The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: The long and troubled decline of my friends in Monaco

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The Independent Online
It was my old chum Lord Deedes who told me the words of wisdom that have remained in my head for many decades. "You know, Wallace," he intoned thoughtfully while looking at the sky one day, "our old gamekeeper always used to say to me, 'It never rains'."

" 'It never rains', Bill?" I replied, quizzically. "Are you absolutely sure he didn't say anything else?"

"Don't think so," said Deedes. Then he reflected for a minute. "My goodness, you're right! In fact what he always used to say was 'It never rains BUT IT POURS'. Small wonder I've been getting so thoroughly drenched."

It never rains, but it pours ... Wise words indeed, though of course sometimes it merely drizzles, and at other times there are scattered showers. As I observed in my well received contribution to Thought for the Day based on this adage the other week, on most occasions it is probably wisest to pack a trusty mackintosh, even if the outlook is fine.

But I find myself deviating. I was reminded of Bill Deedes' typically canny aphorism this week when I read of yet another turn for the worse among my dear old friends the Grimaldis of Monaco. As you know, I never read gossip or tittle-tattle. Far from it: it was only last year that I heard the Lucan marriage was on the rocks. But judging from a wholly unintended glimpse at salacious newspaper reports, I fear it very much appears as though a feud has broken out between Princess Caroline and young Prince Albert. The princess is suggesting that her young son should "take over the reins" when Prince Rainier finally goes - a move that would leave young Prince Albert with nothing to do save play all day on the one-armed-bandit machines situated in the Imperial Hallway of the Royal Palace. Understandably, perhaps, Prince Albert is digging his heels in, even though he himself has yet to go through the appropriate actions of providing the Grimaldis with an heir (mucky business!). Worse still, many of the Crowned Heads of Europe (including, alas, our own!) failed to attend the Grand Jamboree (glamorous Tupperware parties, Vince Hill Live Onstage, special guest appearance by Rod Hull and Emu, catering by Marks & Spencer plc) to celebrate 700 years of the Grimaldi dynasty in Monaco.

'Twas ever thus, as the Swan of Avon once put it. As a regular house- guest of the Grimaldis since the heyday of Princess Grace, I must confess - strictly between these four walls - that I first spotted the cracks many years ago. I suppose it was when, in search of the smallest room, I first stumbled upon Princess Grace locked in the warm embrace of Frank Sinatra behind the pinball machine in the Upper Drawing Room that I first began to suspect all was not well with the Grimaldi marriage.

From then on, the cracks became more numerous. It was in the 1960s that Prince Rainier and Princess Grace were deemed to be at their most dashing, but I could never quite see it. Though my fellow house-guests at the Palace were all pleasant enough (Vince Hill, the Craddocks, Reg Varney, the Beverley Sisters) I couldn't help feeling that they were not - how should one put it kindly? - in the Premier League. Occasionally Princess Grace attempted to break the ice by taking everyone on a complete guided tour of the Principality, taking in all the sites of historical and social interest. But after three- quarters of an hour we would all end up back at the Palace having exhausted all the available site-seeing. There remained very little to do save a few rounds of black-jack and, if one was lucky, an evening trip to the Black and White Minstrels on the Monaco pier.

When the two princesses grew older things began to hot up a little. I forget now quite whom the two of them married, though I recall dutifully turning up at the Monaco Cathedral-a-go-go on separate occasions for weddings to a keep-fit instructor, a bronzed bodyguard, a former recording artiste, a fashion designer, a skiwear salesman, a Tibetan monk and a former disco- dance champion. Alas, somewhere along the line their mother took her fatal tumble and, sad to say, Prince Rainier never looked quite regal enough by himself, though he was much in demand as a kindly sweet-shop owner, gunned down by ruthless villains in the opening shots of many a Hollywood movie.

Meanwhile, Prince Albert continues his search for a princess, though one wonders whether even the most rigorous scouring of the quarters of the Imperial Guard will throw up a suitable bride. Ginger Spice has been mentioned, but I gather she finds the fellow a touch common. Grim days, indeed. We can only hope that Princess Stephanie's new swimwear collection for Dorothy Perkins will help restore the Grimaldis to the very forefront of European royalty.

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