Magazine article The Spectator

Born Free

Magazine article The Spectator

Born Free

Article excerpt

I met a wealthy widow in Monaco the other day who was so pressed for space to keep her designer frocks she paid $1.5 million to buy the apartment below her penthouse as a walk-in wardrobe.

Sandi Tollman is an attractive blonde whose late husband made his fortune in smart boutique hotels like The Milestone overlooking Kensington Palace. Sandi today has a new partner, Emile, a handsome, youngish, Lebanese gentleman. Emile used to be Sandi's chauffeur. 'We knew something was up when Sandi moved from the back of the Rolls to sit beside Emile in the front seat, ' one observer told me.

Sandi is a friend of Prince Albert, Monaco's ruler. She is also very generous. When she heard two leopards from his private zoo were being flown to a game reserve in South Africa she offered to pay the £50,000 transportation costs.

Sandi was at the zoo at 8 a. m. to greet Albert when he arrived for a photocall with the leopards before they took off for the freedom of the savannah. For 16 years the brother and sister leopards, Pitou and Sirius, have only known a life behind bars, the last eight gazing from their cliffside cage at Russian babe-magnet yachts anchored in Monte Carlo's harbour.

Albert looked as if he needed support.

You might think how tough can life be living in a 220-room pink palace on the rocks right over the Med with all that zero-rated nondom cash pouring in. But every time he faces the press it's the same old questions about Monaco being a haven for money launderers and his refusal to hand over financial information about British tax exiles to the Treasury.

You could forgive Albert, as he caught sight of the photographers and then the leopards, for wondering which of these carnivores was more deadly.

He wore a blue business suit, no tie and a fawn raincoat. You wouldn't say he had his mother Grace Kelly's looks, but he has a nice voice and speaks with an American accent.

Albert wanted this photocall to go well. He has been trying to rebrand the Principality and attract a younger, more eco-friendly non-dom crowd than Philip Green and Shirley Bassey. Of course it doesn't hurt that he has a beautiful partner, Charlene Wittstock, a South African swimming champion, indeed a bit of a Grace Kelly lookalike. Their marriage is being planned for September.

Charlene has supported Albert in setting up a foundation to act as a catalyst for environmental projects. This came after he saw the ice melting in the Arctic and hired Belgravia consultants to promote it at his new Mayfair consulate. …

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