COUP DE GRACE: Monaco

Strange to think these days, but Monte Carlo was not always the bright, glamorous refuge of the chichi jet set. In the early postwar years, it took a dynamic young royal and his Irish-American bride to remake the principality in their image. Originally published in Issue 41 of The Rake, NICK FOULKES tells the charming story of Prince Rainier, Grace Kelly, and the birth of modern Monaco.

Left to right: Princess Stephanie; Prince Rainier; Prince Albert, 9; Princess Grace; and Princess Caroline, 10. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Earlier this year I attended the Monaco grand prix. I had not been for more than 20 years, and had not been to Monte Carlo for at least a decade, so I had forgotten what a miracle the place is. People can be a bit sniffy about Monaco — a sunny place for shady people and all that — but I have to say that I like the principality. Everything works, it is clean and warm, and over the years some pretty interesting people have decided to make it their home. I find that the world is an altogether more agreeable place for the presence of this small chunk of rock and reclaimed land on the littoral of the Mediterranean.

Inevitably, it reminds one of Hong Kong. People of my generation and younger take the place for granted, treating the forest of concrete and glass that rears up out of the barren, unforgiving terrain as a phenomenon that is somehow naturally occurring. Of course it is not. But what is surprising is that 66 years ago, when he ascended the throne, Prince Rainier inherited something that seemed like it might be in financial peril.

In 1950, Monaco’s income slumped by 75 percent. New gambling resorts such as Reno and Las Vegas, with their big-name entertainers, offered a livelier and more relaxed atmosphere, which the modern gambler seemed to prefer to the elegant and formal way of losing money that prevailed in Monaco. Just as serious was the erosion of the winter season. Traditionally, the south of France had been a winter destination, a place to shelter from the harsh weather in northern Europe. The Côte d’Azur as a summer place had been ‘invented’ in the 1920s, along with the sun tan and sports clothes.

But in the same way that the seasons were reversing on the Mediterranean coast, so they were in the mountains of Switzerland, which had long been the summer choice of the sort of people who appeared in novels by Henry James. Prince Rainier himself was forced to admit as much when he said, “Naturally, the winter season has declined because nowadays everybody wants to go to winter sports”. That comment appeared in a book of interviews with Rainier conducted by the British writer Peter Hawkins, published in 1966.

Published

August 2020

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