Even 30 years after her death, Princess Grace of Monaco, otherwise known as the actress Grace Kelly, is as much admired and revered by many as she was in her lifetime. Her life was short (she was only 52 when she died) but it was an extraordinary one. Many biographies have been written about her, in her lifetime and since her death, and some even with Royal approval. We take a slightly briefer look at her life.
This time, the ‘The Wedding of the Century’ and Grace’s royal role.
The week between Grace’s arrival and her wedding were fraught – Monaco was transformed into a media circus and Rainier and Grace had to appear at many official events. Reporters blocked the couple’s path everywhere they went, and one reporter even lay down in the road pretending to have been run over, all to get a picture of the couple. By the time the day of the civil ceremony arrived on 18th April, they were exhausted. As Rainier later said,
“It wasn’t fun then and in the middle of the turmoil Grace kept saying, maybe we should run off to a small chapel somewhere in the mountains and finish getting married there. I wish we had because there was no way either she or I could really enjoy what was happening”
Rainier and Grace were officially married in the Throne Room of the Prince’s Palace with just immediate family and very close friends present. Then they had to re-enact the whole thing for MGM’s cameras. As compensation to MGM, as she would not be completing her seven year contract with them, Grace agreed to grant them the rights to film and televise the civil and religious wedding ceremonies. The result is the film The Wedding in Monaco which was screened around the world. The civil ceremony was followed by a luncheon, and in the afternoon, Grace and Rainier appeared at a garden party for just the Monegasque people. In the evening, the couple attended a Gala at the Opera House.
On the next day, 19th April, was the religious ceremony at the St Nicholas Cathedral. MGM’s present to Grace was her wedding dress, made by the studio’s costume designer Helen Rose. It was outstandingly beautiful and inspired wedding dress design for decades. Grace and Rainier were extremely nervous and in film footage and pictures, the strain from the media presence can be clearly seen on their faces. After the ceremony, they drove in their new car, a gift from the people of Monaco, to the Church of St Dévote, the patron saint of Monaco. Grace left her bridal bouquet at the church in tribute to the saint. It must have been with relief that the couple set off on their honeymoon, a trip along the Mediterranean coast in their yacht, ‘Deo Juvante II’ (a wedding present from Rainier to Grace). They were away for a few months and when they returned, Grace threw herself into her new role as Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco. She had a new language to learn and a nation’s respect to gain. But Grace and Rainier could not even look at photographs of their wedding for a year afterwards, such were the bad memories. As Grace herself said:
“I avoid looking back. I prefer good memories to regrets”.
It was a shame the couple had not been able to have their small wedding in the mountains.
As Princess, Grace became President of the charities AMADE and the Monaco Red Cross and she founded ‘The Princess Grace Foundation’, a charity to support the arts and artists in Monaco. She was a supporter of the La Leche League. With Rainier, she made official visits to the Pope, American President John F Kennedy and French President Charles de Gaulle among others. She and Rainier had three children, Caroline, born in 1957, Albert (now Prince Albert II, Monaco’s ruler) in 1958 and Stéphanie in 1965. For Grace, being a mother was of supreme importance:
“It would be very sad if children had no memories before those of school. What they need most is the love and attention of their mother”.
In 1962, Alfred Hitchcock offered Grace the lead in his new film Marnie. Grace, with Rainier’s agreement, accepted and it was decided that filming would be completed whilst the family were on holiday in America. When the Monegasque people heard about the film, they were very against Grace taking part and so she sadly agreed not to. Her first duty was to her adopted country and her acting career was definitely over. Grace still needed a creative outlet though, so she narrated documentaries such as The Children Of Theatre Street and she took part in poetry readings across Europe. Grace started The Garden Club of Monaco where she could indulge her love of flowers, and wrote My Book Of Flowers with her biographer and friend Gwen Robyns. She also made pressed flower paintings. During a trip to Britain in 1981, Grace attended a reception prior to a music recital at Goldsmiths Hall. Also present was Lady Diana Spencer at her first official event since her engagement. When Grace found Diana upset because she found the protocal a nightmare and wasn’t used to the press attention, she comforted her, laughing ‘Don’t worry, it gets worse!’. Grace knew what it felt like to marry into Royalty. In the same year, Grace and Rainier celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.
The family had a country home, ‘Roc Agel’, just over the border into France. It was while driving from here back to the Palace in Monaco on 13th September 1982, with her daughter Stéphanie, that Grace suffered a small stroke. It is likely that had this stroke happened when she was anywhere else, Grace would have recovered well, but on the incredibly dangerous, twisty mountain road into Monaco, she lost control of the car and it plunged over the edge of the mountainside. Stéphanie had serious fractures but recovered. Grace, although still alive, probably suffered another, major stroke, and never regained conciousness. She died in hospital in Monaco on 14th September 1982. She was just 52.
The world was stunned, the people of Monaco bereft. She had become very much loved and they appreciated her tireless work for them. Grace’s funeral was held at the same Cathedral where she and Ranier had married 26 years earlier. Rainier, Caroline and Albert supported one another at the Cathedral. Stéphanie was still in hospital, to ill to attend, but watched on television. Britain’s representative at the funeral was The Princess of Wales on her first solo engagement since the birth of Prince William. She had been particularly keen to attend in tribute to Princess Grace, who she had much admired. Following the funeral, Grace was interred in the Cathedral in a private service, and Rainier was buried alongside her after he died in 2005. He had never remarried.
Grace had been a well respected actress in her youth, and her film legacy is testament to that. But her greatest role was that of Princess of Monaco. It was not something that she fulfilled half-heartedly – when Grace did something, she did it to the best of her ability and it showed. The people of Monaco grew to love her as one of their own and it was obvious to them that she wasn’t acting when she became involved in charities, visited the sick and entertained orphaned children. She really did live her greatest ever role.