From the archives: Read a 1979 IMAGE interview with Grace Kelly (in honour of her birthday)
To celebrate Grace Kelly’s birthday, we’ve dug into the IMAGE archives and unearthed an exclusive interview from the January 1979 issue. The Oscar-winning movie star, who was born 90 years ago today, got candid during her conversation with Tanis O’Callaghan, and talked openly about the challenges of raising children in the spotlight and her plans to build a hideaway in Co. Mayo…
In Monte Carlo, in the Principality of Monaco, the mountains sweep down to the sea. And their lumpy densely wooded shapes have pink stone villas nestling among orange trees and high-rise hotels perched precariously on cliffs. It’s a city where the old and the new blend with the utmost sophistication; the old buildings, the endless steps descending from one street to another are so ornate and elaborate that the most ostentatious shop fronts and spectacular modern hotels can afford to be equally dramatic in style.
Of course during the summer the sun shines and gilds everything with a rosy glow. But even in winter, the pink and biscuit-coloured plaster created an illusion of the sun being just behind the mist that endlessly encircles the mountaintops. “Come to Monaco in winter,” said a taxi driver. “In summer the traffic is terrible.” No doubt he forgot momentarily that it is in the summer that the tourists are there that he makes the bulk of his livelihood.
But it is a year-round place too, with no shortage of Arabs and their women, elderly fat and faltering Americans, grown old with making money which their younger-looking wives appear to enjoy spending. And Spanish, Italian and French tourists all opulently dressed in mandatory mink or belted beaver coats, quite unnecessarily cosy in the mild Irish-style weather.
“Go to the old city,” someone else, said. “Where the palace is.” There seemed to be no demarcation line between old and new, but it was to the old city I went by taxi in the fast-fading daylight to meet the Princess in her yellow stone palace, while the rain came down like stair rods.
After a complicated arrival from a language barrier point of view, I was brought to a large room with a very high ceiling and big casement windows, but a draught screen alongside the bannisters concealed it from view until one reached the bottom of the stairs. In one corner in a fireplace, several feet from the ground burned a blazing wood fire and this was flanked by cream silk sofas and a low table. The firelight and soft lighting made the room the ultimate warmth and comfort, but it was deserted. Suddenly there was a whistle followed by a bark. Startled I looked around. A bear cub hung over the back of another sofa at the far end of the room, one paw extended as if ready to climb. A most realistic stuffed toy! Then the sound of a kiss followed by a cough from another corner of the room made me jump again. But I saw a grey parrot hanging upside down in his cage. I almost laughed outright. I waited. Every minute or so the flunkey peeped round the top of the stairs. I sat alone for several minutes in the firelight hearing voices through another door and the yap yap of a dog.
Suddenly she breezed into the room apologizing for keeping me, her voice loud and American accented. With little ceremony, Her Serene Highness Grace de Monaco perched on the couch opposite me and plunged straight away into conversation.
“Unfortunately I can’t give you very long,” she said smiling, “because I have to get dressed for tonight. We’re having our Fifth Circus Festival here in Monaco, you know and I must attend.” Then she explained that the Festival came about because her husband had always been interested in breeding wild animals and had started a little zoo near the palace, which was open to the public. “But it is sad,” she added, “that it is raining so hard, but you must go to the circus. It really is great fun. I’ll arrange for a ticket for you.”
The princess wore a soft camelhair dress belted in tan leather, with fine leather boots and a coral scarf, cowboy fashion around her neck. Her blonde hair was swept up a la mode. Her style was comfortable and classic.
Meeting her for the first time one realised how familiar her face is and how like her photographs. It is by no means a classical face in repose, but it is illuminated when she smiles. The eyes smile, the mouth turns up with an impishness, which makes her look like a little girl. But although she was relaxed, I had the feeling she is somewhat a reserved person by nature. All the time she sat talking, she twisted a ring on her finger or slipped it off then put it on again.
I asked her about her daughter Caroline’s recent marriage and how she personally felt about the Press stories concerning Caroline’s life in Paris and her own reported disapproval of the marriage.
“The French press were very fair and the American, though I don’t think the British Press or the Germans were. But then the German Press will write anything they like; one gets used to them and ignores them. It is not true that Caroline went to nightclubs every night. She went out occasionally, that’s all. And everyone ignored the fact that she was a brilliant student who completed every part of her formal education before her marriage. She has her degree now and she is very young to have it. One doesn’t achieve that if one is dancing every night.”
“As for her marriage? I disapproved only because I thought she was too young to marry and I still think that she is too young for the responsibility of marriage. Phillipe is a nice man; he is very devoted and very kind to her. But now they are married and they have to furnish their apartment in Paris and begin married life on their own. You know they have only left here about three weeks. They have been staying here with us since their marriage.”
What about the rumour that Caroline is pregnant, I asked. The Princess looked a little surprised. “No she’s not. We’ll put like this. If she is pregnant I’m not aware of it. She laughed then at the prospect of being grandmother. “Of course I’d enjoy it. And I can tell you one thing, the Prince will make a wonderful grandfather. He has a marvellous way with children; he’s patient with them and interested in them and enjoys playing with them. We have always been a very close-knit family. I have never believed in keeping the children apart and confining them to only one area of our lives as some people with a lot of social engagements do. They have always mingled with our guests and I have always thought it was important for them to do so. I believe in mixing generations. I can even remember carrying Prince Albert into the room in my arms because we were entertaining Winston Churchill and I said to Mr. Churchill, ‘He won’t remember meeting you but at least I can tell him when he’s older that he did.'”
“It is Caroline and Phillipe’s own decision of course whether they start a family right away or not. But for my daughter’s own sake I hope they don’t have a baby immediately. I had a baby right away and it made my early-married life very much harder. Once I had to leave the baby when she was very tiny and travel a long journey by train. And do you know that from the time the train left here till it reached its destination I never stopped crying.”
I asked the Princess what her youngest daughter, Princess Stephanie was interested in and what career, if any, she planned to follow. “Stephanie is mad about animals. She wants to be a veterinary surgeon,” said the Princess. “She says that if she can’t be that, at least she wants to breed dogs.”
“It is difficult for the children. They are different whether they like it or not and, of course, they used to hate being different. When they went to school here in Monaco they wanted to be like all the other children. But they couldn’t be the same and we have had to bring them up to be aware of their duties. And perhaps you could say for this reason I have had to be a little sterner than the average mother. But of course, discipline must be tempered with humour. I think that’s very important. And it is vital that children not only know you love them but that they are constantly told they are loved. One must always be affectionate and demonstrative with them I believe.”
Then I asked her how she keeps her youthful appearance, how she remains slim. Was she interested in yoga or transcendental meditation perhaps?
“You’re really very kind.” She smiled, a little embarrassed. “I only wish I was slim. I simply can’t diet. I wake up in the morning full of resolve to begin a new diet. But by noon I’ve thrown in the sponge. I exercise a little and I walk a lot. I’m a great one for long rambles in the mountains. As for transcendental meditation, I sometimes think I’m so much in the clouds that if I started to meditate I’d go away up there and never come back.” Is she a little fey then, I asked. “Yes, I am really. I’m a great dreamer. People say it’s the Irish in me,” she said with a little smile. Are you melancholic too, I suggested. “Yes, sometimes.” I informed her we know it as the Celtic Twilight.
She spoke of her plans to have a retreat in the West of Ireland, how she had bought the land on which were the ruins of her grandfather’s cottage in Co. Mayo. “It was really disappointing that we couldn’t rebuild the cottage, but it is absolutely dilapidated and my Irish architect informs me that even using the foundations wouldn’t be practical. Perhaps we’ll use some of the stones to build a new house on the land.”
Her reasons for an Irish hideaway? “Somewhere we can go as often as possible and have complete privacy and spend time walking and exploring that lovely part of Ireland. I’m very much looking forward to it. But I’m hoping we will get privacy. I’d hate to think that people would get their cars and drive out there to stare at us.”
In Monaco, she said, particularly in winter, the people of the principality respect her privacy. She can walk the streets or visit the shops without a crowd gathering. “In summer I avoid going out in the city. Tourists make it more difficult. But surprisingly it’s in the big cities I have most privacy. In New York or London or Paris. People will recognise me but that’s all. They don’t mob me.”
Before I left, she counted the times she had been in Ireland. “About 6 or 7 occasions in all.” She shook my hand and I began in reverse the walk from palace to little anteroom, from footman to porter to palace guards to taxi. She had been dignified but friendly, very natural and candid. A woman of poise but completely approachable.
This picture was shown during the interview. The Princess ran upstairs to get it in order to show a picture taken informally in the garden in summer from her private collection.
By Tanis O’Callaghan.
Grace Patricia Kelly was born in Philidelphia in 1929. She retired from acting aged 26 to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956. She died in an accident on September 13th, 1982 after she had a stroke while at the wheel of her car. This article originally appeared in the January 1979 issue of IMAGE Magazine.
In the November issue of IMAGE Magazine, on sale now, Erin McCafferty pays homage to her late mother, Tanis O’Callaghan, former editor of IMAGE who interviewed Grace Kelly for the January 1979 issue.
Read more: From the archives: a 1991 interview with Mary Robinson
Read more: Hair-raising hairstyles from the March 1986 issue of IMAGE Magazine
Read more: From the archive: ‘Just be happy’ by Kate Holmquist