At the spin doctors': some simple remedies

Othello, Coriolanus, Hamlet ... Shakespeare's tragic heroes make unlikely bedfellows for the fallen Hugh Grant, most might reasonably think. But they would be wrong. They have reckoned without the spin doctors, the film publicists, the agents and the magazine editors who are casting him as a tragic hero, a man of depth and mystery; a naive boy who has suddenly found his adulthood and does not quite know how to deal with it.

Take Grant's agent, Michael Foster of International Creative Management. The first step he seems to have taken is to emphasise Grant's mystique by being out and incommunicado himself all day yesterday. Strange that in the film world they don't carry mobiles, isn't it? Likewise, Grant's publicists in New York, PMK, were not returning calls. Neither was Estee Lauder, Elizabeth Hurley's employer, nor Karen Smith, her PR. At Buena Vista, the company distributing Grant's movie The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill, But Came Down a Mountain, due for release in August, staff had been told not to comment and to refer calls to the elusive Foster. It was a vicious circle guaranteed to tantalise.

Publicists know that it is imperative at these moments to feed the media the right line. This comes in the form of the unattributable comment, which yesterday emanated from a Buena Vista spokesman: "Actually, we think the incident may well do his image quite a lot of good. We aren't at all worried that it will affect box-office figures. Admittedly he was due to give an interview today, which he cancelled, and we are no longer sure that he will give pre-premiere interviews which he'd agreed, but otherwise we don't see a problem. We were only a bit frustrated that there he is with all this publicity and he didn't mention the film."

Is it as simple as Grant's agents appear to think? Are an apology and a smile all that's needed for him to be not only forgiven, but deserving of more respect as a newly complex phenomenon? Charles Macdonald, publicist for Polygram, producers of Four Weddings, thinks it may be trickier. "The key to the thing will depend on La Hurley's reaction. One approach, and it's not one that I would necessarily advocate personally, is the marriage one. They could announce their engagement to the world. That would work brilliantly as a damage limitation exercise."

Max Clifford, the public relations consultant whose clients include Antonia de Sancha and Bienvenida Buck, recommends an even more complicated course. "I would get him to make a public apology as he has done; then I would get him to come back to England, as he is doing; then I would get him to make a public apology to Hurley, and then - this is where one would capitalise on all this publicity - she would publicly reject him. This would cause an immense media storm for about three weeks, which would do their careers an enormous amount of good. Then she should appear at a massively high profile Estee Lauder event in America and, bingo, he would suddenly appear at her side and news of the reconciliation would shock the world."

Grant probably does not require his publicists to be quite as inventive as Mr Clifford; not if the attitude of British magazines is anything to go by. Paul Mungo of GQ magazine, which featured Grant on its cover last August, thinks his predicament gives them an excuse to do yet another article: "It makes him far more interesting". A spokesman at rival Esquire agreed: "He wasn't our kind of subject before - far too squeaky clean and aspirational. Now he has a tragedy; now he has genuine depth."

VICKY WARD

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