Monday, August 4, 2008

Royal Waywards

A floral detail along the Birdle Path in Central Park.
Love and Marriage,
Love and Marriage
Go together like a horse and carriage.

Sammy Cahn and Jimmy van Heusen

Their Royal Highnesses Princess and Princess Michael of Kent celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary this past June, and now, just two months later, comes word from across the sea, via the Daily Mail, that the Prince has a new girlfriend. With the emphasis on the new. Meaning, this isn’t the first.

What’s interesting about this from a reporter’s point of view is how the royal marriage has been perceived, meaning: they thought she was the boss who did what she wanted (and with whom she wanted) and he was some kind of milquetoast, “the royal family’s resident cuckold.”

Prince and Princess Michael of Kent attending a memorial service for Isobella Blow at the Guards Chapel in London last year.
She was Marie-Christine Reibnitz when Prince Michael gave up his claim to the throne in 1978 (he was 16th in line) in order to marry the Roman Catholic divorcee.
From the beginning, it was said that her bearing was “more royal than the Queen” -- unbearable to many members of the royal family. With the Princess it’s a personality thing. Like a lot of royals (and European aristos) she can put on airs when she feels like it. On top of that she can also “get down” when she’s motivated or in the mood. As a result, the princess has had several liaisons which have looked very suspiciously like affairs, and always with very rich men. Prince or not prince.

Despite these romantic interludes it has never been suspected that she’d leave her prince. That HRH title has a ring to it that lifts one right into First Class without even asking. It was always suspected that Princess Michael’s extra-marital interests were probably conducted with an eye on the bottom line. Get that ice or else no dice. Royal or no royal, the girl’s gotta work.

So it is not surprising that Princess Michael is known in the British tabloids and to a large part of the British population as Princess Pushy; kind of like the Princess you love to hate. There are several reasons for this. One is that she and her husband basically don’t have much in the way of dough. They have been known to earn a few pounds here and there by making themselves available as “guests” -- earning them the additional title of the Rent-a-Kents.

Newlyweds Marie-Christine Reibnitz and Prince Michael of Kent for their wedding portrait in 1978.
The official portrait of Prince and Princess Michael on their 30th wedding anniversary, taken in their Kensington Palace dining room.
Princess Michael has also been known to cultivate relationships with people who can be generous and are willing. Plane trips, yachting trips, guest suites, guesthouses, fashion for the parade, baubles to enhance the sparkle and the shimmer, and of course those guys with the dough who just might like to take a real princess home to mother. So to speak.

On balance, Princess Michael has used her coronet and HRH industriously. She has worked hard to develop a career as a writer and a lecturer (on the subject of royal personages and their personal -- read: intimate - relationships). She is quite good at this and often sells out when she appears (usually at museums and private clubs). She has the ability to convey a bourgeois’ delivery with a regal facade. It is slightly arch but just this side of camp. If Princess Michael were “camp,” as are some other peers we all know, she’d probably have a bigger audience. But alas for her bank account, she’s not.

As far as being compensated for attending a party: they all do it. Celebrities do it all the time, and so do the royals -- all the way up to the tippy-top, they do it. Furthermore Prince Michael is basically a second son even if his cousin is the Queen and his grandfather was the King. In England’s primogeniture that means “you’re on your own kid.”

So you can imagine that Prince Michael may have a strong sense of gratitude behind that somber beard of his that makes him look eerily like his ill-fated cousin Tsar Nicholas II. He ‘s lucky to have a Marie Christine as his princess. She gets results.

The couple, who have two grown children, live at Kensington Palace in a Grace and Favor apartment, a gift of the Queen. Many royals and associates of the Royal Family have apartments there. Princess Diana lived there. So did Princess Margaret. So did George III and his family. Changing times and politics have made these Grace and Favor apartments somewhat of an issue with British taxpayers who are feeling less than generous toward members of the Royal Family -- outside of the Queen -- who do not work.

Prince and Princess Michael also had a country house in Oxfordshire but the aforementioned political pressure required that give it up if they wanted to keep their place in town. They sold it for more than $10 million, so it wasn’t an entirely tragic divestiture. But still, who wants to be a houseguest every weekend?

Todd Morley and Marianne Krex at the opening of Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia's jewelry exhibition at Partridge and Company in London, where Princess Michael of Kent is a director.
These domestic adjustments are now being garnished by the developing perception that Prince Michael is feeling his oats these days, having celebrated his 66th birthday last July 4th. He is seen around town with an attractive 36-year-old blonde named Marianne Krex. They rendevous at a bar called Julie’s in Notting Hill. They attend the ballet together.

Meanwhile, another inamorata, now former, an American artist named Lucy Weber is writing her memoirs which would include her eight years as Prince Michael’s inamorata. Some think she should call it “My Life With Casanova” since Prince Michael used to sign his mash notes to her “Casanova.” The artist kept a diary about her Casanova with such entries as “He loves sex pure, unadulterated. He thinks about it quite a bit during his working hours – loves white suspenders, beige or tan. His sexual senses are keen and he has vivid imagination.”

Along with Ms. Weber’s memoirs in the making, it turns out that the prince has often been the mouse at play when the cat’s away. There was another ballet dancer, Bryony Brind who was often his dining partner when Princess Michael was out of town. There have been others as well. Two years ago the Prince attended a Chinese New Year’s party in the company of historian Leonie Frieda, a woman about fifteen years younger than the prince. There the couple partied, according to one guest, “like a couple of teenagers.” In other words, they were all over each other. At one point while dancing, the prince pulled open his shirt to reveal a gold cross on his bare chest. Royal Family’s resident cuckold indeed. Me Tarzan, you Jane? Milquetoast, indeed.
Clockwise from top left: Russian billionaire Mikhail Kravchenko with Princess Michael (who is 21 years his senior) last year in Venice where they had adjoining 2200 pounds a night suites and she was his "guest"; Marianne Krex, the Prince's latest friend, hiding her face from the camera; Marianne Krex and Prince Michael leaving the ballet. Ms. Krex is 30 years younger than the prince.
No doubt Princess Michael has heard (or at least read) about these magic carpet rides, just as the Prince has known or heard (or at least read) about hers. How it has affected their marriage is not known since they do make public appearances together and they did celebrate their 30th playing the royal card deftly.

Nevertheless, in the last analysis, it would appear that Prince and Princess Michael of Kent have a very workable and possibly agreeable marital arrangement. She gets to be Princess Michael and to enjoy the attention of others whenever she chooses. This brings her privilege, a title, a red carpet existence; and he gets to devote his attention to other, younger women while maintaining his public role as royal husband.

Without question, the wife is the ambitious one in this relationship. For that she must work. In the case of Princess Michael, her labors have not really paid off as much as she would have liked. That incident at Da Silvano here in New York a couple of years ago killed her lecture business for quite some time and therefore affected the family income. The requirement to give up the country house or the royal apartment also surely didn’t help matters. The books she’s labored so intensely over, although well-written never quite made it to best-sellerdom. As a result she’s been required to find other paths to keep the royal household in a royal way. So what’s a kind heart for the coronet every now and then. Isn’t what's good for the goose, good for the gander? Or what’s fit for a prince, fit for a princess?

All photographs courtesy of the Daily Mail.
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