Whilst the early portion of 2021 very much echoes last spring in terms of an abundance of virtual appearances for the royals, evening events and gala appearances are decidedly absent for the time being. I don't know about you, but an injection of regal glamour is just what the doctor ordered. This was very much at the centre of my mind over Christmas when I was intrigued reading nuggets about Princess Grace of Monaco's 40th birthday party. As you'll see it was a fascinating night for a multitude of reasons. I was excited to find out more and have done a great deal of research both online and during an enjoyable scroll through biographies on Grace. So, grab a cup of tea (or your preferred drink) and join me in filling that prescription for a much needed diversion...
The words "Princess Grace", "Monaco" and "40th birthday bash" conjure images of a glittering ballroom, divine jewels and memorable moments. If those pictures passed through your mind, you would be absolutely correct. For her landmark birthday, the Princess decided to celebrate in style with loved ones and friends. Below, Grace pictured with her sisters Margaret Conlon and Elizabeth Levine ahead of the party.
When it came to the guestlist, Scorpio Grace had something a little different in mind. A longtime passion for astrology led the Princess to contact American astrologer Carroll Righter. Their conversations focused on Righter's 'Zodiac Parties'. Grace wanted to emulate these - choosing to invite guests who were, or were partnered with, fellow Scorpios. Indeed, the theme developed apace as planning continued and by the time invitations were mailed guests were asked to wear Scorpio colours such as red and black.
On the night in 1969, a star-studded evening was enjoyed at the Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo.
As Grace arrived in a stunning black velvet, off-shoulder Balenciaga gown she joked, "This is the last birthday I want to admit to."
The off-shoulder gown with rosette detail was in fact a repeat. Grace first wore it two years earlier in 1967 for the Paris premiere of Grand Prix.
Indeed, the timeless gown has been cared for meticulously all these years later and featured in the 2007 exhibition The Grace Kelly Years: Princess of Monaco.
Curated by Frédéric Mitterrand, it told the story of the stages of her life through her iconic looks and memorabilia. It was exhibited in 'The Princess Room' (other areas included 'The Hitchcock Room' and 'The Fans Room').
For its second appearance, Grace added a serious sparkling punch in the form of two diamond brooches - pieces from the detachable Cartier Bains de Mer tiara. Prince Rainier's mother, Princess Charlotte, had a jaw-dropping collection of jewels, though sadly she was said to be unwilling to share them with her daughter-in-law. This always surprised me greatly given the historical significance and importance of passing such heirlooms to future generations. Grace built her own collection comprising of gifts, personal purchases and loans. The Bains de Mer was a wedding gift from Société des Bains de Mer, one of the largest employers in Monaco.
Grace adored the detachable brooches of diamonds and rubies and used them to add a dazzling touch to her Balenciaga gown on the night. She also wore diamond earrings and a ruby ring.
According to Australia Women's Weekly, other guests ranged from European royalty to a Spanish bullfighter. Portraits of famous Scorpios such as Edgar Allan Poe and Marie Antoinette lined the ballroom. Grace's 166lb cake was too big to go through the hotel door and had to be cut in half by chefs before guests could see it.
As a slew of Scorpios began to arrive in black and red, Hollywood star (and Piscean) Elizabeth Taylor made a commanding entrance with her husband Richard Burton, covering the Scorpio side of the invitation. Fellow spectators at the event were wowed by Elizabeth. Grace would later tell close friend Judy Balaban she "couldn't take her eyes off" Taylor, who she thought was "unbearably beautiful". She added, "Turning forty was equally unbearable."
There have been numerous stories about Elizabeth's appearance at the party that night in Monte Carlo. Shall we say it was far from smooth sailing and it concerned a rather mesmerising piece of jewellery worth millions... At the time, the customs limit in Monaco was £50, but Elizabeth, who treasured jewels passionately, wanted to wear a very special necklace at the party. She enlisted the help of solicitor Brian Eagles who "sweet talked" customs into submission. It took three weeks to transport the diamond from New York to Monaco with the assistance of three men carrying identical suitcases in the event of a possible theft attempt.
Eagles later revealed he was the only person trusted with the key to the safe. "For years I was the only person in the world that had the key to Taylor's jewellery, which was kept in a bank vault in England. Whenever she wanted something, I would get it from the bank and take it to her." Elizabeth and Richard arrived flanked by security guards armed with guns.
Now, the necklace in question? The Taylor-Burton diamond was purchased by Richard. At 68 carats, Elizabeth found it enormously heavy and wore it as a necklace with a settling for the breathtaking diamond. The actress wanted the design to cover her tracheotomy scar, which resulted from her bout with near-fatal pneumonia in 1961.
Burton later wrote in his diary about his fierce battle to acquire the piece:
"I turned into a raving maniac and insisted that he get Aaron on the phone as soon as possible. Elizabeth was as sweet as only she could be and protested that it didn't matter, that she didn't mind if she didn't have it, that there was much more in life than baubles, that she would manage with what she had. The inference was that she would make do. But not me! I screamed at Aaron that bugger Cartiers, I was going to get that diamond if it cost me my life or 2 million dollars whichever was the greater. For 24 hours the agony persisted and in the end I won. I got the bloody thing".
I wanted that diamond because it is incomparably lovely and it should be on the loveliest woman in the world. I would have had a fit if it went to Jackie Kennedy or Sophia Loren or Mrs. Huntingdon Misfit of Dallas, Texas."
Richard Burton was incredibly pleased with the diamond's outing on the night, writing, "Elizabeth's delight in it is a joy to behold and a very quaint thing to witness is the obvious pleasure that other people take in her wearing it. Even Hjördis Niven and Princess Grace...seemed to enjoy her moment. And of course nobody can wear it better."
In keeping with the theme Elizabeth wore a Tiziani black velvet cape embroidered with a pair of diamanté scorpions to the front and one to the hood, and lined with ivory moiré grosgrain silk. The piece was later auctioned by Christie's.
Elizabeth and Grace at the party.
David Niven and his wife, Hjördis, were there, perfectly attired for the evening.
Veteran singer Josephine Baker.
At the time, writer Roderick Mann asked Grace how she felt about turning forty and the "secret of her beauty". The Princess replied, "I've never thought of myself as a great beauty. I think I’m quite nice-looking, but that’s about it. Frankly, I’ve always hated being known for my looks. I’d much rather be known for my ability." As she continued in her response she touched upon one of the great regrets of her life - not being able to fulfill her ambitions as an actress. "One of my few regrets is that I wasn’t able to develop more fully as an actress. I stopped acting before I could do that. But that was my choice. I just hope I’ve developed as a person, instead. That’s what’s important to me - to fulfill my role as a wife and mother and princess - not to be beautiful, but whether I have more character than I used to have." She closed with a smile, saying she was not "terribly pleased" about the milestone birthday "because I feel I should be so much more grown-up and wiser about the world than I am".