Prince economical with his advice on recession
WHEN we needed a fairy princess, we got the magical glamour of Princess Grace, and just when we're in dire need of a prince on a white steed to distract us all from our misery, along comes her son in timely fashion.
Not that Prince Albert II of Monaco wants us to pin all our hopes on him.
Asked yesterday if he had passed on any tips to our Government, His Serene Highness, who has faced some harsh criticisms back home about his own economic policy plans, gave a "Hah!" that was rather more ironic than "serene".
"I'm not really a good economist myself," he observed, adding: "But we have talked about it. I wish the Government the very best in these difficult times."
The three-day state visit by the prince and his fiancee, Charlene Wittstock, a former Olympic swimmer from South Africa, is the first of two royal trips to our shores -- Britain's Queen Elizabeth II next month will be the second.
Apparently the prince has been here "loads of times" in a private capacity to visit family but this is his first official state visit -- and almost precisely 50 years after that memorable visit by his parents it is clearly a symbolic gesture that means a lot to him.
The fact that the beautiful Ms Wittstock bears more than a passing resemblance to the late Princess Grace -- and that she has Irish roots of her own, in Co Kerry -- is simply good fortune.
On a brief, unofficial walkabout through the streets of Dublin yesterday afternoon, onlookers who weren't actually physically bowled over by the melee stopped to gaze at the willowy blonde. When one elderly man pressed his business card wordlessly into her hand, she hid what may well have been bewilderment and thanked him with impeccable manners.
Leaving her husband-to-be at the Shelbourne Hotel, Ms Wittstock strolled along Grafton Street, popping into Brown Thomas for some Olympic-level shopping, managing to acquire three bags full in just 20 minutes, one bearing the name of the shoe designer Jimmy Choo.
Jetting in quietly on Sunday, Prince Albert and Ms Wittstock spent the night at the K Club enjoying the hospitality of Michael Smurfit -- who is also the honorary Irish consul to Monaco.
Their first port of call yesterday morning was to Aras an Uachtarain, where President Mary McAleese, in a coat of raspberry pink and matching leather gloves, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in an emerald green tie, awaited.
Ms Wittstock was elegant in a light tweed trouser suit, in oatmeal hues, a black coat and taupe designer shoes. Both wore a pin of the Monaco and Irish flag intertwined.
There was a lavish military display, with the Army No 1 band, an escort of honour from Cathal Brugha Barracks, and a guard of honour by the Army's 1 Southern Brigade, the Naval Service from Haulbowline naval base and Air Corps troops from Baldonnell.
Low cloud cover put paid to a planned flyover and they had to be content with a 21-gun salute.
After signing the visitors' book, the couple paused for pictures, Ms Wittstock's enormous diamond engagement ring flashing in the sun as they met children from St Joseph's National School in Kilmessan, Co Meath.
Sixth-class pupil Molly McWeeney (12), a big fan of the President, had written a letter to the Aras some years ago and again recently. Her persistence was rewarded yesterday with an invitation for the school.
Taking part in the traditional tree-planting ceremony, Prince Albert neatly placed a three-year-old Irish oak, noting to head gardener Philip Norris that the recent rain showers would be a good thing.
From there, it was on to the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square for a wreath-laying ceremony, where the prince stumbled on a wet step but regained his balance.
Later, at Government Buildings, he met the Taoiseach to discuss issues ranging from trade to education and then it was on to a private lunch at Iveagh House.
At the National Museum, he and Ms Wittstock took a full 45 minutes to admire the gold collection, including a hoard found not too far from the Kellys' Co Mayo homestead.
"We'll be back," the prince told museum director Pat Wallace.
A state dinner at Aras an Uachtarain was a fitting finish to the couple's day.