if I don’t walk or stretch enough, I feel stiff. My biggest fear is being an immobile 60-year-old, so I’m trying to find ways to incorporate exercise into my life. I’m always active when I’m at home in the country – walking the dogs or out in the garden – but it all goes to pot when I’m in London.
Juggling work and home life is a constant battle; I feel like I’m chasing my tail most of the time. The way I dealt with it when Damian was little was by stopping making films and TV shows. I was 36 when I had him, I’d worked non-stop since I was 20, and I wanted him to feel like a very regular kid and not be sat in my trailer with a tutor. Then, when he was about eight, I started taking jobs again and to be honest, it was fantastic to go back to work. I don’t regret taking that time off but once I worked again, I felt a lot more fulfilled.
My biggest indulgence is bingewatching box sets. I was very late to TV – I didn’t have one for years, but when I started filming The Royals, I was working 16-hour days and found I couldn’t read when I got home, so I bought a TV. I remember watching Breaking Bad on my own in the pitch black for the first time and I was like a Russian coming in from the Cold War – I couldn’t believe how good it was. I then watched Homeland, Narcos, Outlander… I love them all.
My off-duty look is very relaxed.
I spend about four minutes putting a little bit of make-up on and pin my hair up in a bun. My “uniform” is sweatpants, gym shoes and a black cashmere jumper – and I’ll often nab Damian’s Nike or Adidas cast-offs! Is it pathetic that I wear my son’s aged 14-15 clothes? I hope not.
The person I admire most for glamour is Joan Collins – I want to look like her when I’m 85. She’s taught me some brilliant beauty tips over the years. She keeps pots of eye cream all over the house and every time she sees one she dabs some on. She also told me to keep hand cream in my handbag and in my car – and put it on all day long.
The one thing I swear by is moisturiser – and lots of it. I’ll moisturise my face about six times a day and my neck about 10 times a day. Many years ago, a make-up artist taught me that even when you’re fully made up, you can still put moisturiser on. Just put a little bit on your hands, lightly dab it over your face, and it instantly makes you glow. I might appear confident, but I get shy and awkward in certain situations, just like everyone else. I learnt one of the best strategies to overcome shyness from Evelyn. There was no such thing as awkwardness with her and when there was a moment where you or I might hover uneasily with a stranger thinking “Am I kissing this person or shaking their hand?”, she’d just go straight up to them, arms wide open without any hesitation. That’s what I do now, and it really works.
I don’t have a vast friendship group
any more, but I don’t mind that. When you’re an actress and you’re never in one place, you form very intense friendships very quickly, but sometimes you might not see them again for a really long time and they become “birthday” or “Christmas” friends – we all have some of those. I’m lucky though that I have five or six friends who I can tell all my problems to. I like to call them my “tough weather” friends.
One of the best things about getting older is that you care so much less, don’t you? We all go through big moments in our lives – losing a parent or having a child – and as they happen, you let go of so much trivia. I know I have anyway. I’ve learnt to distinguish between what’s important and what doesn’t matter. Having a spot, putting on two pounds, not being invited to a party – who cares about that stuff? I feel much more content having let go of the rubbish.