Elizabeth Hurley may play a British queen on E!'s The Royals, but the actress doesn't stand on ceremony. When I meet her on the set, she's still wearing a regal-red evening gown—under a dressing robe. Dishabille notwithstanding, she's a commanding presence, especially when discussing a subject she feels as strongly about as breast cancer: "Scientists tell us the only thing standing between today and the day when women stop dying from breast cancer is funding." Hurley is the global ambassador for the Estée Lauder Companies' Breast Cancer Awareness (BCA) Campaign, and her connection to the so-called emperor of all maladies is personal. Shortly before she joined Estée Lauder as a model in 1995, she lost a grandmother to breast cancer. Hurley's keen publicity instincts have been vital to her role in the crusade to help break the stubborn taboos surrounding this highly treatable illness.
You've been involved in the fight against cancer since the '90s. What has struck you the most?
Twenty-one years ago, no one spoke of breast cancer. Women only whispered about it behind closed doors. When Evelyn [Lauder] approached me, she said, "These women are dying and nobody is talking about it. They are ashamed of having something in their breast." In 2010 we set a Guinness World Record for illuminating the most landmarks at once. We lit up 38 monuments in pink in 24 countries in 24 hours to bring attention to the cause. So a lot has changed since the early days.
What are some of the challenges that remain?
Although in many countries there is now a great deal of awareness, in parts of the developing world the mere mention of cancer—particularly breast cancer—is still anathema; you can't even put the word "breast" on a magazine cover. That's why awareness continues to be such an important component of the campaign.
Spreading the message is, I imagine, even more crucial with breast cancer because with early detection, the five-year relative survival rate is 99 percent.
That's right. So while there's been an increase in the number of women diagnosed, it may be due in part to more getting mammograms, which is a good thing. Even better, the mortality rate has decreased 34 percent since 1990. But there's still a long way to go, so our work continues.
Donate now at bcacampaign.com.
This article first appeared in the October issue of InStyle. For more stories like this, subscribe to the magazine now.