Joan Smith: Country life is not all sex and Labradors, Liz

Monday 14 April 2014 04:11

Elizabeth Hurley eats pets. Don't take my word for it: the piglet she hand-reared in the laundry of her country mansion last year is now in her freezer, she says, waiting to be roasted. The revelation appears in an article she's written for a glossy magazine, extolling the joys of country living, although it has to be said that Ms Hurley doesn't seem to have quite grasped some essentials.

She named her gorgeous little piggy-wiggy Bunny until he became a bore – sorry, she did write boar – and had to be despatched to "pig heaven". Perhaps I could offer the newly rusticised celebrity a basic lesson in biology? For future reference, Liz, bunnies are small furry creatures with long ears. Pigs, I'm afraid, are a different kettle of fish. In a year or so, they get very large.

I'm always amused when someone goes into raptures about living in the country. I've done it, and I still remember the joy I felt when I abandoned the experiment and moved back to London; for a glorious hour, the M40 seemed like a combination of the yellow brick road and my stairway to heaven.

Romanticising the country has a long history and was brilliantly satirised by Stella Gibbons in her novel Cold Comfort Farm, where her farming types pulsated with barely repressed Lawrentian sexuality. That's the point of Ms Hurley's paean and her Tatler article is so full of muscular hunks – even the builders who did her stable conversion were so gorgeous that her friends rushed down from London to flirt with them – that I can't help wondering whether she's read Cold Comfort Farm without realising it's a joke.

Hilariously, even these brawny hunks can't compare with her neighbour, the Prince of Wales, who is apparently the acme of rural manhood. Only the most shameless sycophant could declare with a straight face that "no one has ever looked better in hunting or polo kit". Dinner at Highgrove on Friday, Chas?

What I can tell you is that Ms Hurley prepared for her move to the country by reading Country Life, which is a clue that she isn't subsisting in a farm labourer's cottage and drawing her own water from a well. Of course not, when her idea of outdoor dressing involves several hundred yards of silk, lace and draped taffeta (draped, I might add, over a passing baby elephant. Funny what you find in the English countryside these days).

We're supposed to believe that the country is an erotically charged place where people spend most of their time "lolling, scantily-clad" in front of roaring fires, surrounded by panting Labradors. (Dogs and sex? Shouldn't that be sheep?)

In my experience, she's got it exactly the wrong way round. If I were to venture out in west London wearing a £10,000 Dior dress, a vintage mink and gumboots, it would hardly raise an eyebrow. Londoners are used to seeing everything and anything, from women tottering across the road in vintage cocktail dresses and 4in heels (that'll be me) to the hijab. The countryside is sartorially conservative, as I found out when I went out to dinner a few times wearing art deco silk palazzo pants.

What Ms Hurley has discovered is urbs in rure, a very metropolitan version of rustic bliss which airbrushes out minimum wages, lack of infrastructure, rural poverty and nasty things like abattoirs (I mean, pig heaven?). She is an attractive woman and very good at her job, which is promoting her beachwear business and a new enterprise with Prince Charles's organic food brand. But her fantasies about country living seem to have come straight from Marie Antoinette.

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