October 30: Onlooker Number 10 (Monaco, 1962)

Joel drove me to the shoot in Monaco with a car stuffed full of plants from our balcony, to take to our new home. We’re moving! Good bye, balcony.

Well, I’d hoped that my moment of extreme tiara glamour would come as an extra on the movie Grace of Monaco. I knew I was to be in a scene of the 1962 Red Cross Ball (which remains Monaco’s most important social event). I imagined rustling silk, diamonds, perhaps even an up-do? But, bugger, only tall, young, skinny girls seemed to get there. No wonder Meryl complains… No, I was only “femme badaud 10” – female onlooker number 10. Ten was the number of my outfit. I was fitted for it a few weeks ago, in a hangar/warehouse full (that’s like, really, FULL to the rafters) of original pristine 1960s clothing at La Victorine studios.

A quick snap in costume in the bathroom of the Hotel de Paris. We weren’t supposed to have cameras with us. Frump or star?

As far as I was concerned, my outfit was like a cross between Mary Poppins and the Queen of England, with a silly hat, an A-line yellow coat and faffy little bag. Joel, having been warned about my frumpy character, was convinced nonetheless that the moment everyone saw me, they would shove Nicole Kidman as Grace aside and stuff me into her fabulous tulle-and-diamanté frock. In fact, he’s been so convinced of my new career as a major Hollywood star that I’ve on occasion been reduced to hitting him to shut him up. In the supermarket line, for instance, when someone tries to squeeze in front “Wait till she recognises you,” he whispers. “She’ll be mortified.” And when he slides up behind me at a traffic light, while I’m waiting on my bike: “Oh my god, you’re…. you’re…. can I have your autograph?”

Pierre the Rolls chauffeur on set in front of the Monte Carlo casino

On the night, however – last night – I was pretty happy I wasn’t one of the glamour girls. They had to stand for hours on the red-carpeted steps of the Casino de Monte Carlo shivering in bare shoulders and diamonds while I stood in the crowd of onlookers all warm and cosy in my coat. Well, warm and cosy for the first five hours, then I started to shiver myself. It was unseasonably cold, for the Riviera. By 3.30am, my whole body was as chilled as a good rosé. My feet, in their yellow high heels, were killing me. I was even worrying that all the physical therapy treatment I’ve been having for my knee had been nullified. I wasn’t the only one, of course. Even the men were suffering in their pointy 1960s shoes.

I was in Monte Carlo at midnight in 1999, and I can tell you authoritatively that the crowd then was nowhere near as eager for the Casino’s beautiful Belle Epoque clocktower to hit 12 as my 300 or so fellow badauds and I were last night. That was the hour of the promised “collation”, or snack. We limped to the catering trucks for soup and toasted cheese sandwiches, and it reminded me of some sort of prisoner of war feeding station, so cold and pathetic were we.

Some of the “guests” at the Red Cross Ball. They’re in one of the rooms where around 40 hair and make-up people turned us all into our “characters”

Being professionals, of course – actually there were many people I chatted to who regularly work as extras – we didn’t let our physical discomfort affect our performance. When we had to clap and wave and swoon at the arrival of Maria Callas and Aristotle Onassis, we did so with aplomb. When we had to boo and hiss at President de Gaulle as he walked up the stairs (it was a delicate political time) we did so again… and again… and again… and again… and… And when we had to be overcome with hysteria at the arrival of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier, we believed it was real. Did we discuss Nicole Kidman’s botox? Well, honestly, what do you think? Did we note Tim Roth’s tininess? Did we make lewd comments about her relationship with Tom Cruise? Oh, of course we did. It was raucous and amusing and full of camaraderie in the crowd of badauds, even as we waved and smiled. I enjoyed every cold and foot-aching minute.

Onlooker Number 10 warming up in the back of Grace Kelly’s Rolls.

I especially enjoyed the 15 minutes I spent sitting in the warmth of the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud that was one of scores of vintage cars used in the scene. During one of the interminable fiddling-with-the-cameras moments, I went for a little limpy wander on the set, passing, at one point, the Rolls. The driver glanced at me, and I stuck out my thumb. To my delight, he told me to get in. Ah, the warmth! The smell of fine leather! I was pretty shocked, actually, that no one seemed to care less that I was there. Because the Red Cross Ball night in 1962 was rainy, people with spray tanks that looked like insecticide pumps kept wandering around spritzing the vintage cars with raindrops. They didn’t notice. Pierre, Princess Grace’s chatty chauffeur (in real life the director of a drainage company and vintage car aficionado), was thrilled to have someone to talk to. The owner of the cars couldn’t have cared less as long as Pierre didn’t leave the headlights on in-between takes. I could have fallen asleep on the seats, and perhaps even Nicole and Tim wouldn’t have noticed. I could have fitted nicely under Nicole’s enormous chiffon flounce.

The Casino in Monte Carlo, extras at the ready

I’ve never been a big Nicole Kidman fan, and I’m still not, even after having co-starred (ahem) with her. However, I should be fair. When she first arrived on set, she had a wander over to the shivery, cowed, achy crowd of badauds and chatted. Maybe she knew we had another three hours to go? She didn’t have to do that, and I was a bit mean to notice that she looked a bit … well, tight around the eyebrows. However, when she came over again … and again…. and again…. as Princess Grace, she seemed completely differently, almost regal. I guess that’s acting, and I guess it’s why she was Princess Grace and I was just Onlooker Number 10. Even if Joel, who came to collect me at 5am, swears that Onlooker Number 10 stole the show.

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About Suellen Grealy

In 2011, a series of coincidences led my husband Joel, our cat Ted and me away from London, where we lived quite happily for 30 years, to Nice, where Joel grew up. While he and his sister ran their restaurant, I wrote a novel. Family being family, Joel and his sister no longer work together. Writing being writing, the novel lingers on... Meanwhile, we've found ways of living a completely different life from the one we had in London, including running our own restaurant together, 7 Villermont. The only constants are our Ted, our now-battered Peugeot, and each other. Everything else is a complete surprise
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3 Responses to October 30: Onlooker Number 10 (Monaco, 1962)

  1. Deb Brenner says:

    I love it, onlooker #10!

  2. Thanks! See you at the Oscars!

  3. Harriet says:

    I want to see you – in that costume – starring as an aristocratic 1960s visitor to Nice who solves a series of murders without ever getting her gloves dirty. Failing that, if the Dame bows out, you could take over as ‘M’ in the Bond franchise. How beautifully you write – it was like being there! X

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