Divine end to Grant trauma

Los Angeles - It was a Hollywood ending to a Hollywood scandal: everyone lived happily ever after.

A year after Hugh Grant was arrested while engaging in oral sex with a prostitute on Sunset Boulevard, the scandal appears forgotten as both his career and his popularity soar. His life with his long-time girlfriend, the model and actress Liz Hurley, also seems to have weathered the storm that at one time threatened to end their relationship. And the prostitute who was caught with him, Divine Brown, used her new-found fame to build a career of her own as the star of sexually explicit films, including one about her brief encounter with Grant which its producers called a "Doc-Hugh-Drama".

The boyishly handsome star of Four Weddings and a Funeral was arrested in his car with Brown on 27 June last year, after vice squad officers spotted them engaging in sex. As the shock waves spread from Los Angeles to London, some in the industry predicted the scandal would ruin his career, if not his relationship with Hurley.

But Michael Levine, a publicist considered one of Hollywood's top crisis management experts, disagreed, saying at the time that Grant's apology on NBC's Tonight Show and other televised mea culpas would be his salvation. Appearing on CNN's Larry King Live show, the 35-year-old Grant said he did not have any excuses, admitting: "In the end you have to come clean and say it was disloyal and shabby and selfish."

"The way he handled the whole crisis was exactly right," said Mr Levine, who has represented such scandal-plagued celebrities as the rock star Michael Jackson. "He was humble, he took full responsibility, he followed a kind of textbook example of what to do when you get yourself in trouble. I said at the time that if he did that then he would emerge unscathed. He was right, and so was I."

On 11 July, the same day that he pleaded "no contest" to charges of having sex with Brown, Grant appeared with Hurley at the Hollywood premiere of his film, Nine Months. His forgiving public in the US and Britain made it a box office success. Grant was subsequently fined $1,800 and ordered to take a course on the danger of Aids. Brown's brief encounter with the star cost her $1,350 and a jail term of 180 days.

Since then Grant's career has gone from strength to strength. He and Hurley are co-producing as well as acting in the Castle Rock pictures medical drama, Extreme Measures, which is completing filming and made a splash at the Cannes film festival in May. Grant also starred in Restoration, based on the life of King Charles II, and Sense and Sensibility, which won a screen-writing Oscar for his co-star, Emma Thompson. Following the success of Nine Months, his fee is reputed to have gone up from $6m a film to $10m.

A recent international survey of women voted Grant one of the world's sexiest men, ranking fourth behind Mel Gibson, Sylvester Stallone and Clint Eastwood.

In Britain, a magazine survey found him the most sought-after male as a lover by young women between 15 and 24, and he was the second most desirable husband among all women respondents.

Brown, meanwhile, has appeared on TV talk shows in America and Britain, advertised lingerie for a Brazilian company, launched an erotic station on British cable TV and made a number of pornographic movies, the first of which was the tale of her tryst with Grant, with another actor playing him.