Prince Alexander in his Parisian apartment posing in front of a François Flameng portrait
of his grandmother, the "indomitable" Grand Duchess Helen Vladimirovna.
One of the hardest aspects about composing an obituary is to maintain a neutral approach to the subject at hand. When one knew the person whose obituary one is writing, this is a sometimes insurmountable task. This, in fact, is my problem as I attempt to pen the obituary of my dear friend Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia.
I first met Prince Alexander through email. A distant relation of his put us in contact and an email correspondence began in earnest. Soon enough, he invited me to come visit him in Paris, where he lived the majority of his life. In no time, I was Paris-bound and with a visit to Prince Alexander and his wife Princess Barbara in my agenda.
That first of what turned out to be countless visits over the years remains an indelible memory. I had expected that perhaps I would be welcomed and the visit would last 30 minutes. Not so. I spent hours talking away with Prince Alexander and his wife. We discussed those royals we both knew and how our circles had run parallel many years, but not until then coalesced. As evening approached, Prince Alexander suggested that we continue our talk over dinner at one of the many excellent bistros dotting his Parisian neighborhood. The couple lived in a spacious apartment in a fashionable address just off the Champs Elysses. This, as it turned out, would become our routine during each one of my visits over years to come: a good talk, a few drinks, a nice dinner to top it all off.
In the course of it all, a budding friendship was born. In the end, Prince Alexander and I reached a point in our friendship in which we would not have any taboos between us. Everything was discussable, no secrets existed, disagreements were simple differences of opinion, candor and honesty was the fuel that kept our friendship enriched and fulfilling.
In due course, Prince Alexander and Princess Barbara came to visit Dave (my husband) and me in San Francisco. My mother also joined us during the visit. Prince Alexander and mother also hit it off. They all attended the Eurohistory Conference. We went wine tasting, had marvelous lunches and dinners, we did a lot of sightseeing. The last night before they returned to Paris, mother and I cooked Costa Rican food for them. Prince Alexander loved it. That was the type of person he was. He was always interested in new things...never hesitated to try something new.
We shared a love of wine, while also enjoying a whisky here and there. I remember the funniest dinner we ever had. It was here in San Francisco. He wanted to go to a Chinese restaurant. I made reservations at a local "hole in the wall," and told him about it. "Well, dear Arturo, they are usually the best restaurants," he told me in an effort to boost my confidence. Once there, he asked for the wine carte. The owner, a lady who had immigrated from China about a decade earlier, said "Oh, we only have a house wine." Prince Alexander reassured her that the "house wine" would be fine. Two carafes soon enough made it to our table. I was mortified and had nightmares of my friend just spitting the noxious liquid. Surprisingly, it was fairly good wine. Several carafes later, he asked the owner to show him the bottle – she looked at me and lowered her eyesight. "It's OK, we like it, we just want to see who bottles this exquisite wine," Prince Alexander said. That poor woman walked as slowly as possible in an effort, surely, to run out the clock before we left, or better yet, forgot about the request.
Prince Alexander and Princess Barbara during their visit to San Francisco,
where they actively participated in the Eurohistory Conference.
Eventually, the lady brought us an empty bottle. Prince Alexander took it and started inspecting it. He smelled the inside and told me, "it has a delicious aroma." "Arturo, who is this Charles Shaw, and where is his vineyard?" I swallowed a big gulp and said, "well, apparently he is a very mysterious winemaker and has a formula that allows him to have phenomenal pricing," I replied. Charles Shaw Wines is more commonly known in California as "Two-buck Chuck" and sold (then) for $1.99 a bottle at Trader Joe's. The thing about "Two-buck Chuck" is that sometimes, often in fact, one gets a pretty decent wine inside that bottle. That was the case that evening. The wine, in spite of its low-cost, was quite good.
I never told Prince Alexander the story between "Two-buck Chuck." On one of my visits he asked me to bring him a couple of bottles, which I did. I hoped, but never asked, if they were as good as the ones we had had in the Chinese restaurant!
When Dave and I decided to adopt our first son, I shared the news with Prince Alexander. "You are a valiant man, far more courageous than I am," he said. "But I salute you for what you are doing and I hope that child realizes how lucky he is to have you both as his fathers." He never cared that Dave and I were Gay. He once told me he had hoped to attend our wedding and was sad to have missed it. Whether he meant it or not, or he was just being kind, that was the sort of person Prince Alexander was. He always made you feel like the most important person in the room. When you sat with him, he was not the protagonist, you were!
Another time, Prince Alexander and Princess Barbara suggested that Dave and I come with them to spend an afternoon in Versailles. There was an exhibition both wanted to see and they thought it would be a perfect excuse to get out of Paris for the day. We drove to Versailles and there were able to park in the VIP lot since he had diplomatic license plates on his BMW 7 Series. However, as we reached the ticket booth, the line snaked for hundred of yards. "I cannot stand in line this long," he said. "Let me see what I can do," I told him. I went to the ticket office and in my best French explained to the lady in charge that a cousin of The Queen and a cousin of the Sovereign Prince of Liechtenstein were in Versailles for the day and wanted to see the exhibition. Not only did she usher us in immediately, but also refused to take payment. "It's an honor," she told me. Prince Alexander would not have it. We had to pay, like the rest of visitors. "Privilege should only get you some benefits," he said. We laughed. "What a team we make your husband and I," he told Dave.
Although I will continue visiting Princess Barbara in Paris, in the room there will be a big empty space once occupied by a giant of a man. Giant not only physically, but in spirit, presence, demeanor, culture and education.
HRH Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia departed this work in the early hours of May 12, 2016. He was born at White Lodge in 1924, the eldest son of Prince Paul of Serbia (Yugoslavia had not been founded yet) and of his beautiful wife Princess Olga of Greece. "My father was an erudite man, a Renaissance man, a walking dictionary of culture with a a keen eye for all that was beautiful," Alexander once told me. "As for my mother, well, she was simply beautiful."
Two other children (Nicholas and Elizabeth) eventually joined the family.
When the Second World War broke out, Prince Alexander was attending Eton. He hurriedly returned to Yugoslavia, where his father served as prince Regent since the assassination of King Alexander in 1934. Prince Alexander always remember his uncle King Alexander with great fondness, "we were both of the same temperament, fearless, daring, troublemakers ... I identified with Uncle Alexander more than with my own father," he said. Then when Prince Regent Paul was overthrown and sent to exile. the family had a very difficult time, first in Greece, and later in Kenya and South Africa.
Prince Paul became the object of a nasty campaign designed to malign him and turn his image into that of a pariah. It affected Paul deeply and at times he seemed to have given up on life. Meanwhile, Alexander was sent to England, where he became an air pilot.
Eventually, the Pauls of Yugoslavia and their children were allowed to return to Europe. Paul and Olga settled in a large apartment in Paris, while also frequently visiting a vast villa in the hills overlooking Florence. He had inherited this art-filled jewel from a Demidov aunt.
Life continued. In 1954 Alexander announced to his parents that he wished to marry Princess Maria Pia of Savoy, eldest child of King Umberto II and Queen Mare José of Italy. The wedding took place in Cascais, Portugal, and provided the "royal mob" with an excellent excuse to gather and enjoy a fantastic time.
Three years later Princess Maria Pia gave birth to twins, Dimitri and Michel. Another set of twins made its appearance five years later, but thy then the marriage was experiencing serious trouble. The birth of this second set of twins made Prince Alexander realize that the marriage had crossed its own rubicon and little could be done to save it. "I went to Portugal and met with King Umberto II," he told me. "I explained to him that the circumstances affecting my relationship with his daughter had gone beyond the point where any reconciliation was possible. He was quite upset, "We Savoys do not divorce," he told me. But I replied to him and said, But we Karageorgevichs do! The couple divorced in 1967.
A few years later, Alexander a beautiful princess who possessed (and still does) the most amazing blue eyes one has ever seen. her name was Barbara, her home Liechtenstein. Her father was a cousin of Prince Franz Josef II. Her mother was an aunt of Princess Marie, wife of Hereditary Prince Hans Adam. Barbara's father had lost all his lands and most of his income in the aftermath of the Second World War. With the Red Army fast approaching, the family was forced to pack what they could carry and board a bus that would take them to the safety of Liechtenstein. Life mattered, nothing else had any value in those frantic days.
Alexander and Barbara married in Paris in November 1973. The wedding was a small civil ceremony officiated by the local civil servant. With the happy couple were Prince Paul and Princess Olga of Yugoslavia and Princess Barbara's parents, Prince Johannes and Princess Karoline of Liechtenstein. Count Hans Veit zu Toerring-Jettenbach, a nephew of Princess Olga, stood as Alexander's witness.
After their honeymoon, Alexander and Barbara returned to Paris, where he worked in the world of business. In due course, princess Barbara gave birth to a baby boy, Dushan, who would be the couple's only child.
Prince Alexander and Princess Barbara remained very popular with other members of the Gotha, as well as with most of his first cousins (Kent and Toerring-Jettenbach). They were bound by close links of friendship to Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace of Monaco, as well as to Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Josephine-Charlotte of Luxembourg. While in Paris, they became of of the most popular royal couples and their social life was quite busy. "La belle Barbara," Prince Michael of Greece described Princess Barbara as. "I am quite fond of them both," the late Countess of Paris once told me when she found out that I was very friendly with prince Alexander and Princess Barbara. In fact, in July 2003, we (Alexander, Barbara and I) attended the funeral of the Countess of Paris at Dreux.
"Life has several types of people," Alexander used to remind me, "r-r-r-rats (the worst type), scoundrels (a little easier to tolerate), and scoundrels (that's us)." When I told shared with him that I had had problems with the husband of his cousins, he looked at me and said, "That's a first class r-r-r-rat!" We laughed heartily, but agreed!
In 2006 I decided to republish the memoirs of Prince Nicholas of Greece, Prince Alexander's grandfather. "Please Arturo, please do ... I would like to see them available to the public again,' he said. He was instrumental in providing me access to his sister and all his first cousins in Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom. In the process, I was introduced to the Duke of Kent and was welcomed by Prince Michael of Kent, Count Hans Veit zu Toerring-Jettenbach and his sister Archduchess Helen of Austria. In due course, even the great-grandchildren of Prince Nicholas of Greece beam involved in the project. The book, "MY FIFTY YAERS," was published by Eurohistory in 2007.
Later, Prince Alexander was very helpful when I wrote a photographic biography of his grandmother: "an indomitable woman who remainder you of who she was at all times," he described Grand Duchess Helen Vladimirovna. For this book I used photos from the family's private collections, particular several donated to the project by Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, Alexander's sister. Princess Barbara and the Toerrings also did not hesitate to assist me when researching photo archives for the book.
Interestingly, Prince Alexander and I taped many conversations we had. I still have about 20 cassette tapes with these recordings. I suppose that at some point I will use them to write a book tribute to him, one of the most interesting princes I have met. In fact, my friend Charles Stewart, who met Alexander and Barbara in San Francisco, and later accompanied me to their home in Paris, described Prince Alexander as, "One of the most erudite, articulate and courtly gentlemen I've ever had the privilege of meeting. Among the last of a bygone era who took their heritage as a legacy it was their honor and duty to serve and to enhance."
On May 20, 2016, Prince Alexander will be laid to rest at the site of the Karageorgevich Mausoleum in Oplenac, Serbia. In late June, and in keeping with Orthodox custom, a memorial mass will be celebrated in Paris to mark the 40th day after the prince's death. I plan to be in Paris to bid adieu, for now, to a "first-class scoundrel" one that I grew to love like one cares for one's father.
I will miss my friend...
Princess Olga of Greece and Denmark.
Prince Paul of Serbia (Yugoslavia).
Prince Alexander and his parents c. 1924.
Prince Alexander and his mother c. 1926.
Prince Alexander and his brother Prince Nicholas.
Princess Marina (Duchess of Kent), Prince Alexander, Princess Elisabeth
(Countess zu Toerring-Jettenbach), Princess Olga and Prince Nicholas.
Prince Alexander and King Peter II of Yugoslavia.
Prince Alexander, Prince Nicholas and Princess Elizabeth (held by Alexander).
Princess Olga, the Duchess of kent, Prince Paul, Archduchess Helen of Austria, Princess Alexandra of Kent, the Duke of Kent and Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia.
Princess Olga, Prince Alexander, Princess Maria Pia holding Dimitri and Michel,
and Queen Marie José of Italy.
Princess Katherine of Greece, the Duchess of Kent and Princess Olga of Yugoslavia.
Count Hans Veit zu Toerring-Jettenbach, Prince Alexander and Princess Olga.
(Photo taken by Princess Barbara at the time of their wedding)
Prince Alexander and Princess Barbara of Yugoslavia.
Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and Arturo Beéche, Paris 2012.
(Photo taken by Princess Barbara)
Prince Alexander and Princess Barbara with their son Prince Dushan.
Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and Arturo Beéche, Paris 2006.
(Photo taken by Princess Barbara)
Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and Arturo Beéche, Paris 2012.
(Photo taken by Princess Barbara)
Prince Alexander, David Higdon, Princess Barbara and Arturo Beéche.
Dr. Mary Houck, Princess Barbara and Prince Alexander, and Mrs. Ana de Beéche.
Katrina Warne, Stephen Stephanou, Prince Alexander and David Higdon.
Prince Alexander, Charles B Stewart, Mrs. Ana de Beéche, Thomas Polk.
Prince Alexander and Princess Barbara (Paris).
HRH Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia.
(Schloß Winhoering – Courtesy of Count Hans Veit zu Toerring-Jettenbach).