As a Kiwi who lived and partied for many years in Monaco – population, 38,000; wealth, off the planet – it was rare to meet anyone from our side of the world. But I remember having coffee with a very attractive Australian woman called Emma. She said, “I hope I don’t look too frozen, do I? I’ve just had Botox for the first time.”
Botox in Monaco was as constant as the sun. One night I met a couple at a function for the Monaco British Association. Bob and Alecia were long time Monaco residents. Alecia was a middle aged, beautifully groomed blonde with a taut face and pumped-up lips. She said, “We had to delay our ski trip to Whistler today because I left my favourite ski jacket at our chalet in Gstaad.”
This was a crisis. I asked, “Oh. Can you buy another the same?”
“No, it’s an exclusive one-off by Fendi.”
Whatever would they do?
“It’s all sorted,” said Alecia. “Bob has sent the housekeeper on the jet to collect it.”
Back to Emma from Australia, who was worried about making her debut appearance with Botox. She said, “What do you think?”
I told her she looked gorgeous, but too young for Botox. I said that I guessed she was in her late 30s. I tended to let my New Zealand bluntness come through on the few times I met Aussies.
“Thirty-seven actually,” she said. “A bit too close to my use-by-date according to Jack.”
Ah, the men of Monaco. No one ever, ever said to a woman in Monaco, “What do you do for a living?” But they were more than accessories for older men. One of my best friends was Ella, a banker from Switzerland who worked in Monaco as a private wealth manager. She was independent, fun, and single. Of course she was also loaded. Who wasn’t? Many had made their money and moved to Monaco to enjoy their life. They called it Disneyland for Adults.
But Emma from Australia didn’t seem happy. When she told me about her partner Jack informing her that she was close to her use-by-date, I said, “Sorry if this is a bit rude Emma, but isn’t Jack like, 30 years older than you and not exactly an oil painting?”
“You have no idea what it’s like,” she replied. “You’re an important business woman, but Jack never wanted me to work. For women like me, if our husbands decide the marriage is over, we can be left with nothing.”
Tears welled in her eyes.
Monaco was very much a man’s world. I remember dining al fresco with two girlfriends one night. Holly phoned her friend Paul and said, “I’m at the Café de Paris with Anna and Ella. Would you like to come and have a drink with us? We’d love to see you.” Paul dutifully arrived and ordered drinks for everyone. When the bill for the entire evening’s meal and drinks was toted up, the waiter automatically handed it to Paul, the only man at the table. It was the Monaco way. He paid.
I said to Emma the botoxed Australia with tears in her eyes that as I understood it, her partner Jack was an incredibly wealthy man, so if worst came to worst, she would never have to be concerned about her future. They had a child together and she had always been a supportive wife.
But she explained to me, “In Monaco, divorce favours the man. It’s a patriarchal society. The men can afford to stay in Monaco, but the ex-wife can’t unless he allows for that. He decides where the wife and children will live by adjusting the financial offer. He controls everything. Everywhere there are gorgeous young women on the hunt to bag themselves a wealthy man.”
It wasn’t a typical kind of conversation in Monaco. Not long after I arrived in the principality, my friend Katarina phoned, and said, “I have invitation to the Porsche and Cartier launch of new ranges at Hotel de Paris. We all go.”
I said I’d love to, but was curious how she came to be invited. She explained that every time you bought something at a shop like Dior, Louis Vuitton, or Chanel, you put your name on mailing list. Whenever the store staged an event, an invitation would automatically be sent out. Katarina said, “Is always champagne, hors d’oeuvres, goodie bags, and all our friends are there too.” She was absolutely right. There was the Chopard exhibition on a superyacht in Monaco port, the Maybach launch at the Vista Palace, the Mercedes new collection in their showroom, the new Dior collection in their salon…
But none of this mattered to my friend Emma from Australia. She contemplated her life and prospects as the beautiful wife of a rich man in Monaco, and said, “It’s a very insecure way to live for women like me.” I sometimes wonder what happened to her.
“Anna Shilling” is the collective pen name for four women (including the Kiwi who wrote this piece) who are the co-authors of All in Monte Carlo: Inspired by True Events, a novel which reveals what life is really like in Monaco, the world’s richest and most secretive enclave. All in Monte Carlo is available in bookstores nationwide plus as an ebook. Below: the disguised Kiwi author reading her novel.