Grant leaves girlfriend to face hurly-burly

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Los Angeles

It would be fair to say that in the last 24 hours, Elizabeth Hurley has probably had enough of people hanging around on street corners.

But when she emerged yesterday evening from the pounds 375-a-night Halkin Hotel in Belgravia, she had to fight her way through a crowd of about 150 journalists, photographers and rubber-neckers who had spent their day doing just that. Dressed in a pale-lilac two-piece suit and immaculately made-up, she looked visibly shaken as, heavily flanked by minders and hotel staff, she fought her way through the crowd to her waiting Mercedes.

She refused to comment on the state of her relationship with the actor Hugh Grant who was arrested on Tuesday in Hollywood for having sex in a car with a prostitute.

After the news broke of the errant Grant's brush with the law, the British media went into a frenzy, as journalists savoured the heady mix of sex, a fall from grace, showbusiness, money, crime, perfume, a prostitute named Divine, and, as an unexpected bonus, the aristocracy.

Last night reporters and cameramen not involved in the pursuit of Ms Hurley were staking out every British airport in anticipation of Mr Grant's arrival in a privately-chartered aircraft from the US. Back on Sunset Boulevard, journalists trawled the area seeking Denise "Divine" Brown, the prostitute who was arrested in the car alongside Mr Grant.

There was some good news for the star yesterday. He received what the Prime Minister, John Major, has wanted all along - the endorsement of the Cabinet. Stephen Dorrell, the National Heritage Secretary, voiced his support for Mr Grant: "I feel sorry for Hugh Grant. I don't think it will damage the British film industry."

Ms Hurley spent most of the day cooped up in her hotel with advisors from Estee Lauder as she prepared to launch their all too inappropriately named new perfume, Pleasures.

She had spent Tuesday night at the home of her friend, Lord Henry Brocklehurst, 28. It was he who eventually made a statement on her behalf, saying: "Liz is very calm and collected and she is very supportive of him. She is coping extremely well. As far as I know there is no question of them splitting up."

It is hard to know whether that is a good thing or not as far as Miss Hurley's pounds 1m contract with Estee Lauder goes. Marketing-industry insiders said yesterday that although Miss Hurley had done nothing wrong, she and Grant come as a "job lot."

But back in Hollywood, pounds 1m seemed small beer in the fall-out over the affair. Executives at 20th Century Fox were said to be holding crisis meetings to discuss the fate of their pounds 10m advertising campaign for Grant's new film Nine Months, wondering whether his drive down Sunset Boulevard could cause audiences to boycott the movie.

But the anxiety at Fox was not shared by other Hollywood commentators.mentators. As Daily Variety put it: "Compared to most Hollywood scandals, this one is almost wholesome ... With Grant, there don't seem to have been any drugs involved, no murder threats, nothing kinky."

Art Murphy,a columnist for the trade bible The Hollywood Reporter said that the incident might have been disastrous if he was playing a missionary priest (as he did in Sirens) in his new film but that it has probably not hurt his career."Nowadays,people might just raise their eyebrows," he wrote.

If anything, the scandal will raise his public profile in America, where he is recognised by more cosmopolitan audiences but is not seen as a Hollywood star. Cable Neuhaus, Hollywood bureau chief of Entertainment Weekly, said: "My immediate reaction was this is as bad as it gets. It's a career smasher. But not at all. I found people, and mind you we're talking men here, who have a higher estimation of him. Typically, one said: 'I thought he was an unpleasant Brit. I'm pleasantly surprised'."

Hollywood insiders say that Grant's troubles will raise eyebrows, turn off some movie fans and make him the butt of late-night talk shows. But his career is expected to remain on track.

"Movie audiences don't even blink at this kind of celebrity indiscretion," one film publicist said. The advertising campaign for Nine Months features Grant as the kind of guy everyone would like to have as a husband, brother or father.

One Fox executive was quoted as saying: "It's a $35m [pounds 22m] picture, the biggest film Grant has ever been in. His name is above the title, he's on the cover of a dozen magazines across America, he's on a thousand billboards across the nation, his face is on trailers at more than 2000 cinemas and he's one of the most exposed actors in America at the moment." In true American style, the last phrase was said without any irony.