The notoriously right wing, social climbing, but nonetheless witty and elegant, columnist, Taki Theodoracopulos, once likened the 1995 London nuptials of Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece, whose father lost his throne in 1974, to American retail heiress Marie Chantal Miller as being akin to the first Napoleon’s coronation, meaning it was an over the top, utterly gaudy affair that only the most insecure of the nouveau riche could conceive. According to author Trine Villmann, who not so long ago penned an exposé of the current Danish royal family entitled 1015 Copenhagen K, Mary’s Dysfunctional In-Laws, many a royal whose legally related to Greece’s current exiled crown princess would agree there’s definitely something Napoleon like about her character. Furthermore, it’s impossible to have travelled in royal and aristocratic circles in New York, as the author has, without hearing at least one Miller sister rich bitch story. The author has it on exceptionally good authority that Robert Isobell, the late great party planner who masterminded both Marie Chantal’s wedding as well as the NYC nuptials of her little sister, Alexandra, to Alexander Von Furstenberg, son of the late Prince Egon and DVF, hated both sisters with almost as obscene a passion as that with which he’s rumored to have solicited latin rough trade from the back seat of his limo during his frequent nocturnal excursions through the Bronx. But now let us return to Marie Chantal.
If the story of extravagantly rich American heiresses husband hunting among Europe’s impoverished royals and aristocrats, as Marie Chantal and her sisters oh so successfully did during their bachelorette days, seems like the plot of a turn of the century Edith Wharton novel, that’s because it is. Madame Wharton penned The Buccaneers at precisely the time when various so called Dollar Princesses were routinely trading in their dowries for titles at the altar. The specific story of the mid ’90s Miller/House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderberg-Glucksberg marital transaction begins in 1992 when Marie-Chantal Miller, daughter of multi-billionaire Duty Free shopping empire founder, Robert Miller, was set up on a blind date with former Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece at the birthday party of a member of the Niarchos family in New Orleans. Their specific social fixer was a New York based Greek banker named Alecko Papamarkou. While both Pavlos and Marie Chantal admitted as much to Bob Colacello for his 2008 Vanity Fair article, A Royal Family Affair, it’s long been rumored there’s far more to the story than that. Rumors were rife throughout their courtship that Robert Miller had paid Papamarkou a small fortune to arrange the marriage of his reputed favorite daughter with an eligible crown prince on the continent. As a certain anonymous suitor of one of the Miller daughters is quoted as having said to a society magazine at the time of their nuptials, these young women, who’d grown up in Hong Kong and Switzerland before settling in NYC and whose South American mother claimed to be an Incan princess, were absolutely title obsessed and weren’t interested in any young man trying to court them unless he possessed an accent and a title. While daddy Miller is alleged to have preferred Marie be set up with the heir to a throne that still existed, the best Papamarkou could do was arrange a date with the handsome, and utterly cash strapped, dispossessed heir to the defunct Greek throne. Mademoiselle Miller was smitten, nonetheless.
Greece’s royal family is, or rather was until 1995, easily the poorest of their kind in Europe, both while being enthroned and during their frequent jaunts in exile. Aside from being perennially overthrown throughout the 20th century, before their throne was finally abolished in ’74, their palaces and estates were far from luxurious, at least by conventional royal standards. Philip Eade quotes the late Prince Christopher of Greece, great-great uncle of Crown Prince Pavlos, in his memoir of Prince Philip, formerly of Greece and Denmark, and current Duke of Edinburgh’s early life describing the royal palace in Athens at the turn of the century containing one bathroom whose only, erratic water tap occasionally spewed out a dead roach. With this being the sole bathing water source for the entire palace, it’s understandable that Philip’s father, Prince Andrew, suffered a bout of typhoid during childhood.
While Greece officially became an independent kingdom in the 1840s, it was in the 1860s that they elected Prince William of Denmark, son of the recently crowned Christian lX, as their king, thus beginning the Greek branch of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderberg-Glucksberg. Upon arriving in Athens and being sworn in, William became King George l. His new subjects might’ve bestowed upon him a throne, but they gave him no wealth to go with it. George l’s regal poverty might’ve been relieved by his father, but the Danish monarchy was only slightly less hard up than their Greek kinfolk. In fact, Henry Fischer writes in Memoirs of the Court of Kaiser William ll and His Consort that Denmark’s King Christian lX lived in such a state of regal penury that he was loath to receive his distant kinsman, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm ll, because he couldn’t afford to entertain him. Christian’s constant financial hardship, according to Fischer, was such that his son-in-law, Tsar Alexander lll, felt obliged to foot the bill every time his father-in-law hosted a large family gathering in Denmark. To this day, the Danish royal house might live in the sort of splendor most billionaires could ill afford, but they do so entirely at their taxpayers’ expense. Prior to King Constantine ll escaping Greece with his family after his failed attempt at overthrowing the handful of generals who’d just taken power, the Danish royals’ Mediterranean cousins lived under similar financial circumstances.
Constantine, his Danish wife and cousin, Anne Marie, and their three children, plus the two more they’d eventually have in exile, decamped to London, where he resided until finally being allowed to move back to Greece in 2013. In the interim he launched a charm offensive regarding his vast network of still enthroned royal relatives that has yielded astonishingly successful results. It’s no exaggeration to state Constantine and his brood are among the most popular members within Europe’s royal caste. Despite only being his second cousin, Constantine is among Prince Charles’ closest friends, and no less than Prince William is among Pavlos and Marie-Chantal’s oldest son’s godfathers. The only thing this stateless royal family lacked, aside from their throne, was a readily available supply of cash. And then the ex-king’s friend and NYC based banker, Alecko Papamarkou, allegedly convinced the ex-king to set up a blind date between his eldest son, and the title hungry, favorite daughter of multi-billionaire Robert Miller. It’s even rumored Alecko paid for the prince’s trip to New Orleans. The rest is history.
Although studying in Paris at the time, or at least that’s what she was telling people she was doing, Marie-Chantal shortly moved back to NYC after initiating her relationship with Pavlos, who was then an undergrad at Georgetown. When he decided to stay for grad school, Miss Miller promptly moved to D.C. The former crown prince finally proposed to her during a skiing trip to Gstaad. She accepted. The only downside to their fairytale was that their fathers’ mutual friend, according to Bob Colacello, was expecting a finder’s fee from Constantine ll in the event his heir apparent finally hit the Miller heiress jack pot at the marriage altar. When the parsimonious ex-monarch refused, despite his son being on the verge of cashing in an allegedly $200 million dowry, this ended their friendship and the matchmaker was cordially disinvited to the happy couple’s overly sumptuous London wedding. Papamarkou, however, wasn’t the only associate of the former king who might’ve taken a dim view of the impending nuptials. According to author Trine Villeman, it was at this time Pavlos’s Danish, Swedish and Spanish cousins met and became acquainted with his future wife. They weren’t happy with their prospective in-law. The late, venerable Queen Ingrid of Denmark, mother of Queen Margrethe ll, Queen Anne Marie of Greece and grandmother of Crown Prince Pavlos, found the duty free princess particularly displeasing.
Perhaps it was Robert Massie who put it best in his 1992 Vogue magazine article commemorating Queen Elizabeth ll’s 40th anniversary on the British throne when he quoted a source close to Her Majesty stating that, for Lilibet, there were only three classes of people in this world: herself, her family and everyone else. The same philosophy generally holds true for the majority of European royals. Theirs is essentially a eugenicist view of humanity in which they are separated into one superior caste, while us commoners are all equal in their eyes as their inferiors. Anyone not possessing a specifically royal title, even aristocrats are excluded, falls into the latter category. All commoners marrying into Europe’s royal families, if they wish to be popular among their in-laws, must embrace the fact they’ll never really be regarded as their equals. The more sycophantic and deferential they are to their titular superiors, and polite to everyone else, the better for all involved. With this stated, Marie-Chantal’s ignorant presumption that she could buy her way into the esteem of Pavlos’s still enthroned relatives, coupled with her incessant attempts, according to Villeman, at having tried to impress them with her father’s wealth not only fell on deaf ears, but was found particularly distasteful by her fiancé’s Danish kinfolk given they have no personal wealth of their own.
Once Queen Ingrid rendered her verdict that Mademoiselle Miller was nothing more than a typical nouveau riche ugly American, no matter how many cultures she claimed to be a part of, word soon got round interrelated royal family circles, and the general attitude toward Marie Chantal became to tolerate her because she’d rescued Constantine ll and his brood from seemingly eternal penury, but to hold her at arms length. After 20 years of marriage to Pavlos, Queen Ingrid’s death and the birth’s of Marie-Chantal’s five attractive, tow headed children, it’s rumored their attitude toward her hasn’t changed. It’s further alleged the antipathy between the crown princess and at least her Danish relatives has long become mutual. It’s been said she absolutely dreads spending Christmases every year with Queen Margarethe ll and her clan, whom she regards as bourgeois, philistine and enabled. The usually sour expression she takes on in extended family Xmas photos while there tells its own story. Supposedly the only European royal gatherings Marie-Chantal can stand, aside from cruising the Mediterranean once a year with her immediate in-laws, are the truly formal, press photographer laden occasions in which she gets to wear a gown, tiara and sash, and live out the Cinderella fantasy most believe is the only reason why she married her husband in the first place.
Despite the politely mercenary circumstances surrounding their courtship and marriage, it’s nonetheless generally believed that Greece’s former crown prince and his consort have enjoyed a generally successful marriage these last two decades. Pavlos, while charming and handsome, isn’t thought terribly bright by most who’ve encountered him, and life as his wife’s trophy husband seems agreeable. As for his wife, she keeps busy running her high end children’s clothing line, which has enjoyed a fair measure of success, and there are some Greek monarchists who are impressed both with her genuine commitment to Greek children’s charitable endeavors, and her sincere conversion to the Greek Orthodox Church. Still, there are others who claim Marie Chantal makes Gwenith Paltrow seem down to earth by comparison. And Robert Isobell’s stories concerning how she continuously threatened to fire him and ruin his career, regardless of whether or not he obeyed her constantly changing instructions, while he was planning her wedding still rings in the ears of many a doyenne in New York. As with all human beings, one must take the good, the bad, and draw their own conclusions concerning Greece’s latest exiled crown princess.