A tale by John Harvey, former Arran resident and writer now living in Aberdeen.
The following story was originally written for a collection of readings for the Lemon Tree writers’ group (Aberdeen) under the general heading of “My brush with celebrity”. John has kindly sent it in to share with Voice readers, and hopefully there may be more family tales of his time in Arran to come…
Arran always seemed classless to me; one was judged purely on what one did and how one behaved. Even so we did have our own aristocracy and though Lady Jean Fforde no longer lived in Brodick castle she was still very much the summit of whatever social hierarchy remained and being about six foot tall she was easy to spot when she was out and about and was held in high regard by the older and more respectable island residents. What I didn’t know and was only to discover during the course of the events I am relating was that she was a cousin of Prince Rainier of Monaco and that Princess Antoinette, Rainier’s sister, had been her close friend from childhood and each would visit the other on a regular basis. This particular year, 1982, Antoinette was coming to Arran for a late summer holiday. So? What had that to do with me, a lemonade delivery man who lived in the south end with his wife and four sons in an isolated, tumbledown house three quarters of a mile from the road?
My eldest son, Simon, had secured a place at a London drama college but we could not get a grant so he was, temporally he hoped, working in the Royal Bank. He was also playing the lead (identical twins) every Thursday evening throughout the summer in “Ring Round The Moon”, a play by Jean Anouilh, in a production put on by the Brodick players. Quite coincidentally this happened to be Princess Antoinette’s favourite play and she was in Arran in time for the final performance so naturally the two middle-aged and gracious cousins were shown to the best seats in the hall. During the interval my pal Stewart overheard Antoinette asking “who is that boy?” in a manner that suggested she was truly impressed so he leant over and told her what he knew of Simon’s circumstances. The upshot was that the following day my wife and I were sitting in Lady Jean’s front room (along with her pointer dogs) listening to the Princess being outraged that such a fine young actor was not at drama college and deeply shocked that a grant was not forthcoming from the local authority. While we sat there she picked up the phone and started to talk to ‘Paddy’, regaling him with Simon’s thespian virtues and trying to persuade him to help.
Her chum Paddy it turned out was Sir Anton Dolin, the world famous dancer/choreographer, who also happened to be the driving force on the board of the Arts Educational Schools in London and in less time than it took me to finish my cup of tea Princess Antoinette had secured Simon a college place on approval provided he reported there first thing on Monday morning – oh, and he could stay at ‘Paddy’s place’ on Bayswater Road and he would be expected there tomorrow and here is the address. We left in a daze of gratitude and yes we would love to come over for tea on Tuesday. On Saturday Simon, who had been in Glasgow for a party, headed to London per instructions but totally unprepared for all that was to follow.
Sunday September 12th was a quiet day for us and we were able to reflect both on our new ‘royal’ acquaintances and Simon’s good fortune and look forward to teatime on the coming Tuesday when we would have a chance to say thank you properly. It was not to be. Late on Monday evening Lady Jean phoned to say that Antoinette had had to return to Monte Carlo as Princess Grace (Grace Kelly) had been killed in a car crash. She advised us to say nothing of it to anyone as the story had not yet broken. Shock, sadness, grief, all those feelings of course, but somehow colouring them all was the startling fact that for the next few hours at least we in our lonely field would be in possession of a headline item of news as yet denied to the rest of the world.
Featured image shows Prince Rainier with his sister Antoinette, and his daughter, Caroline (behind), in 1983.