Byline: ALASTAIR MCKAY
WHEN Elizabeth Hurley was looking for a venue to stage the English part of her wedding, it was no surprise that she chose Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire.
Aside from coming free of charge, thanks to Hurley's friendship with Henry Dent-Brocklehurst, who gave her refuge at Sudeley after Hugh Grant's encounter with Divine Brown, the castle is one of the country's most romantic houses.
"It's the most beautiful place in the world," says Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, who co-owns the 15th Century, 1200-acre estate with her brother, Henry, and their mother, Lady Ashcombe. "It's in this lovely valley: you've got the hills and the trees all around, rolling Cotswold. It's a beautiful old stone house, with romantic ruins with roses growing up all over them; it's magical, when the light hits it right - really genuinely magical."
Mollie, 37, also chose the castle for her wedding to film maker Duncan Ward.
The circumstances were more modest ("I think we hired a band") although Mario Testino - now godfather to one of her children - did shoot some casual snaps and Rachel Weisz was there.
On Saturday, by contrast, 247 guests arrived at Sudeley including Sir Elton John, who gave away the bride, Elle MacPherson, Tracey Emin, Prince Pavlos of Greece and Donatella Versace, who designed the sleeveless, V-neck white bridal gown.
But the wedding lived up to the hype, says Mollie. "The party was great. The whole thing was beautiful," she says.
"It was six o'clock for the church service, then straight on for drinks and dinner then dancing. They had the church door open for people who couldn't see, because the church is quite tiny inside."
The Dent-Brocklehurst family are hoping that the wedding heralds a turnaround in the fortunes of their home.
Last year visitor numbers were down almost 40,000 on the previous summer, prompting Henry to apply for a licence to hire out the castle, which has picturesque St Mary's Church in its grounds, for weddings. The Hurley affair was the best PR they could have hoped for.
"That's particularly my brother's contribution," says Mollie.
But Mollie - a more substantial character - is the family's best kept secret.
While Henry had his "Hello!" period and partied publicly at home and abroad before settling in Hawaii with his wife, former model Lili Maltese and their three children, Mollie has been thinking up schemes to keep the family estate and its art collection together.
SHE is reserved and rather shy and outsidework mixes with a small group of close, loyal friends. And it is the voices of her children, Lucian and Violet, that echo through the corridors of Sudeley. They live there fulltime while Mollie spends Tuesday morning to Thursday night in London, where she plays a leading role in the contemporary art world.
"Sudeley is a wonderful place to grow up," she says of her decision to base her family there. Lucian goes to school in Cheltenham. "It's safe, there are country activities, gardens and planting your own vegetables, going to the local school, and running a pony. All those things, which to small children, are perfect."
The castle was built on the site of the manor house constructed by Ethelred the Unready for his daughter, and has been subject to various calamities.
Catherine Parr lived there after the death of Henry VIII, and is buried there. It remained a royal home until the Cromwellians took the roof off and torched it, leaving it wrecked for 200 years.
"People kept their pigs in the house - it was a ruin," says Mollie. "My family bought it in the 1830s and went through a restoration of the castle, building up an art collection in a Victorian and methodical way." The family art collection includes a number of Dutch old masters, "two beautiful Turners, a Rubens and a couple of Van Dycks." She hopes to keep the collection together, but its future is complicated by the ownership of the house. …