An excerpt from my new memoir:
Two final questions had to be answered: How would we handle the money the expedition would bring in through the ever growing publicity and contracts with the press? Who would we invite for the ribbon cutting ceremony to send us on our mountain trek? The answer to that was Princess Grace of Monaco.
The team unanimously decided that the money made from the expedition should be given to a worthy cause. As 1959 was World Refugee Year this was our natural choice. That led to a correspondence with Princess Grace of Monaco. Our mutual plan was that she might launch the Expedition at its starting point in France, on behalf of World Refugee Year.
She expressed interest in our story and I visited her in Monaco to lay out our plans. That is a story in itself. On arrival I booked into the Hotel Hermitage, one of the old, elegant hotels near the waterfront with its famous Gustave Eiffel dome. Unpacking my overnight suitcase, I checked that I had brought everything to show the princess that might illustrate our plans, detailed maps, a picture of Jumbo, views of Hannibal’s possible passes, information on the World Refugee Year and more.
The next morning was flooded with Riviera sunshine. Everything seemed to conspire to make this a perfect day. As the clock tower over the palace portal struck nine, I walked up to the guard by his elegant pill box and said that I had an appointment to visit “Her Serene Highness Princess Grace.” He disappeared into the guard room and soon reappeared, pointing me to a side entrance where I would be met. A Crowd of tourists was milling around. I maneuvered my way through it and headed for what seemed a rather insignificant door over to the side of the grand entrance.
A elegantly dressed lady met me there and introduced herself at Phyllis Blum, the Princess’ secretary. We walked through a courtyard and down thickly carpeted corridors to a small but beautifully appointed reception room. I found myself sitting on the edge of a Louis XlV settee and admiring the paintings on the walls. There was a Rembrandt and another that looked like a Vermeer. I got up to look more closely but then Princess Grace entered.
I was immediately struck by the exquisite features of her face and also how petite she was. Shakespeare famously wrote of Cleopatra on the Nile, “As for her own person, it beggared all description.” In person the princess was more beautiful than any movie or photograph could convey. It was not long before we were poring over maps and discussing the details of the expedition It was clear that she had the gift of warm informality which fitted her background of a plebian American becoming a European princess. She fulfilled both roles magnificently. She was knowledgeable about the Alps and Hannibal and I found myself completely at ease. She had already been involved in helping refugee children from Eastern Europe, and naturally supported the World Refugee Year.
My audience must have been for about three quarters of an hour. Ultimately here were a young American woman and a young Englishman, both on separate journeys of adventure, discovering common ground in history and the mountains. By the end she promised that she would do her best to be available to launch our expedition in person. That was all I could ask for. I folded up the maps while waiting for Phyllis to show me out. There was an extra spring in my step on the way to the Hotel Hermitage.
About a month before our start, a pressing engagement came up and she sent a gracious note saying that she had to decline our invitation. Naturally we were disappointed but I was enriched by the experience of meeting a person of such grace and unassuming candor.