A national treasureOne expects a few surprises in the New Year, but I received a horrific shock. I realised that I have been murmuring about Monaco for a quarter of a century! My first article was criticised for portraying Monaco through rose-tinted spectacles … it was “all too frivolous and unspecific”. A few years later, someone asked how I managed to find so many positive things to say about a tiny Principality! Well, that has certainly changed over the years. It could be the influence of our founder and editor, Mike Meade, who believes a bit of controversy generates interest and is good for business. Certainly, the Reporter is still in print and I am still happy to be here, still finding life in two square kilometres of Mediterranean coastline interesting … a small, safe and very well run Principality with lots of sunshine, an ever-changing scenario and an international flavour … but looking back over the years, certainly plus ça change, tout c’est la même chose.
The good olde days
In 1988, you could have a 3-course dinner in Monaco with wine and coffee at Le Grillardin restaurant, 2 minutes from Barclays Bank, for 65 francs (€10) and 60,000 fans came for the Grand Prix, paying “up to 850 francs for the privilege of suffering hours of ear-shattering roars”… and seeing Alain Prost win the race after Ayrton Senna crashed into a barrier. The new, improved Café de Paris opened, the event commemorated by a special coffee table book … “and for forty or so thousand francs, you can have your name printed in it (in gold, surely)”.
The summer open air cinema was then near the Sporting d’Été where Peppino di Capri, Sammy Davis Jr and Whitney Houston were highlights that year and Yannick Noah was best man at an “absolutely fabulous” local wedding in the Salle des Étoiles, with 1000 guests, a live band and fireworks galore.
After raising the rents by an astounding 30%, a nearby elite apartment building relegated anyone carrying a white plastic bag to the back entrance … only those with gold Gucci-style bags could pass through the front door. “If it’s magical, it must be Monaco,” I proclaimed, “but … for the price of a studio by the sea in Monte Carlo, you could buy a 34-room chateau and 12 hectares in the centre of France … only 3 million francs!”
When faxing was the new thing
I sent my articles by fax in 1989, then la grande vogue – no emails and no mobile phones. The 24-hour English Sky News arrived on our TV and 2500 people from 82 countries took part in a star-studded 29th International TV Festival, created by Prince Rainier to reward the best TV programmes, directors and actors. Loni Anderson, Alain Delon, Ben Kingsley, Yehudi Menuhin, Montserrat Caballe, Renata Scott and Robert Altman were in town for the festivities. In addition to the men’s Grand Prix tennis tournament, there was a women’s event at the Country Club, with Steffi Graf and Navratilova competing for the Coupe des Dames.
After celebrating 700 years of the Grimaldi dynasty, this tiny Principality continued to grow. Old buildings were replaced by apartment blocks and after 10 years’ work the Grimaldi Forum changed Larvotto’s seafront forever. There were so many cranes that I named the crane as the national bird; a heliport, apartment blocks and the Chapiteau in Fontvieille, the Metropole centre, Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and a revolutionary new jetty to protect the port, an amazing transformation. Then the railway station was moved underground so they could build on the tracks.
A Russian invasion
Today, Prince Albert is head of a modern city. 35,000 people travel daily from France to work and hundreds of wealthy Russians are allegedly eager to move here; so many, in fact, that an appreciative Monaco, happy to have survived the economic crisis thus far with a useful influx of their billions, is to celebrate all things Russian for the whole of 2015. How sad that the lovely art deco Sporting d’Hiver, centre of life and glamour in the halcyon days of Diaghilev and Les Ballets Russes, is to be demolished and the fabled Golden Square will be a building site. I wonder what the Principality will look like in another 25 years.