Swellboy on… Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe

In praise of the dashing prince’s smooth-operator style…

Image: Brijesh Patel

I recently received a note from Jason Basmajian, the creative director of Gieves & Hawkes, saying he had read an article I had written about the Greek shipping tycoons of the 1950s and 1960s and, while he agreed with me that they occupied the place in the popular imagination now filled by Russian oligarchs and Chinese billionaires, he nevertheless felt that the scandals then – of which there were a lot – were carried out with greater style than they are now. Jason is himself a stylish man and clearly has great taste in journalism as well as clothes, and his words came into my mind as I was reading through the proofs of my book about the Marbella Club.

I hope that there is some good stuff in there, not least some excellent photographs by Slim Aarons, as well as some amusing jet-set trivia from the golden years of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when life seemed to be lived with more elegance than it is today.

Writing this book and recounting how donkeys used to far outnumber cars on the roads and how the Beautiful People discovered a paradise of simple pleasures, I wondered, as I often do, whether life really was more elegant back then or whether it is just nostalgia that makes it so. As you may know I am an incurable nostalgic. I seem to be cursed to appreciate life only as it recedes in the rear-view mirror; I am so busy negotiating the winding and at times complicated road of my life that at times I find myself missing the scenery.

I try the old carpe-diem approach, but find that, at my age, life moves too fast for me to be able to seize the day. However, this was not a problem that assailed Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe, as the following anecdote, related to me by his nephew Pablo shows; alas, this was not an anecdote that I was able to fit in the book, so regard it like one of those bonus tracks on what in my day we used to call compact discs.

Pablo is a lovely chap, a talented designer, sportsman and bohemian. He lives in the hills behind Marbella, and now drives Alfonso’s old Ferrari – a special model that was apparently ordered by Gianni Agnelli (uncle of Alfonso’s first wife Princess Ira von Furstenberg) but which the Fiat boss passed on to Alfonso.

It was one of those moments a car collector dreams of, as slumbering under a dirty tarpaulin covered in bird droppings and other detritus was a genuine treasure. But it was in a shocking state and Pablo needed to have it fixed up. While he was cleaning out the decades-old rubbish, Pablo came across an old bra which he took to Alfonso.

By this time Alfonso was nearing the end of his life, but on seeing this mid-century piece of underwear his features lightened with a flicker of the youthful vigour that had made him one of the most dashing men of the jet age.

“I have been wondering where that got to,” he chuckled.

And then recounting the tale in a way that only Alfonso could, he told Pablo how almost half a century earlier, in his new Ferrari, he had taken an attractive young American girl for a drive in the country. Today that countryside is covered by apartments and villas, but back then the wild untamed campo came right up to the edge of town, and before long Alfonso, the Ferrari and the girl were on their own.

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Alfonso always kept a rifle handy in the car… just in case… and seeing a young deer he stealthily raised the gun to his shoulder and killed the animal cleanly with a single shot. He then skinned it, made a fire, spread a rug on the ground and prepared his young friend an alfresco supper of spit-roast deer. The sun sank into the western horizon and the stars began to appear in the ink-dark night sky. It was a magical evening and the young American and the hunter prince were not immune to the magic.

One thing led to another and before long the two were entwined across the front seats of the Ferrari.

“You will notice that there is no ashtray in that Ferrari,” Alfonso told Pablo. “It was getting in the way, so I ripped it out and threw it from the window.”

Pablo then asked the question, “Who was the girl?”

“Oh, I don’t think you will have heard of her, she was a young actress.”

“Tell me,” insisted Pablo.

“She was called Kim Novak.”

A handsome prince, a hunting rifle, a priceless Ferrari, a deer killed and cooked on the spot and a night under the stars with one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood.

I think even the least nostalgic among you will concede that back then some people really did live with more style than today.

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