By Douglas Keay
The day was drawing toward evening, and in the brown and burgundy study of his palace overlooking Monte Carlo, Prince Rainier III of Monaco was talking about his marriage to the former American film star Grace Kelly and about their three children.
“I think the experience of my parents’ separation when I was only six has subconsciously made me very much want my own marriage to succeed. So the Princess and I have always tried to minimize any sort of incident or little disagreement between us in the interest of keeping the family together—and so that the children shouldn’t suffer. We try to turn differences into jokes, and not give them more importance than they should have. It’s the best way, don’t you think?”.
It’s been 18 years since the world marveled at the whirlwind love story of the Prince of Monaco and his Princess. They first met in early 1955. Then he landed almost literally on her doorstep in America just before Christmas (“It was my first visit to America and I knew hardly anyone”). He proposed on New Year’s Eve in New York, and had wedding bells ringing out in Monaco on April 19, 1956. Happily, the fairytale hasn’t soured. Today the Prince still loves his Princess—although he’s wise enough to appreciate that “everyone’s marriage is a series of concessions”.
The Prince is now 50. In May, Monegasques will spend four days and nights celebrating the silver jubilee of his reign. They will be thanking him—most of them, anyway—for the giant rebuilding and land-development program he championed, which has helped revitalize the life of the tiny principality. They will also be lifting their glasses to Princess Grace, trying finally to convince her that she’s accepted and loved for what she is and what she’s done. It was not always so.
“When we were first married”, the Prince remembers, “I don’t think people understood how hard it was for her to be cut off from her family and friends in America. She was very homesick for a long time, and even now she still finds it difficult to make friends.
“The simple image people here have of a Hollywood actress is Mae West, and it doesn’t go much further. They didn’t know what kind of mentality the Princess had, and so they retracted. I realized this would be the case and probably it would have been better if she’d spent some time here with her parents before we married. Looking back, I was also probably too impatient that she should fit in and feel at ease. Often I didn’t understand her outlook on things. I felt she should in some instances perhaps have been more cautious about giving her confidence and friendship to certain people.
“Then, again, she came here with fresh ideas, and these were not necessarily the views that I had always had. Sometimes this caused difficulties. To give a small example: There was a traditional way of holding a reception or giving a dinner, which the head butler had always followed. But the Princess had ideas that clashed with these routines. After all, my staff had never done a buffet in the palace or arranged a dinner with small tables as she suggested instead of having the big table. I thought hers were rather good conceptions, but they had never occurred to me because I hadn’t imagined anything changing”.
Bit by bit over the years the tensions have eased, and most of the Princess’s ideas have been accepted. Some, like opening up the palace more by inviting local people to dinner parties, have not always been a success.
“The Monegasques have this notion that they are a part of the Prince’s family, but they are also very shy and respectful, and when we have invited some of them here for a meal they have become very formal and very difficult to entertain.
“One of the things I admired from the beginning in the Princess was her way of analyzing people. A woman’s intuition is much more acute than a man’s, and I found she was asking questions about people I’d worked with and taken for granted for years, people whose motives I’d never thought to question”.
Princess Grace has always left matters of state strictly to the Prince—though, again, she is not afraid to air her opinions on some controversial matters.
“We still have our areas of disagreement. She disagrees with me about some of the high buildings that are going up in Monte Carlo—which are problems she doesn’t know too much about! Hers is an aesthetic point of view. I have to be more practical”.
How do you resolve your battles, I asked. The Prince replied, “We discuss things, and each keeps his own position in a very staunch manner. Nobody broods or sulks. We just decide to leave the subject, and talk about something else”.
I suggested that possibly the Prince’s Latin temperament might explode otherwise. Rainier’s eyebrows arched. “Don’t forget, she is Irish!”, he says.
The Prince has a reputation for being shy, which he is; yet he is not at all difficult to talk to. Our conversation lasted more than two hours and centered on Princess Grace and their children.
The Prince was wearing a navy-blue blazer, gray flannel trousers and brown suede shoes. He steadily reached for fil-ter-tip cigarettes—one about every 15 minutes—from a box on the table near his chair. He spoke in a voice that re-minded me both of David Niven’s and of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr’s.
My only question that gave him pause was, “How does Princess Grace [who will be 45 in November] manage to stay so young and beautiful?”.
“I don’t really know what the secret is”, he replied. “I know she can’t lie around all morning with mud on her face because there just isn’t time.”. I recalled that the Princess had once told me that her life “wasn’t all lying in the sun eating peeled grapes—though it should be!”— and that she tried to find time to have a massage once a week.
The Prince didn’t think she managed even that nowadays because there is such a continuous round of engagements. “She’s very concerned about her appearance, and about putting on weight. But she can’t go on a diet because the moment she does there’s an official reception where it would be impolite not to eat. You can’t sit down and eat a raw carrot, can you?
“A little while ago we both made a determined effort to take exercise regularly. My own plan was to set aside an hour each day. At first I tried it early in the morning, and then later in the morning, but after ten days I had to give up the idea entirely. There just wasn’t time”.
With all the problems, does his wife think it is worth being a Princess?
“I think she may enjoy some parts of it, but she may also get sick of it at times —as I do. And she admits that sometimes when she’s at a meeting listening to people talking stupidities she feels like exploding—which she might have done a few years ago. But now she knows she must correct what is happening in a more poised way. That is probably the hardest thing about her job—never being able to let go. It’s a defeat if you do.
“I am helped by her way of thinking. Sometimes I’ll tell her that I don’t think I’m going to a particular function—that the idea bores me. But she’ll say, «Maybe if you don’t go there’ll be some comment»’ She doesn’t bully me into doing things, but tries to make me understand why it’s necessary. Often when we have to go to a gala, and she has a headache, it doesn’t show because she has this ability to put on a mask when necessary. It’s all to do with her studies in dramatic art”.
Does he ever wish people would stop remembering the Princess was once an actress?
“No, not really. I suppose, though, there are some disadvantages in my position in being married to a beautiful woman, because she’s always the center of attraction and one could feel left out. But I don’t—I’m not a publicity seeker. And I’m not jealous of other men. One could only feel jealous if given any reason. Certainly, men do come up to her, eager to talk, eager to invite her to dance —usually to be photographed, I think— and she’s always nice, though sometimes she feels it’s a little too tiresome and refuses.
“What does aggravate her—and it annoys me, too—are the photographers who take pictures with telephoto lenses without our knowing. I really would shoot these people if I had my way”.
Upstaging Princess Anne
“Sometimes things in the press upset her, too. She was very unhappy about the remarks criticizing her for wearing a white dress to Princess Anne’s wedding— what hurt her most was the suggestion that she was trying to upstage Princess Anne.
“I tried to discover afterward whether there was a ruling that no one other than the bride wears white at a wedding, but there is none. It is so ridiculous. She never thought of putting Princess Anne in the shade, as some of the press tried to make out. It was simply that she had this white dress that looked very nice, was easy to wear and was warm enough, too. And it went well with her white mink. When she tried it on to show me I agreed with her it was fine and she should wear it. Nobody at Buckingham Palace had a word to say about it. In fact, they complimented her on the dress. And anyway, looking around Westminster Abbey, one saw lots of women wearing off-white and cream colors.”
“I think she did regret being out of acting a few years back, when she felt her life wasn’t full enough”, he said, “but I don’t think she’d like to go back now. It’s difficult to think of a palace with 200 rooms as a home, perhaps, but I think her horizon has restricted itself now to Monaco and her family.
“I know that many mothers like to take up a job after their children are a little older, but we both feel that when children reach their teens this is often the time when they need the most advice, care and orienting”.
If Prince Rainier gives the impression of being proud of Princess Grace as an actress and a wife, he’s even prouder of her as a mother. Their children have been brought up as close to their parents as possible.
Until she went to board at a convent school near Ascot, England, just over two years ago, Princess Caroline attended day school in Monte Carlo, the same school Princess Stephanie now attends. Her parents did not send Caroline to an American school because she would be too far away for frequent visits. Now Caroline goes to a boarding school in Paris.
Prince Albert attends the local high school and will do so until it is time to go to a university. Both Albert and Stephanie come home for lunch, and their parents make it a rule to have at least one meal a day with them. Another rule is that everything is discussed between parents and children—no subject is taboo.
No problems with the generation gap?
The Prince shook his head. “No. Sometimes you hear a parent say, ‘I’m my son’s or my daughter’s best friend.’ Now that is absolutely stupid because there is a generation gap and your children won’t choose you as their friend. You’re not on the same wavelength. But you can be friendly, so that you can help them when they want help. We’ve deliberately not reared ours in a princely manner but in a normal one, so they are never out of touch.
“We go out to meals together. We sit around together in the evening—and I try not to bring my official papers to the private apartments.
The royal crew
“I bought a secondhand boat two years ago. I deliberately chose a small one that needs a crew of only two so that we can all get away together as a family without any fuss.
“The Princess does the cooking, the children have to make their own beds and Albert cleans the deck. And each child has two bunks so that, if they want to, they can bring a friend.
“You know, when we are able to get away to relax in the chalet in Switzerland or the farm in the mountains we are entirely different from the picture the public has of us. We have a lot of boisterous fun.
“Albert is the thinker. The girls are more expansive. Stephanie, her mother says, tends to have both of us round her little finger if we’re not careful”.
I imagined Princess Caroline might also start stamping her foot occasionally in a year or so. “Well, if she does”, said her father, “she’ll find I can still stamp mine pretty well, tool But actually she’s a very sensible girl. Loves coming home.
Adores horses. And she has a great gift for languages.
“Of course, she has this sense of adventure that all kids have. ‘Let’s go off in a Land Rover and drive to Afghanistan.’ But the next day it changes to something else. Really, she does not approve of many of the things that are happening around her—drugs, the free society and so on. She has a healthy attitude.
Caroline and Charles
“She doesn’t very much like the attention she’s attracting as she gets older. Her mother gets very upset when the press starts saying things about Caroline and Prince Charles. Poor Caroline, she’s never seen Prince Charles, except in pictures. She’s never even talked about him. The Princess and I met him several times before he was actually made Prince of Wales and he always struck us as being terribly nice. But as for all this talk in the papers…”.
But is it possible that they would ever marry?
The Prince replied: “They’d have to meet first. They’d have to fall in love— they’re human beings, after all. And there’s the age difference. I think this is a domain where one should not interfere at all”.
When Caroline and her parents talk about marriage, the Prince told me, she says she wants to get a degree first. “And when she does get married, she tells us, she wants to live in the country, have horses and dogs, and if she has to work, she’d rather do something in the literary line, perhaps writing or translating”.
Fortunately, Prince Albert has not yet reached the age when his name will be linked with likely contenders to share the throne. But he is already being prepared by his parents for the day when he has to step into his father’s shoes.
The Prince tours him around the principality to see new buildings going up, “and occasionally I send him out to pre-sent a cup at some sports function so that he will get used to appearing formally in public. He knows what he’s in for, and he’s very interested in all the plans for Monaco. I don’t want him to be rushed into anything without proper preparation”.
Prince Rainier knew “unofficially” in his teens that his mother would decline the throne in his favor, and it’s quite likely that he himself will abdicate when he is about 65—in favor of Albert.
“But the most important thing”, he told me, “is that Albert should have time to enjoy himself before he has to move in. He mustn’t feel restricted or that he’s missed out on something. And he mustn’t be parachuted into the job. I should like him to be working alongside me for at least a year before he has to take over”.
Looking back over the 25 years of his reign, has the Prince had any sorrows?
“No sorrows. No regrets. A few frustrations, perhaps. I have learned that if you put people in your game they’ll root for you, but if you leave them out they’ll probably become enemies”.
“I’d like to have traveled more. I was going to buy a helicopter, but there was a row and I abandoned the idea. As someone pointed out, if the helicopter falls, what happens to Prince Albert? Perhaps I hadn’t thought enough about that”.
And on the very personal side?
“No. No regrets. As I said, at the beginning, it was not easy for the Princess. But we share a sense of humor, which is a good thing. She has the talent of finding something funny in a very solemn occasion and perhaps we laugh at things when we shouldn’t”.
The Prince smiled. “I’m sure I irritate her in many ways, but in these little things that are not too important we each go our own way. For instance, I like shooting and the Princess finds it boring. So she says, «Off you go. Have fun». I enjoy driving long distances, stopping off for a sandwich and then going on. She doesn’t. She gets carsick. She gets sick on the boat, too, so she doesn’t like to stay too long at sea.
“But then, you see, she likes going for long walks and I don’t. I think walking in the countryside helps her to think and to commune with nature. I like going for walks only if there is something to aim for—if we’re going to end up seeing a pretty lake in the mountain…”.
Suddenly, as he painted this familiar picture of many married couples, I burst out laughing. The Prince looked at me, as though to say, “But it’s true!”.
Sometimes it’s easy to think that Prince Rainier and Princess Grace and their family are like millions of other families. They aren’t, of course; they can’t be. But I came away feeling they are probably as nice as some of the nicest.
Copyright © 1974 Ladies Home Journal (May 1974)