I'm not going to lie," says Prince Frederic von Anhalt . "I have indeed slept with prostitutes. If someone asks about it in debates, I will confess. People will respect it. Like 80 per cent of married men, I enjoy the company of hookers. I'd be an idiot if I said I didn't."
Prince von Anhalt is explaining how he will field some of the tough questions that will soon come his way during the long, hard battle that he hopes will end with him becoming the next governor of California.
His remark about prostitutes is unusually frank for a politician trying to court US public opinion. But it is nonetheless endearingly true to the libertarian platform on which this Hollywood socialite, husband of former screen siren Zsa Zsa Gabor, is contesting November's wide-open election to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger. "I say that we should legalise prostitution, and plenty of other sins, and then we should of course tax them," he adds, outlining his most noteworthy proposal for addressing the fiscal crisis that has brought the State of California to the brink of bankruptcy.
"Life would be so much easier. The prostitutes wouldn't have to look over their shoulder when they turn up at your house. Customers could enjoy their excellent service without breaking the law. The state would make money so we all get smaller tax bills. It's better for everyone."
Legalised prostitution isn't the German-born prince's only big idea, though. If elected, he has also pledged to legalise and tax the sale of marijuana and Cuban cigars.
You may think such free-thinking would put a candidate firmly in the minority camp. But in a state that has grown weary of the status quo, Prince Frederic's independent campaign, which launched a fortnight ago, is instead managing to capture the public's imagination.
A vast red billboard bearing a beaming picture of him in military regalia dominates Sunset Boulevard near the restaurant where we meet for lunch. Paparazzi and a film crew from the celebrity news website TMZ hover outside. Passing diners stop to ask for copies of his gold-embossed manifesto.
"I've been in this country 26 years, and I've learned one thing: you have to be famous to win elections. If you're not famous, but you're filthy rich, forget about it. And fame is one thing I already have," he proclaims. "I am able to talk to people differently. I won't give them bullshit. And they will respect that." Frederic's election slogan is, "Return the Good Life to California." If elected, he would reduce car tax ("it's outrageous"), tax oil companies "big time," legalise gay marriage ("let them be as miserable as the rest of us") and make solar panels mandatory on all new buildings, to "rid our dependency on Middle East oil".
He also wants to pursue immigration reform, opening California's border with Mexico. "Let them come in, and send dollars home. And once enough dollars are in Mexico, they'll go back, because they have such wonderful warm beaches there. Without immigrants here, we would have no gardeners, no pool boy. It would be a total disaster."
He launched his campaign a fortnight ago, and promptly made most of the early-evening news bulletins. Since then, he claims to have acquired 10 members of staff, and next week he'll travel to the town of Sacramento, to formally file papers to contest the election to a post once occupied by his old friend Ronald Reagan.
"Polls show I have a chance. People respect my honesty. The last one I saw, about 31 per cent of people want me, 57 per cent were against me, the rest undecided. Only 6 per cent of people had never heard of me. For such an early stage in the election, those are incredibly strong figures."
An eccentric character in a red campaign baseball cap, wearing a diamond-encrusted medallion, a vast Rolex, and several weighty gold rings, Prince Frederick's topsy-turvy life story was perhaps always destined to end-up in Los Angeles – where he and Zsa Zsa have a home that was once owned by Elvis Presley.
He was born the son of a policeman from Kreuznach in Germany, but joined the nobility in 1980, at the age of 37, when Princess Marie-Auguste von Anhalt, the ex-wife of Prince Joachim of Prussia, the Kaiser's son, adopted him, following the death of her own son (a friend of Frederic's) on the polo circuit.
In 1984, on holiday in Los Angeles, he gatecrashed a celebrity party and bumped into Hungarian-born Gabor. Sparks flew. Two years later, he became her ninth husband (he also had a track record: she was his seventh wife). They have lived together, as members of Hollywood's affluent old guard, ever since.
As marriages go, it has had ups and downs. A few years back, Prince Frederic was found by LA police in his Rolls-Royce, completely naked. He claimed to have been robbed at gunpoint by three attractive women, who had stolen his clothes and wallet and left him handcuffed to the steering wheel. Police never established the exact circumstances in which Frederic had picked up the three mysterious strangers. No arrests were ever made. But not long after the incident he was appointed an official celebrity spokesman for Viagra, a supply of which was found in the car.
In 2007, after the death of the wealthy former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith, Frederic claimed he had pursued a decade-long affair with her. He could even be the father of the daughter who was in line to inherit her fortune, he said. But that was disproved by a DNA test.
Asked about these and other scandals, together with his reputation as one of old Hollywood's most legendary lotharios, Frederic tells me that his lifelong marital infidelity has always been condoned by his wife, whom he describes, with an admirable degree of understatement, as "not the jealous type."
"We have an open marriage. When we got married, we agreed to change the way we do things, because we had both been married so many times before. So we said we could both sleep around. Soon after that, I came back from a business trip to Europe and she said, 'Did you have an affair?' I said, 'Look, once and for all, never ask me this question again.' So she never did."
The longevity of their relationship, which has outlasted all of Gabor's other eight, may in part, he says, be due to the fact that (Anna Nicole Smith aside) Frederic prefers to play away from home with professional prostitutes, rather than to embark on an actual love affair.
"Sex is more fun when you pay for a prostitute," he says. "And it's cheaper in the end. If you go to a bar to pick up women, it takes all night. By 4am, you're drunk and you've no idea what sort of woman you get. Plus you have already spent easily a thousand dollars on drinks."
Whether voters will share Prince Frederic's cavalier attitude, even in one of America's most liberal states, remains to be seen. One factor that may boost his chances is the painfully dull nature of his rivals from both major parties. The Republican front- runner, former eBay chief Meg Whitman, is so desperate for recognition that she has already spent $20m (£13m) on building her profile. Jerry Brown, her likely Democratic rival, is a monochrome career politician.
The other factor is the Californian public's increasingly resigned approach to its mainstream politics. The state is currently operating at a loss of roughly $14bn a year, and its total deficit is at around $30bn. Its infrastructure is creaky, and its home foreclosure rate among the highest in the nation. Unemployment hovers around 10 per cent.
Against this backdrop, the legislature is frustratingly gridlocked. The Democrats hold a slim majority in the State Senate, and refuse to countenance spending cuts. Republicans have a large enough number of seats to be able to filibuster tax raises. As a result, many of Prince Frederic's radical policies, such as the legalisation and taxation of marijuana, are already being kicked around by major parties.
Public disaffection was behind Arnold Schwarzenegger's election in 2003. But the Republican "governator's" reign ended in business as usual. Frederic will not have the backing of a party machine, but believes he can raise the $5m-$10m it will take to complete a campaign (he has already spend $250,000.
Having already elected an Austrian-American, the state is ready for a German governor, he maintains. And "Arnold is pissed that I am standing. When they ask him about me, he makes dirty faces. When they ask what do you think about Zsa Zsa Gabor becoming first lady, he won't answer."
And what does Zsa Zsa herself think of becoming first lady? Now in her teatime years and confined to a wheelchair, she rarely leaves home. When he's not campaigning for governor, or playing the stock market, Frederic devotes much of his time to her daily care.
"She's 92-years-old. I think she's too old to do anything on the campaign trail, and when I first said I was standing for governor, she thought I was mad. But I keep telling her, 'You'd better get prepared, you're going to be the first lady.' And she smiles, and says, 'I've waited 92 years for that. Make sure you get it!'"Reuse content