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TV blog: Inside Monaco: Playground of the Rich and A Greek Odyssey with Bettany Hughes

Benjie Goodhart / 05 June 2020

A new BBC documentary series reveals the lavish lifestyles of the rich and famous in Monaco, and historian Bettany Hughes explores the Greek islands.

Inside Monaco: Playground of the Rich 1/3, Monday 8th June, 9pm, BBC Two

Around 25 years ago, two friends of mine, a couple of newlyweds, decided to go to the Monaco Grand Prix to see how the other half lived. On the weekend of the race, they went to a bar, and ordered a beer and a glass of champagne. The waiter put them down. “Mille francs,” he said.

Roughly £100 for two drinks. Deciding that the champagne had been an extravagance, for the next round, they ordered a beer and a diet coke. The waiter came back with their drinks. “Mille francs.” Every drink was £50. Twenty five years ago.

The point of the story is that Monaco is not cheap. I know this should be filed under ‘astounding revelations’ between ‘water is wet’ and ‘driving to a beauty spot to test one’s eyesight is weird’, but it’s just an illustration of how bonkers the Monegasque lifestyle really is.

This new three-part documentary series, from director Michael Waldman who made 2018’s excellent Inside the Foreign Office, is basically one enormous illustration of how absurdly opulent life in the principality really is. It’s full of astoundingly rich people who have moved there largely, and rather depressingly, because they don’t have to pay income tax. Instead, the principality is funded by charging 20 per cent VAT on everything sold there. I think my friends’ night out in the bar all those years ago may have built a hospital.

There is no shortage of people in Monaco willing to buy stuff. A rather cheerful blonde widow called Monika Bacardi (yes, as in Bacardi) takes us to a local shopping centre in her vintage Rolls, and reels off a list of designer outlets operating there. It has, she breathlessly reveals, “whatever your heart wants.” Hmm. What if your heart wants a Pot Noodle?

Next it’s off to the marina, where it can cost almost £2000 per-night just to moor your yacht. They have private yachts there up to 156 metres in length. That’s not a yacht, that’s a cruise liner! If you can’t afford your own ship (hide your head in shame, miserable pauper) then you might choose to come to Monaco via helicopter. On Grand Prix weekend, between 600 and 800 helicopters will land there on a single day.

But if you don’t have your own yacht (okay, let’s be charitable and say that you do, but it’s being borrowed by George and Amal in the Bahamas) where to stay in Monte Carlo? Fortunately, there’s a pleasant little bolthole called Hotel de Paris. You could, for example, stay in the Princess Grace suite, whose design was personally overseen by Prince Albert, where you get two floors, a roof terrace with hot tub and pool, and lots of rather iffy paintings of Grace Kelly, for a bargainous 40,000 euros. Sounds reasonable? You haven’t bought it, you understand? That’s per night.

This documentary is an opportunity to gaze at how the other half live. Depending on your perspective, this is either rather delightful glamour-porn, or a sickening exercise in what you could have won, if you weren’t such a colossal plebeian. But where this film really comes into its own is the extraordinary access it has achieved. Much of this first episode is given over to the Grimaldi family, the ruling dynasty that has presided over the principality since the 13th Century.

Among those interviewed are Prince Albert and his wife, the former Olympic swimmer for South Africa, Princess Charlene (I bet there haven’t been any Princess Charlenes before…), and Princess Stephanie. We get to watch Albert at work in his office, which is so full of stuff it might next appear on one of those Channel 5 shows where cleaners come in to de-clutter all the junk from the house of some abject hoarder.

He has changed almost nothing of the office since his mother used it. In truth, her image hangs heavy over Monaco almost 40 years after her death, and the documentary also looks at the role this extraordinary woman played in putting her adoptive home on the map. Quite what she’d make of all the YouTubers and Instagrammers gadding about in their gaudy gold Lamborghinis is anyone’s guess, but I guess that’s ‘progress’ for you…

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A Greek Odyssey with Bettany Hughes 1/6, Friday 12th June, 9pm, Channel 5

As I watched historian Bettany Hughes galivanting around the Greek islands for this new series, a theory came to me. We are told that the cradles of civilisation in Europe were Greece and Italy. By chance, they just happen to be probably the most delightful holiday destinations on the continent. But who tells us this? Historians. And where do the historians therefore get to go and hang out? Greece and Italy. It may very well be that the real cradles of civilisation are Siberia and rural Finland, but it’s a bit parky and the wine is crap, so they’ve just drawn a quiet veil and booked a package to Mykonos.

Well, good luck to them. If it means I get to watch programmes like this, set amidst the sleepy beauty of the Greek islands, I’m all for it. This six-part series sees the infectiously enthusiastic Hughes investigating much of Greek history, culture and mythology by retracing Odysseus’ journey home from Troy, from East to West. “I want to try to experience what he experienced,” she says. So she’s hoping to take ten years to make a voyage that should last a few weeks, encounter sea monsters, whirlpools and sirens, get shipwrecked on a deserted island for seven years, before finally returning home and murdering all her partner’s suitors. I reckon they could get three or four series out of that.

First, it’s off to the island of Fourni, to hook up with a historical dive team who are investigating one of 58 shipwrecks on the seabed there. It has sat there, 45 metres down, for 1500 years. The weather takes a turn for the worse, and Hughes is relieved when the divers safely surface. “I’m glad they’re okay. It’s pretty gnarly out there,” she comments, forgetting for a moment that she’s not a Californian surfer dude. But the finds from the dive are remarkable. The seas around Fourni seem to be littered with millennia-old amphorae, in the same way ours are full of rusting cans of Hofmeister.

Next, it’s off to Chios which, Hughes tells us, is the birthplace of Homer. Far be it from me to disagree, but I think she’ll find he was born in Springfield. On Chios she meets an old friend, George, who takes her for dinner in a local taverna with family and friends. As she talks to viewers down the lens, her hosts keep offering her local delicacies – herb balls, tomato balls and the like. I’ve not seen so many balls in a piece to camera since the last Presidential briefing.

Next, it’s Lesbos, where she goes to bathe in mineral-rich volcanic spring waters, as people have done for 2500 years. She meets an elderly local woman, Elvira, and asks her, via translator, what it is she likes about bathing in the springs. It turns out she doesn’t really like it, she cheerfully announces, and she’d rather be at home, but her friends brought her with them. I think I love Elvira.

Next, she’s taking a small boat to Samos. The boat’s skipper tells her that he doesn’t understand how Odysseus could have taken ten years to make the journey from Troy to Ithaca. Hughes explains that he kept getting distracted. Before lockdown, I’d have argued that quite such extreme levels of distraction weren’t possible, but that was before I tried to get my son to do his schoolwork. At least Odysseus didn’t behave like my daughter doing home education, or the Odyssey would just be full of someone having massive tantrums about times tables. Speaking of maths, Samos is the birthplace of Pythagoras who, it turns out, also invented an extraordinarily clever mug that stopped people from drinking too much wine. I can flatly tell you that no such mug will ever darken the doors of my home.

This is an absolute gem of a show. Hughes is knowledgeable and passionate, the Greek islands are breathtakingly lovely, and the history and culture are thoroughly engrossing. Now, how long, do you think, before they discover an ancient temple on Barbados?

The best… and the rest

Saturday 6th June

Alan Carr’s Epic Gameshow, 7:30pm, ITV: As part of his series resurrecting old game shows for one-off revisits, the betoothed one brings back The Price Is Right. Altogether now “Come on down!”

Michael McIntyre’s Big Laughs 1/4, 8:15pm, BBC One: The popular funny man looks back at some of the best moments from five seasons of his Big Show. Tonight, those on the receiving end include Judge Rinder, Holly Willoughby, Jamie Oliver and Gary Barlow.

Great Paintings of the World with Andrew Marr 1/3, 8:15pm, Channel 5: Yes, that’s right, a high-brow arts documentary on Channel 5. Well, it makes a welcome change from programmes about bailiffs or vets. Tonight, Marr looks at a cheeky little sketch known as The Mona Lisa.

Peter Crouch: Save Our Summer 1/8, 9:15pm, BBC One: New variety show, fronted by the 28ft-tall beanpole retired footballer, featuring live music, comedy skits, and celebrity guests joining via video link. Maya Jama and Alex Horne co-present.

Queen Mary: How She Saved the Royals, 9:15pm, Channel 5: This week’s Saturday night royal doc on C5 focuses on the Queen’s grandmother, a symbol of national stability, and the role she played in guiding the nation after the abdication of her son, Edward VIII.

Sunday 7th June

World Cup Final ’66: England v West Germany, 1:30pm, Channel 4: Watch the most iconic match in English football history, in the company of Sir Geoff Hurst, Gaby Logan and star guests. The original match was watched by 32.3m Brits. Channel 4 will be hoping for similar! No spoilers please, I’m looking forward to finding out who wins…

Murder in the Outback: The Falconio and Lees Mystery 1/4, 9:15pm, Channel 4: Four-part documentary series, stripped across the next four nights, investigating the killing of Brit Peter Falconio in Australia’s Northern Territory in July 2001.

Monday 8th June

Sitting in Limbo, 8:30pm, BBC One: Drama based on a true story from the Windrush scandal. Anthony Bryan (Casualty’s Patrick Robinson) has lived in the UK for 50 years. One day, the manager of the care home where he works informs him that he has no legal right to work, and must be suspended. Months later, his home is raided and he is taken to a detention centre.

Wednesday 10th June

The Railway 24/7, 1/6, 9pm, Channel 5: Oh good grief. Another documentary series taking us ‘behind the scenes’ of a railway company. Honestly, where did they get the idea. This time, it’s the TransPennine Express. Honestly, I could weep.

Thursday 11th June

You Are What You Wear 1/4, 8:05pm, BBC One: Rylan Clark-Neal, seemingly the busiest man in showbiz these days, presents a new fashion makeover show where five stylists help out someone in need of some sartorial, and often emotional, assistance.

What We Do in the Shadows, 10pm, BBC Two: A second series of the offbeat, hilarious and risqué sitcom about three vampires living in 21st Century New York. Starring Matt Berry, Kayvan Novak and Natasia Demetriou.

Friday 12th June

A Greek Odyssey with Bettany Hughes 1/6, 9pm, Channel 5: The historian and classicist explores Greece from the ancient times to modern day. Nice work, if you can get it.

The Other One 1/6, 9pm, BBC One: New sitcom about two (half) sisters, born days apart, and both called Catherine Walcott, who have no idea the other exists until their father dies. Starring Lauren Socha, Ellie White, Rebecca Front, Siobhan Finneran and Stephen Tompkinson.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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