Tinglan Hong, the Chinese woman who gave birth to the first child of Hugh Grant, was portrayed by her her former boyfriend Robert Hodge.
Robert Hodge said that when Tinglan Hong, 31, arrived at his home at the end of October, the first thing he noticed was that her normally petite frame appeared to have gained weight.
It had been several months since they had last met but now Tinglan Hong was visiting Robert Hodge to discuss changing her silver Mercedes CLK car – a two-door coupe – for a bigger vehicle.
Imediately, her former boyfriend understood.
“I said to her, <<You’ve done it, haven’t you? You’ve had the baby>>.”
Tinglan Hong, known to all as Ting Ting, then confirmed what Robert Hodge had suspected for several months – that she had given birth to a child fathered by actor Hugh Grant.
The news last week that famously dedicated bachelor Hugh Grant, 51, had become a father for the first time came with a backhanded dismissal when his publicists described his time with Tinglan Hong as “a fleeting affair”.
For Robert Hodge, 55, a buyer for a specialist car company who spent 18 months dating Ting Ting before she met Hugh Grant, it brought mixed emotions.
It brought to mind the day in April 2010 when Ting Ting had told him, with barely concealed excitement, that she had begun playing golf with Hugh Grant after meeting him in an upmarket wine bar in Chelsea.
Far from their contact being “fleeting”, Robert Hodge says that over the months that followed, Tinglan Hong confessed that she and Hugh Grant had regularly been spending time together.
Although Ting Ting denied they were romantically involved, Robert Hodge suspected there was far more to their relationship.
As Tinglan Hong showed him pictures of their dark-haired daughter, he could be in no doubt. Robert Hodge listened as Ting Ting proudly told him that her little girl had been nicknamed Bamboo but that her Chinese name translated as “Happy Accident”.
Although reportedly “delighted” at becoming a father, Hugh Grant is said to have been absent during the child’s birth and spent just half an hour with his daughter before heading to Scotland to play golf.
Last week, Hugh Grant was pictured with a German burlesque dancer, said to be the latest object of his affections.
Robert Hodge, a divorced father-of-four from Wandsworth, South London, claims to have no hard feelings towards Hugh Grant. But the star’s behaviour towards Tinglan Hong, for whom he still cares deeply, has clearly irked him.
Robert Hodge says: “I don’t think he has been as considerate as he could have been, no. He has brought all this attention on her but doesn’t want to take responsibility for any of it.
“He has been able to turn up at her house in his Ferrari, bringing the paparazzi straight to her door, and then leave the country again.
“Meanwhile, it’s Ting Ting who has been left to deal with all of this. Now he’s apparently with this burlesque dancer.
“It’s all very well that his publicist has described his time with Ting Ting as a fleeting romance but it wasn’t fleeting.
“At one time, he told people she was a big part of his life – it’s not very fair that he has dismissed that. Even if he isn’t with her, he has had a hand in creating this situation.“
So far, little is known about the mother of Hugh Grant’s child other than that she was brought up in the town of Lishni in Zhejiang Province, Eastern China.
But Robert Hodge, who has been divorced for 11 years, is now able to offer an intriguing insight.
Robert Hodge first met Tinglan Hong in 2006 at the Dog and Fox pub in the centre of exclusive Wimbledon village in South-West London. Attracted by her vivacious and bubbly personality, he asked her to join his group and the pair became friends.
Tinglan Hong had just graduated from a hotel management degree at the University of Surrey in Guildford after arriving in the UK several years previously. Ting Ting told Robert Hodge she was running an internet-based import and export business from her tiny flat in New Malden, Surrey.
It took two years for their friendship to deepen into a romantic relationship.
Robert Hodge recalls: “It got to the stage we both wanted to be together. She was never moody, always a really nice person to be around. She doesn’t drink alcohol, but is always the life and soul of any gathering. She has huge character and likes spontaneity, to go with the flow.
“If you met her she’d be friendly and witty and would put people at ease. She picks up on a thread of conversation and will drop in a funny one-liner.
“She’s a little bit crazy and quite often does something weird – a funny facial expression or little mannerism.
“It was her innocence that made her a bit cheeky. We laughed a lot together.”
A fan of the latest fashions, Tinglan Hong dressed in designer labels, favouring Louboutin heels and Gucci handbags.
Robert Hodge says it was not clear how she could afford such luxuries, but believes her family in China sent her a monthly allowance.
Although Tinglan Hong rarely talked about her family, she appeared to have a very close relationship with them and chatted to her mother regularly on the phone. Robert Hodge’s impression was that they were moderately well-off – describing them as “not wealthy, but not rice farmers”.
Tinglan Hong and Robert Hodge spent about five nights a week together enjoying London’s nightlife, going out to restaurants and bars and to adult puppet show Avenue Q.
One night in late 2008, Tinglan Hong went out with friends to Brinkley’s, a wine bar in Chelsea popular with well-heeled local celebrities including Elizabeth Hurley, Hugh Grant, cricketer Kevin Pietersen and Chelsea footballer Frank Lampard.
“The next day she showed me this photograph on her phone with Hugh Grant.
“We laughed about it and she’d bring it out to show people but I didn’t think any more about it.
“Generally, she wasn’t really interested in celebrity, she didn’t buy those magazines.”
Quieter evenings were spent in Robert Hodge’s flat with DVDs of Bond movies or the Bourne trilogy and Ting Ting was a fabulous cook.
“She would often spend two hours cooking really good, traditional Chinese food. Things you’d dip; noodles, meat and fish. We’d eat it together with chopsticks.
“She enjoyed looking after me, playing the housewife.”
Robert Hodge introduced Tinglan Hong to his friends and family. His four children, aged between 18 and 32, took to her immediately.
One Sunday Tinglan Hong met his elderly parents for lunch at their home in Fetcham, Surrey.
“She helped Mum in the kitchen, bringing plates and food through and helping clear up. She got on with everyone. She engaged in conversation and didn’t just sit quietly in the corner. My parents thought she was great. She treated them with enormous amounts of respect and was well-mannered.
“It was important to me that they liked her, and it helped me picture a future together.”
Tinglan Hong and Robert Hodge went to the Belgian Grand Prix together in September 2008 and, after spending Christmas with Robert’s mother and eldest daughter Candice, travelled to Chamonix in the French Alps for a skiing holiday over New Year.
They stayed in a chalet with five friends and Ting Ting, who had never skied before, had three mornings of lessons before also trying out a snowboard.
He said: “She would fall over and just giggle at herself.
“One night, while we were in a bar in the resort, she realized she was the only Chinese person. So she stood up on the bar itself and started waving her arms around and shouting, in a mock Chinese accent: <<Hawo everybody! I am Ting Ting from China!>>
“Everyone loved it and started applauding and shouting back. She’s certainly not shy about coming forward.”
Tinglan Hong and Robert Hodge relationship became more serious and Robert says Ting Ting talked about wanting to settle down. But he was not keen to move too fast after his marriage breakdown and says Ting Ting accepted that.
“She wanted a stable life with someone. But we didn’t talk about moving in together. I think she respected my situation, but she wanted children. We never spoke about it seriously, but it was clear.”
Oddly, Tinglan Hong never invited Robert Hodge into her flat, a rented, ground-floor bedsit on a busy road. It did not strike Robert Hodge as suspicious and he says he never asked to go inside.
But there was undoubtedly an element of secrecy in their relationship. Robert Hodge knew little of her family, and admits he has no idea what goods she was involved in importing. There is no record of Tinglan Hong business at Companies House and he does not know what her visa status is.
After graduating in 2006, Tinglan Hong was entitled to a two-year post-study work visa, which would have expired in 2008. Robert Hodge dismisses these things and says, again, that he simply did not ask the questions.
Tinglan Hong returned to China for a family visit in late 2009 and stayed for two months. During the trip, Ting Ting emailed Robert Hodge some racy modelling photographs she had taken at a studio as part of a “vanity shoot” – popular among young Chinese women.
He said: “It didn’t really fit in with her character. Yes, she’s gregarious but these were saucy.”
Once Tinglan Hong returned, in early 2010, things had changed.
“I’d try to make arrangements and she’d say, <<I can’t make it tonight>>. That was really strange. Something was wrong.”
After several weeks Tinglan Hong broke off the relationship, claiming she needed time to herself.
“I had very strong feelings for her but I had to respect what she wanted.”
Robert Hodge had no contact with Tinglan Hong until, one day, he bumped into one of her friends, a Taiwanese girl named Amy.
Robert Hodge said: “I asked her how Ting Ting was doing. She laughed, and said she had been hanging around with Hugh Grant.
“I was surprised. But I assumed she meant Ting Ting had seen him in Brinkley’s again.”
Robert Hodge got the chance to ask her directly when she agreed to meet him in April 2010 at the Thai Square bar on the banks of the Thames at Putney.
“I asked her how things were going and she said that she had started playing golf at the Wisley Club.
“That was strange. She’d never been into golf before.“
Robert Hodge knew that the Wisley Club, a private members golf club in Surrey, was hugely exclusive, with a reputed joining fee of £40,000 ($60,000) and an annual £4,000 ($6,000) membership charge.
“I asked her who she knew who had membership. She kept saying, <<Oh, just a friend>>.
“Eventually she told me it was Hugh Grant. She had been having lessons and would walk around the course with Hugh and watch him play.
“I asked her how on earth she knew him and she said – as I had suspected – they’d met in Brinkley’s again, a few weeks earlier. She didn’t give any indication they were romantically involved.“
Robert Hodge and Tinglan Hong spoke on the phone occasionally and she told him she was spending most weekends with Hugh Grant playing golf, but always denied a relationship.
During one telephone call in July 2010, Robert Hodge asked if she wanted to meet the following day.
“She said: <<Actually, I’m going round to Hugh’s to watch the World Cup Final>>. There was no doubt who she meant. I was pretty surprised. I left it at that.”
Robert Hodge and Tinglan Hong were not in regular contact again until April 2011 when he took a call from an excited friend who told him there were photographs in the newspapers of Ting Ting with Hugh Grant, amid speculation that she was pregnant.
“I looked up the pictures online and laughed. Of course it was Ting Ting. It was obvious to me that they were in a relationship.
“I called her up and asked her if she was pregnant.
“She just laughed and said, <<No, it’s just the papers making up stories>>. Again, she didn’t admit they were a couple.
“We arranged to meet in the bar of the May Fair Hotel soon afterwards. I was curious – I wanted to find out if she really was pregnant.
“She had definitely put on some weight, but she denied it. But when I asked if she was romantically involved with Hugh, she admitted it for the first time.
“She didn’t say they were a couple, I think she said they were seeing each other.”
In the middle of May, Tinglan Hong invited Robert Hodge to dinner.
“The really strange thing was that she asked me to come to Brinkley’s. We sat down at a table; her facing the door.
“She kept saying, <<Oh, I’ve put so much weight on>>. I teased her about being pregnant but she continued to deny it.
“During our second course, Hugh walked in. She said, <<Oh. It’s Hugh>>.
“I said, <<Well, this is a bit embarrassing, isn’t it?>>
“He came straight over but they didn’t embrace or even look like close friends. She introduced us and said, <<Hugh, this is Robert>>.
“She stood up and they chatted, very briefly, although I can’t remember what they said.
“He then turned and said something extremely strange to me. He nodded at my plate and said, <<What have you got there?>>
“I said, <<Oh, Dover sole>.. He made a face. He said: <<Fish. Very strange. A bit like smoking>>.
“It was so odd I didn’t know what to say. I joked, <<It’s not as dangerous is it?>>. He shrugged and said, <<I suppose not>.. Then he walked off.
“It was the strangest thing to say. Again, I said, <<That was a bit embarrassing>>.”
In retrospect, Robert Hodge wonders if he was set up in a bid to make Hugh Grant jealous. Tinglan Hong was by now five months pregnant and judging by their odd greeting it appears things between them had cooled.
What happened next makes it clear there was a rather bizarre game in play.
Robert Hodge recalls: “Hugh went off to another table to join some friends. One was a very good-looking young woman, with long dark hair, who was probably only 22 or 23. He seemed to flirt with her, putting a hand on her arm.
“Ting Ting was not happy. She said something like, <<Look at that. That’s his latest girlfriend>>.
“It was said jokingly, but now I’m sure she was bitter.”
The next time Robert Hodge heard from Tinglan Hong was last week, on October 27. She rang him and asked if he could help sell her car, and then brought it round that after-noon. Then, she confessed she had given birth to Hugh Grant’s child.
Robert Hodge says: “She said her parents had come over from China to look after the baby. She seemed happy, quite well, not at all tired or harassed. She also showed me some photos on her phone.
“Bamboo looked sweet, with dark hair. There were none of her with Hugh.
“I was happy for her. There were some mixed feelings, obviously, as I still care about her. Then she said, <<Pity we can’t get back together>>.
“I was surprised. I said, <<What about Hugh?>>
“She said he was <<very strange>>. She didn’t expand on that.
“She went on to say he was a good father. She said: <<Whenever he’s in the country, he comes to see Bamboo>>.
“I didn’t think that sounded like a good father. She also told me he wouldn’t put his name on the birth certificate until March.
“She didn’t say why, although I assume it’s to avoid anyone knowing he’s the father.
“She hasn’t mentioned paternity tests, so I don’t know if it’s something Hugh wanted.”
Tinglan Hong also said Liz Hurley had been to see Bamboo and that she was to be the child’s godmother.
Robert Hodge says Ting Ting will cope, though she might be feeling let down.
“I think she’ll be quite sad at the moment. She was looking for stability and children and in a way she’s got it. But it doesn’t look like she has someone standing by her.
“She’ll brush it off and laugh about it. That’s what’s in her nature.
“And she’ll be a brilliant mum. She’s very caring. The pictures of her with her Louboutin shoes and Gucci bags don’t do her justice.
“Underneath it all she’s a very traditional Chinese girl. She’s homely – not a princess.”
Hugh Grant is not the first celebrity Tinglan Hong has dated. One of her first loves was a foreign football star ten years older than her, whom she met when she was still a university student in China.
Tinglan Hong had a romance with Colombian World Cup hero Adolfo Valencia when she was studying at Zhejiang University in the eastern city of Hangzhou and he was playing for the local team.
Friends say Tinglan Hong fell head over heels in love with the footballer – but the romance also appears to have been short-lived.
Adolfo Valencia, who in his glory days played in the 1994 and 1998 World Cup Finals and was once top scorer in a season with German giants Bayern Munich, had two stints with the Zhejiang Lucheng team in Hangzhou between 2002 and 2004. Then aged 34, he was one of the first big-money international players to sign for a Chinese team.
Fellow students interviewed by local newspaper journalist Chen Yuhao recalled how Tinglan Hong was seen out with Adolfo Valencia after meeting him at a nightclub.
Chen Yuhao said: “Tinglan liked to meet foreign men. She met Valencia at a nightclub and was besotted with him. They went out together for a while. She was more in love with him than he was with her and it didn’t last.”
Tinglan Hong studied in Hangzhou for four years from 1999, before moving to Britain in 2003.
Tinglan Hong’s mother, Liu Minchun, was manager of a large factory producing fountain pens and stationery and later general manager of the city’s Lishui International Hotel.
She was also a delegate to China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress.