A couple of years ago I had lunch with Robert Lacey in Nice. He had taken a generous advance from his publisher for a biography of Princess Grace of Monaco, had already used up a large chunk of it and had got almost nowhere. Unsurprisingly, immediately he set to work every door in the Principality was slammed in his face. Over lunch he seemed close to despair. But Lacey is an intelligent and highly competent biographer and, against the odds, has got out a book that will, surely, be the last word on its subject.
Prince Rainier, rumour has it, is deeply upset by the book and this is fully understandable. What man would rejoice at having his marriage publicly examined in such a fashion. But a work of this kind was bound to appear, and far better it should be from the pen of a writer of Lacey's calibre than that of a scribbler like Anna Pasternak who, with help from Captain Hewitt, has just done over the Princess of Wales. If the history of the Grimaldi family is of any importance then this book is a serious contribution to it Lacey aims, naturally, at a mass market but be has produced a work of serious content.
With no mining possible in Monaco (except very unofficially, and often only with unreliable loose-mouths), he went to Philadelphia and worked a rich seam of sources on Grace Kelly's childhood and adolescence. It wasn't fun being a daughter of a fiercely ambitious and humourless father, and even less so as that father's least favourite child - she turned out though to be the family's only achiever. It is hard to say where Kelly's acting career would have gone had, aged only 27, Rainier not plucked her out of Hollywood and installed her on the Rock as his consort. To begin with, as Lacey makes clear, it was a love match, and the fairy tale image of the early media treatment was not too far from the truth.
But within a few years she had had-enough of being a Serene Highness. The awful hangers-on at court, who have done so much harm to the Principality over the years, didn't like her, and the Prince - who is given to saying he is a chef d' entreprise - was too preoccupied with the business of Monaco to be consistently attentive to his wife. In fact, her experience was like that of a lot of today's executive wives who find their workaholic spouses more concerned with spreadsheets than bedsheets. And, in familiar fashion, she sought consolation with a succession of lovers, something made easier by her spending much of her time in a Paris apartment. For all this, and here she deserves credit, she continued to carry out her often tedious duties with suitable decorum while living the private dimension of her double life with skilful discretion.
Lacey, who has had access to pathologists' records, lays to rest the various rumours surrounding Kelly's death. Put briefly, she had taken the wheel after a blazing row with her difficult daughter Stephanie and while on the road had a stroke which left the car out of control. Her obituaries were adulatory; at the end of this book a fair-minded reader will still conclude that she was a good woman who handled rather well the demands of a difficult life.
Grace by Robert Lacey is published in the UK by Sidgwick. This review was broadcast on BBC Greater London Radio.