When Marie-Chantal Miller married Prince Pavlos of Greece her beauty and great wealth brought a new glamour to the exiled Royal House. Three years on she has established herself as one of Europe's most attractive princesses with a cosmopolitan lifestyle that is truly enviable. Madeleine Kingsley profiles this extraordinary woman.
As Marie-Chantal of Greece approaches her 30th birthday (in September), she must be counting her blessings- provided they're not too numerous to calculate. For by birth Marie-Chantal is rich beyond Midas (her father Robert Miller made his multi-millions from his Duty-Free Shoppers retail group); by marriage, she is a Crown Princess. As pretty as a Fragonard picture, she is charming, voguish, and a renaissance art buff to boot. Her adored small daughter, Maria Olympia, numbers Prince Charles among her godparents, while her elder sister Pia is married to a Getty and her younger sister, Alexandra, to a von Fürstenberg.
In short, Marie-Chantal is the very model of international glamour and would, if she were not so paparazzi-shy, be the delicate blonde darling of social diarists across two continents. Couturier Valentino, who made her £150,000 wedding dress with its 12 different types of lace, described her as 'a very modern Grace Kelly', with the same allure, beautiful physique and similar colouring. Crown Prince Pavlos admitted that he was 'stunned by her beauty and personality' when they met at a New Orleans soirée. He proposed at the socialites' ski resort, Gstaad, presenting his new fiancée with a family engagement ring, romantically twinning the heirloom sapphire with a heart-shaped diamond.
In return she reputedly brought him a dowry of £130 million and their wedding in July of 1995 proved the greatest royal gathering for 50 years. Not since the Queen's own marriage had so many crowned heads assembled in festive finery, with the guest list including Royals from Saxe-Coburg and Sweden, Spain, Denmark, Luxembourg and Britain. The celebrations went on for almost a week. A pre-nuptual bash at palladian Wrotham Park in Kent, involving an amazing firework display and 100 Greek dancers, followed a luncheon held on board the Danish royal yacht moored on the Thames and a tea party hosted by the Queen at Claridges.
After the hour-long marriage service at the Cathedral of St. Sophia in London's Moscow Road (decorated with 30,000 flowers), the 1,000 guests repaired to Hampton Court for a lavish wedding breakfast. The only hitch in the splendid proceedings was the subsequent discovery that since the bride and groom had not exchanged their vows in English their union was not actually legal. A fortnight later they rectified the matter with a quick trip to the Chelsea Register Office. The groom's papa, former King Constantine, stood witness.
This fairy tale for our own fin de siecle began in Hong Kong, where the three fabulous Miller girls spent their nursery years. Here, Massachusetts-born Robert Warren Miller based his extravagantly successful duty-free operations and established a sumptuous home with Chantal, his stylish yet decidedly strong-minded Ecuadorean wife, whom he married after a two-month courtship. In 1978, Robert and Chantal set the colony agog with a spectacular three-day party. Marie-Chantal, aged 10 at the time, mingled with the guests, seemingly none too young to learn that hospitality Miller style has a distinction, a largesse, and a set of rules all of its own. The de luxe revels featured a black and white ball, a Brazilian band night and a grand finalé aboard two yachts, with a DJ imported from Paris. Chantal Miller- exotically dressed as an Inca princess- descended by hot air ballon to greet her guests. But, with the party over, the Millers duly donated its cost to their favourite charities.
Marie-Chantal grew up in a close-knit, grandly gregarious, yet paradoxically private family circle. Her father never gave press interviews and, outside of the financial papers, rarely made headlines. Slightly shy and possibly more of a tomboy than her sisters, MC, as she is known, rejected their favoured Barbie dolls for GI Joe action men and admired her father's sporting prowess at golf, white-water rafting and sailing his 60 ft yacht. Student friends of the Miller girls recall them being way beyond the league of brand new BMW belles- it was not unknown for the sisters to zip from class in Georgetown, Washington D.C. to dinner in New York by private jet.
Still, Marie-Chantal was educated to be far more than an heiress of platinum-spoon savoir-faire; culture, character, and social consciousness figured strongly in the Millers' child-rearing curriculum. After prep schools in Hong Kong and France MC went on to Le Rosey, near Lausanne- an exclusive school where the jeunesse dorée learn several languages (in her case French and Italian), take dance classes and spend the winter term in Gstaad, skiing every afternoon. She will have felt thoroughly at home on Switzerland's smartest slopes, having visited her parents' chalet above the town many times. They also had homes in Paris, London, and on the Upper East Side in New York. Most recently Robert Miller paid some nine million pounds for Gunnerside, Earl Peel's 32,000-acre shooting estate in Swaledale, Yorkshire- a perfect country retreat where Maria Olympia (who is two this month and has already been seen snow-suited on the Swiss slopes) can romp safely, and, in due course, learn to ride as well as her mother.
Marie-Chantal's British connection is strong- it is her father's chosen citizenship- her parents-in-law have settled in Hampstead, one of London's most exclusive areas, and Prince Pavlos trained at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, after which he served in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. But Marie-Chantal- who converted to the Greek Orthodox Church before her marriage- and her husband chose Istanbul as the setting for Olympia's baptism. The couple travel a great deal, in fact Marie-Chantal was spotted having drinks with Lady Helen Taylor at the super-stylish Hotel de Costes during a shopping trip to Paris. But for the moment, despite all their international inclinations, Greenwich, Connecticut is home for the Prince and Princess.
Marie-Chantal's lifestyle is very much in the mould of a young and highly privileged American matron. While Pavlos commutes to work in New York as a fund manager, MC juggles her art foundation directorship with hands-on care of her daughter. She has studied art history in New York as well as in Italy, paints in the pop style and buys for her father's major collection of Renaissance works.
No mere paper patron of charities, she has chaired the New York City Ballet's spring gala and was dashed when paternal politics required her to withdraw from co-chairing the prestigious '96 Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Ball, with the late Princess of Wales as the star guest. Unfortunately, the Louis Vuitton/Moet Hennessy king, Bernard Arnault, was also due as a guest of honour at the ball and since he had affronted Bob Miller by making a major share bid for the Duty-Free empire, Marie-Chantal's loyalty to her father compelled her to step aside. However, she remains active in two family charities supporting underprivileged children and environmental causes.
Every designer's dream, the slender Marie-Chantal shops at Chanel, Oscar de la Renta, Armani, and of course, Valentino. As a busy new mother she claimed last year that her beauty routine was minimal: 'A lip gloss, sometimes mascara and concealer, definitely blush.' Caring for Olympia, she added, meant that her first priority was 'comfort, and getting dressed fast in the morning.' Not too hurriedly, for style pundits regularly rate all three Miller girls among the world's 50 best-dressed women.
The sisterly trio is famous for a hallmark French manicure and perfectly kept, pink-polished nails. When in London MC, a model-slim five foot seven, has her shoulder length tresses styled by Knightsbridge crimper Hugh at Hugh & Stephen. 'She usually wears it down and quite casual,' says Hugh's wife Jill, 'but Hugh dressed it up for the wedding and high under her heavy veil.' Valentino apparently supplied a rehearsal train so that MC could practice walking with huge swathes of fabric in her bridal wake. She also wore her mother-in-law's stunning tiara. Yet Marie-Chantal is by no means too spoiled or vain to crack a joke at her own physical expense, holding her grandfather from Boston accountable for one shared family feature: 'our little bumpy nose.'
What next for the Princess of pluperfect fortune? A brother or sister for Olympia seems to be a priority as Marie-Chantal is expecting her second child later this year. Both she and Pavlos (who is one of five) are close to their siblings and do not want their own daughter to miss out. The young couple will also enjoy growing friendships and family links with the Chattos and the Taylors- young British Royals who have small children themselves and share MC's artistic interests- as well as the Linleys. There remains, too, an outside chance of a Greek royal revival with the possibility, albeit remote, that the heiress Princess could one day become Queen. Although not strictly genealogically royal, Marie-Chantal has, according to staff at the Almanach de Gotha, won fond acceptance from the other royal families of Europe. She has what money alone can never buy- their seal of approval as a true Aegean asset.
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