Royal wave: On board with blue-blooded sailor Pierre Casiraghi
by Stewart Campbell
Pierre Casiraghi, son of Princess Caroline, talks to Stewart Campbell about his family, life in Monaco – and all that is wrong with modern superyachting...
Monaco is a very small place with one very big family. The Grimaldis have ruled here since 1297, stewarding the principality through a dramatic evolution from sleepy fishing port to the wealthiest two square kilometres on planet Earth. Few other royal dynasties can boast such a transformative legacy as this – nor one of the 20th century’s greatest love stories. It’s a rich history, but not one that appears to weigh too heavily on the shoulders of Pierre Casiraghi, son of Princess Caroline and Stefano Casiraghi and grandson of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III, as he sits on the terrace of the Hôtel Hermitage polishing off a “very fine” bottle of red. But that doesn’t mean he wants to talk about it. When our conversation veers too closely to what it’s like being royal in a principality whose population barely touches 40,000, he withdraws a little, disappearing behind a half smile and narrowed eyes. His answers come slower, after a pause. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to crack the code. When we get onto sailing, he’s forward again in his chair, with no filter.
Before our meeting at the Monaco Yacht Show, I had caught him at the Perini Navi Cup in Porto Cervo, where he was helming his uncle Marco Casiraghi’s newly purchased Perini, Principessa VaiVia. The kind of stately eight-knot progress and minutes-long manoeuvres of the heavy steel- hulled yacht couldn’t be further from the kind of racing he’s used to. Still, “I get excited at the start of any race. Once I’m in the 10-minute zone, I go nuts, wherever the boat,” he says. Until 2017 Casiraghi skippered a successful GC32 racing team, Team Malizia. If this class is unfamiliar, think lots of small, extremely fast foiling cats and the constant potential for disaster; it definitely sits at the extreme end of the fleet racing spectrum. TP52s? Not even close, according to Casiraghi. “I totally understand that TP52s are a fun class, but if you’re a good sailor, you’re going to go on a GC32. It’s the most undervalued fleet racing in the world. It’s the scariest, the most aggressive and most insane fleet. No one wants to admit it, but not many people have the balls to be on a starting line with 11 boats reaching 33 knots. There is no comparison.”
He reckons the edgiest it ever got was in his first year of competition in the class. He and another team were bearing down on a mark, maybe making 36 or 37 knots and it was unclear who was going to get there first. “We’re converging on two different tacks and at one point he’s a little in front, then we are, and at the same time you have teams coming upwind, with their own priority. You have to be totally committed. I said to myself, ‘I’m going to get to that mark, that’s my mark, I’m the fastest’. You can’t be afraid of flipping, or of the mast breaking. I remember telling the team to stop what they were doing and just hold on. If you make a single mistake in that moment, you know people are going to get injured, or worse.” He beat the other team to the mark – just. Remembering that moment now, he says thoughtfully, “I don’t think I could do that today”. There are two reasons for this newfound appreciation for mortality: his children, Stefano and Francesco. They were born quickly, one after the other and soon after his marriage in 2015 to the well-known Italian journalist Beatrice Borromeo. “I think there comes a point when you naturally start taking fewer risks. When you’re at that level of risk, and you start hesitating, you’re in trouble.” Does he miss it? “I miss some parts of it. I miss some of those feelings, when you share an extreme moment like that with the team.”
He works more behind the scenes now, in close collaboration with friend and famed ocean sailor Boris Herrmann. The pair competed in the GC32 class together and in 2017 took on the Fastnet in an IMOCA 60. In 2020 Herrmann, competing as Team Malizia, will take part in the Vendée Globe, the single-handed, non-stop race around the world. Casiraghi and team are working with 15 schools across Europe on an educational programme that will allow children to follow the yacht and learn about the different ecosystems encountered along the way, wrapping in ocean conservation and biodiversity. “Using the boat, the teachers can speak about the different continents and different wildlife in the ocean, and emphasise how to protect it. There’s a whole list of things they can learn, and they each get a paper model of the boat that they have to build. Each kid gets one and then we try to keep an update throughout the race so they can follow the boat and get involved.
Casiraghi’s own education was decidedly normal for someone with his background. He and his siblings, Andrea, Charlotte and Alexandra, all attended French state school. “We were like any other kid. You go to school every morning, come home in the evening, do your homework. We were conscious that our situation wasn’t exactly the same as everyone else’s, but I don’t think it affected us.” After school he studied law in Paris and then international economics in Milan; “I thought, economics, that will always be useful.” Today sees him playing a key role in various family businesses, as majority shareholder in helicopter firm Monacair and construction company Engeco, both founded by his father, Stefano, who died tragically during a speedboat race off Monaco in 1990. Pierre, born in 1987, was just three at the time of the accident. He’s clearly proud of the role his family has played in Monaco’s development. “If you imagine Monaco at the beginning of the 20th century, it was a really small town which had the elite coming in the winter and the rest of the year it was just fishermen and some little hotels. It was a very simple life and this helps us keep our feet on the ground and appreciate everything we have. One generation back, two generations back, people were living in completely different conditions. A lot of people remember that here.”
Perhaps it’s being a big part of such a small place that forces the shutters down when things get too personal. “Everyone deserves their privacy,” he says. “I understand people are curious [about our family], but that’s not privacy. Privacy is something that touches you and your immediate circle. It’s a question of respect.” He looks sympathetically across at his royal peers in the UK who spend their lives on the front pages. “Poor William and Harry! I mean, listen, it’s very difficult to compare us. Great Britain is a very big place with a lot of people; we come from a very small place with different traditions. But they also deserve their privacy.” Sailing – and sport more generally – offers Casiraghi a way out of the chains imposed upon him. “Sailing is an escape, it’s an adventure. As I kid I was always reading books about adventure, about being outside. It was always something I wanted to do and the first time I went sailing on my own, or went out with a friend, it was just freedom. No one could come and tell me, ‘Go there,’ or ‘Do this.’ It felt like a mini adventure just for me.” This passion to explore, to discover, hasn’t abated and is reflected in how he chooses to spend his downtime. “I like climbing. I go skydiving. I’m a dive instructor for scuba diving. I love to be outside in the forest trekking. I do a lot of horse riding. I like to play football. I do a lot of boxing. You can drive 40 minutes towards Ventimiglia and you have amazing canyoning.”
Sport is a thread that runs right through Monaco life, from motor racing to show jumping, and it’s one of the reasons so many sports stars choose to live here. “Prince Albert has definitely set Monaco on a sports path and I think that’s amazing. So many sportspeople live here and it’s not just for tax reasons. If you go to the stadium, you have every sport from fencing, swimming, diving, boxing, you name it. All the track and field.” And, of course, the beaches – and boats. Despite the yacht show happening just below us, Casiraghi doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to visit the superyachts jammed fender to fender in Port Hercules. “I’m quite pissed off with most yacht designers. I don’t understand what the hell they’re doing. No one is reinventing anything. No one is trying to think outside the box. We have completely forgotten what being on a boat is about. It’s about being on the sea, it’s not about being in an apartment. All these new superyachts are all about interior space, covered decks and you’re so far from the water, which means going for a swim, which should be your primary thought, requires you to go down an elevator three floors. I don’t understand it.” The two modern yachts he can bring himself to admire are Andrey Melnichenko’s Motor Yacht A and Sailing Yacht A. “At least they’ve tried to develop something new; they’re creating a new design and I think the yacht industry is lacking a lot of that.”
He prefers the classics, and likes to spend time on board Pacha III, the family’s 36 metre Camper & Nicholsons motor yacht built in 1936. “You’re right on the water and you feel like you’re on a boat, so you know why you’re going.” He understands the modern vogue for explorer yachts – “at least they have a purpose and can sail in big sea conditions” – and harbours an ambition to build his own yacht. “I have it all in my head,” he says. “I know exactly what I would do.” But will he tell me? “I can’t. It terrifies me that someone would build it.” He does reveal that it will be a motor yacht and based on a model from the 1930s that he saw – and now owns. “It will be about 30 or 35 metres, so not big, and it will have classic style but it will also be a modern, elegant boat.” I press for more details, but it’s no use. He’s sitting back in his seat, hiding behind that half smile and those narrowed eyes.