Elizabeth Hurley got married to her Indian millionaire beau, Arun Nayyar, last Saturday in an English castle in the Cotswolds. Her wedding dress was designed by close friend Donatella Versace. Guests enjoyed a medieval-style banquet of smoked venison and guinea fowl. Wedding gifts included livestock to build up the couple’s nearby 400-acre farm. Hurley and her swain then flew to India, where a series of ostentatiously lavish receptions will take place in a maharaja’s palace. However, this article is not about the wedding. It is about attitudes.
The ostentatious display of wealth and trappings is meant to convey one thing: Liz Hurley has arrived. She is playing the classy aristocrat card to the hilt – as if she was to the manor born. Except that she was not. Hurley’s father was a British army major and her mother a school teacher. Hurley rarely mentions her childhood.
Another celebrity who made every effort to obscure her past was Merle Oberon. Oberon was a screen goddess in the 1930s. She careful cultivated a regal, extremely refined image, as if it was the result of an aristocratic, white ancestry. The reality was far different. Her father was a British railway engineer and her mother was an Anglo-Sinhalese nurse. Her mother, of mixed race, was a particular embarrassment and a threat to her public image. For many years, the poor woman was forced to masquerade as Oberon’s hired help.
People who come from humble beginnings, and subsequently make it big, fall into two broad categories. The first – entrepreneurs, for example – like to brag about the early years and how – by dint of hard work, street smarts and a little bit of luck – they made it to the top.
Then there are people like Hurley and Oberon. Celebrity status goes to their heads. Inconvenient relatives – and friends who helped them on their way up – are casually, often cruelly discarded. They do not want to be reminded of their origins and avoid anyone and anything that could dredge up embarrassing reminders of the early years. They create a fantasy environment around themselves and soon get so immersed in it, that it becomes their new reality. They start to believe their own hype.
Some might wonder how such people live with themselves. Do they not remember? And, when they do, do they not suffer pangs of conscience? I do not believe they do. Not necessarily because they are heartless or cruel; they just blot out passages of their life they do not choose to remember. You do not feel guilty about circumstances and events you have buried in the deepest recesses of your subconscious.
The self righteous among us would declare that such individuals are to be pitied, but I wonder how honest that is. Unless one is Mother Theresa, would anyone shun an opportunity to become rich and famous? And, having reached those celestial heights, would we not do whatever it takes to stay there – even if it does appear unnecessary and misguided? There is no black and white answer, is there?