Bohemian Rhapsody

Daily Mail (London), September 8, 2012 | Go to article overview

Bohemian Rhapsody


Byline: Glenys Roberts

Scruffy Tangier has spruced itself up--but it's as wildly exotic as ever, says Glenys Roberts MORNING service at St Andrew's Church, and the well-mannered congregation is singing Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken. Afterwards, in the churchyard, they greet others in plummy tones that can be heard anywhere in the Home Counties.

Suddenly a well-dressed elderly lady, she must be 90, snaps out of the impeccable character suggested by her Chanel suit and pearls, and starts pointing frantically at a barely healed hole in her calf.

'You see that,' she screams like a fishwife, 'Birdie did it!' Welcome to expat heaven Tangier, Morocco, where the British still cling to an elegant social round, for the most part long gone in the mother country.

With their own church; their favourite hotel, the Minzah, built by the immensely rich Marquis of Bute in the Thirties; their own riding school; and their own cemetery (and pet cemetery), it is one of world traveller Michael Palin's favourite destinations as described in his book Sahara.

Palin tells of the typically bizarre churchyard scene when Birdie, an elderly white pet cockerel, took a bite out of a retired widow called Lady Baird. Quite why I fell in love with Tangier and its eccentric ways, I can't remember.

I have been visiting it since the Sixties and seen it change from a scruffy town to a modern city with French restaurants, beach bars and a summer influx of some of Europe's richest people.

Mick Jagger, who has kept a flame alive for it almost as long as I have, paid a flying visit this year to see his favourite jeweller Majid, and I met Sixties rock chick Pattie Boyd, still looking a million dollars stretched out under a coconut hair parasol.

I first visited the white city, as it is known because of its dazzling buildings and fabulous light, on a day trip from Gibraltar on the shuttle plane run in those days by Gibair. When the plane was grounded by sea mist, the company put us up in the Minzah. I was smitten and have never stayed anywhere else since.

With its entrance in the middle of the town and view over the bay, it is surely one of the best-placed hotels in the world.

It is hard to think of a better positioned town either. On a headland where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean and overlooking Cape Trafalgar, where Nelson lost his life, it is a must for history buffs.

WEB The town has had Western visitors ever since the 17thcentury diarist Samuel Pepys was sent there to wind up the British garrison in 1683.

WISDOM American Bowles as a dump -- interesting ever Read travelmail.

Gore Vidal came to Tangier for the boys, Errol Flynn for the girls.

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