Prince Hubertus zu Hohenlohe: Blue Hunter

Prince Hubertus zu Hohenlohe's view of life through his lens

Resplendent on the boundary wall of his finca in Marbella are the words: ‘La Casita Del Principe Pop‘. His self-description as the ‘Prince of Pop’ is obviously meant ironically, says Prince Hubertus zu Hohenlohe. The 60-year-old has the casual charm of a person who likes himself and hides his depth on the surface. His childhood also pointed to a failed life. His parents’ marriage began as an aristocratic soap opera with 130 gondolas decorated with flowers on the Canale Grande in Venice and ended as a criminal case with child abduction and hired gunmen.

In 2006, according to Park Avenue Magazine, the message on your answering machine was: «I’m not Elvis, I’m not Dodi Al-Fayed, I’m not Helmut Berger, but I’m trying. Leave a message.» Was that true?
No, that quote was wrong. The message had to do with my three jobs: «I’m not Alberto Tomba, I’m not Bono, I’m not Helmut Newton, but I’m trying. Leave a message.»

Which message do you have on your answering machine today?
None. Do you still know people who speak on an answering machine? I don’t.

Your father – his full name is Alfonso Maximiliano Victorio Eugenio Alexandro Maria Pablo de la Santísima Trinidad y todos los Santos Hohenlohe-Langenburg – was a passionate hunter and named you after the patron of hunting. Did he pass his passion onto you?
Every now and then I go on a game hunt to continue my father’s tradition, but I prefer to hunt interesting people. I am the sort of person who always wants to experience something, always looking for the next big thing for the eyes and brain. I once photographed Lenny Kravitz. His philosophy in life is: «I am a drifter who lives to discover new things. But as soon as I’ve found it, I lose interest. It is like an addiction that cannot be satisfied. Whether it does you any good, is questionable.» I subscribe to that.

Since 2011, you have been presenting the TV series Hubertusjagd (Hubertus Hunt) for the Red Bull station Servus TV, in which you introduce creative key players from cities such as Tiflis, Tokyo or Buenos Aires. How did you get into this?
Red Bull’s boss Dietrich Mateschitz said to me that as life has obviously been good to me, I was duty bound to let people share my experiences. Hubertusjagd aims to demonstrate taste and elegance. In contrast to the ubiquitous trash, we focus on the lightness of being and want to inspire dreams. Reality kills too many dreams.

You spent the majority of your childhood and adolescence at the Marbella Club on the Costa del Sol in Spain, a five-star hotel established by your father in 1953 with luxury villas attached, where the jet set and high society enjoyed themselves. Now, every Friday in the summer months you hold open-air parties there with DJs who themselves are often part of the aristocracy.
I launched these club nights so that the tradition my father established would not get lost after just one generation. He turned Marbella from a fisherman’s backwater to a fashionable place for the jet set to hang out and created its own attitude to life. I want to continue this spirit and do something about the vulgarity that has moved into Marbella. Before the place looked like Beverley Hills; now it looks like Miami.

How was it to be a child surrounded by Hollywood stars like James Stewart, arms dealers like Adnan Kashoggi and shipping magnates like Aristoteles Onassis?
The Marbella Club was my all-inclusive land of milk and honey. For me, it was the most normal thing in the world to sit around a table with celebrities such as Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, Julio Iglesias or Sean Connery. If I wanted to eat ice cream, go water-skiing, play tennis or minigolf, all I need to do was beckon to the staff. At the end of the day, I was Prince Alfonso’s son. At seven years of age, I was disturbed by the fervent screams of a female hotel guest and I told my nanny to please get this woman to finally stop screaming. The woman was Maria Callas.

Which guest sticks most in your mind?
When I was 16 or 17, I started inviting pop stars and bands like Led Zeppelin and Queen to counterbalance the aristocratic, snobbish crowd in the club. Once, when David Bowie was a guest there, he said to me at two in the morning: «Come to the pool, I’ll show you how I write a song.» At the edge of the pool there was a tacky sculpture of a dolphin. Bowie took a pen and a piece of paper and wrote down individual sentences one below each other. Using a pair of scissors, he cut out the sentences, remixed them and sang them on the guitar. After 20 minutes, he read the finished lines out to me: «I, I wish you could swim / Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim / Though nothing, nothing will keep us together / We can beat them, forever and ever / Oh we can be heroes, just for one day.» When the song came out, I realised that I had been witness to the creation of his global hit ‘Heroes’.

Your parent’s divorce battle outdid every Hollywood film. Your father kidnapped you and your brother, taking you from Mexico to Europe and for two years, your mother engaged an armed troop of mercenaries to look for her sons. She was willing to give a reward of one million US dollars to anyone who could track the children down.
I was too little to remember much about the battle between my parents, but my Austrian nanny had kept newspaper articles about our kidnapping. When I was about seven or eight, I discovered them and asked her about it. As she began to explain it all to me, I remembered certain things. During our two-and-a-half year odyssey right across Europe, when my brother and I ended up in Austria, we had to put on wigs and wear a dirndl dress so that they thought we were girls.

You speak five languages. You speak German with a Viennese lilt. Is that a legacy from your Austrian nanny?
No. The team I’ve been filming the Hubertusjagd with for nine years speak the worst Viennese slang. I’m like a parrot: In South Tyrol I talk like Reinhold Messner, in Zurich like Dieter Meier and in Hamburg like Stefan Aust. I adapt myself to the places I go to.

Your father never left Marbella. Why did you go away from your land of milk and honey?
My father said when I was ten years old that the sweet life of luxury didn’t agree with me, and so he sent me to Vorarlberg to a boarding school in a Jesuit monastery. I couldn’t really speak German at the time because I always spoke Spanish with my parents. I got the shock of my life when I was deported from the Promised Land to the leaden dreariness of a monastic boarding school. My later sins have been atoned for since then.

At 18, 19, you came to the attention of the tabloid press and became part of the glitterati scene. In November 1977, Andy Warhol wrote in his diary: «Dinner with Ira von Fürstenberg. Her son came along too. Hubertus is even better looking than his brother Kiko. He is the sort of boy you’d want to have a date with.» How did you get to know Warhol?
We were introduced to each other in Studio 54 in New York. He said, «You’re the son of the glamorous Ira. It’s great to see some fresh blood coming to the city. Let’s go out for dinner and go shopping.» A few days later, he photographed me for his magazine Interview. When I told him I wanted to become a pop singer, he was really excited, «A real prince enjoying life as a pop star – that can only be a massive success!» For him, blue blood from Europe was like the crème de la crème.

At the time you were studying business administration and philosophy in Graz but instead of completing your degree, you became a professional skier, competing for Mexico in 1984 at the Olympic Games in Sarajevo.
Five more Olympic Games and 18 World Championships followed. Choosing skiing was for me a shot at freedom. It sparked a euphoria within me to go my own way instead of walking in the sizeable footsteps of my father. My relatives were deeply depressed. «We’ve been keeping you on track for years, and now you’ve gone off the rails just before reaching the station,» they said.

As well as skiing, you have also sung pop songs you’ve written yourself in bands like Royal Disaster and worked with musicians like Falco.
Falco called me up and asked if I could write the Italian text for his album ‘Junge Römer’. I thought he was a pretentious, hoity-toity busybody; he thought I was a snobbish aristocratic arsehole. We became friends during a meal at Sacher in Vienna. He wanted me to drive him home because, of course, he had drunk too much and probably taken other things as well. In reality, he was experiencing hallucinations brought on by the absence of alcohol and drugs. In front of Sacher were parked some Jaguar, Bentley and Mercedes limousines and he was looking to see which swanky car I would head for. When I went straight to my insanely cool Lancia Delta HF Integrale, he said: «Hubertus, what kind of hideous Simca have you got there?» He paid for that remark with a race back home to the seventh district. At the end he said: «It’s not bad, this car.»

Your best friend, they say, is the 74-year-old Yellow musician Dieter Meier.
He is my greatest friend who gives me the most reliable advice. He taught me that being shrewd doesn’t bring you happiness. You can blindly follow his stringent lifestyle and he can explain to me why I am who I am. If there was a professorship for irony and effortlessness at Harvard, he would get it.

You’ve been working as a photographer since 2001. Your trademarks are pictures that also feature yourself, sometimes as a mirror image in the glass front of a boutique in Beverley Hills, other times in the mirror of the men’s toilets at the Great Pyramid of Giza. How did your style come about?
My relationship to photography began with a big question mark. I didn’t understand as a teenager why photographers were so interested in taking my picture even though I hadn’t done anything to warrant their attention. I wanted to be Hubertus Hohenlohe, not the son of Ira and Alfonso. Today, you would say I was a Kardashian: famous for being famous. It started a race with myself: When will I deserve to appear in ‘Bunte’ or ‘Hola’ magazines? One day, a photo curator who had seen the mirror images of me spoke to me in Vienna. She asked if I had any more of these photos and if so, she’d like to exhibit them. I bluffed and said I had hundreds of photos like them and I could show her in four weeks time, when I would be back from Marbella. My style was born in those four weeks. I took hundreds of photos. Since then, I’ve been my own paparazzi. Before the selfie was invented and before it took off around the world, I had already taken XXL selfies. Today, everyone thinks they have to be a hero and they work on becoming an icon using photos of themselves. My pictures illustrate this zeitgeist.

Your father had numerous affairs, from Ava Gardner to Kim Novak. Were you ever a playboy?
No. The example my dad or Gunter Sachs set was really not cool. To decide each day where to pick up a woman and then leave burned bridges behind you every time: What’s attractive about this type of people hunt? For me, the physical side develops through intellectual discussion and exchange. Playboys, on the other hand, keep a tally of who they’ve shagged and who is next on the list. These tally lists are mutually approved. It is a stupid competition all about who has the longest list. I often got the impression that men like Gunter Sachs are covering up some sort of sadness when they hunt women like this. Their image was more important than their happiness. Your own mirror image should not be more important than the person who is looking in the mirror.

El Quexigal, your father’s family residence east of Madrid, had 96 rooms, 36 servants and a wine cellar that was a kilometre long. What’s your view on luxury?
You have to be ironic about it, otherwise it is embarrassing. When luxury is presented without wit or flair, you get the nauseating sensation of someone throwing money in your face. From early on, I developed an aversion to huge swanky villas, where vulgar luxury is put out on show. I don’t have much time for castles with endlessly long corridors either. Sometimes, Servus TV treat me to a hotel suite but I cancel it because I would feel lost in it. I feel happiest in hotels like the Stamba in Tiflis, the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc on the Côte d’Azur or the colonial hotel Metropole in the old town of Hanoi. I could spend my whole life in the Metropole. The Stamba is the right place to write a book for three months. Tiflis is absolutely the new Berlin. The city captures the optimistic mood of Berlin after the Wall came down and has the best techno club in the world: Bassiani. A disused swimming pool serves as the dance floor for 1,200 people. Fashion Week in Tiflis is the pond where fashion brands such as Vetements and Balenciaga fish for young talent.

What does someone like you get cross about?
About people who say to me: «I’d like to have a life like yours!» and they think I just loaf around all day, going to clubs in the evening and taking photos of Jerry Hall or Heidi Klum. I work really hard to keep up with the spirit of the times. On a Hollywood swing, I would have the feeling that everything I’ve built up would fall apart.

Your brother Prince Christopherus Vittorio Umberto Hohenburg-Langenburg, who was two years older than you and who you called Kiko, was to take over the Marbella Club from your father, but instead he sank into a pit of idleness and night-time entertainment. Bloated from being 35 kilos overweight and with strikingly blond hair, he lived the majority of the year in Honolulu on Hawaii. In the mornings, he would demolish huge portions in the all-you-can-eat restaurants for 1 dollar 99.
Sport is a school of life. You learn to grit your teeth and get on with it, overcome your pain thresholds and cope with defeat. Kiko never developed this grit. His fear of failure meant he never even started to fight. When I stood by his grave this morning, I thought of the many people who also didn’t do well waiting for their parent’s inheritance. Nothing is harder to bear than permanent idleness.

Your brother was described as a lonely person tormented by fears and self-doubt. Did you have a close relationship to him?
Not in recent years. He would often make a reverse-charge call to me in Marbella and ask me who had asked about him. If I answered: “Gunilla von Bismarck”, he said: «Oh, is she still around?»n den letzten Jahren nicht mehr. Er rief mich öfter per R-Gespräch in Marbella an und fragte, wer nach ihm fragen würde. Wenn ich antwortete: «Gunilla von Bismarck», sagte er: «Ach, die gibt’s immer noch?

Was there no-one to persuade your brother to undergo therapy?
No, no-one really seriously tried. Elvis couldn’t be saved either. There were some influential people who had a financial interest in him staying alive. In a person’s life, there is a point of no return. Kiko had gone past that.

Was your brother addicted to drugs?
Kiko looked like a paedophile junkie freak, but he was 100% harmless. It was no secret that he was bisexual, but for him that wasn’t a reason to cloud his head with drugs. His favourite drink was Fanta Lemon. He used to drink litres of the stuff.

Your brother died in 2006 at the age of 49 in unexplained circumstances in a rat-infested remand prison in Bangkok amongst murderers and dealers.
He had falsified the validity period on his visa and so had been arrested when he tried to leave the country. Our mother and I flew out to Bangkok to get him out of prison but we ran into a wall with the authorities.

Your mother said about her last few minutes with her son: «I could hardly recognise Kiko. He cried and said: 'Mummy, I’m dying.' In the night, I got a call: 'Your son has gone into a coma.' I don’t know whether someone had poisoned him or whether he had tried to kill himself.»
My brother was probably bolshy and arrogant to the Thai officers, so they showed him who was boss. He was crammed into a 40-man cell and was given hell. It said on his death certificate that he died of organ failure resulting from blood poisoning, lung infection and sugar shock. We’ll never find out what really led to his death.

Part of the ethos of aristocrats is to smother pain in formality. How destroyed were you after the death of your brother?
If it is part of being an aristocrat to keep your composure in all circumstances, then I am middle-class on this one. I had tears in my eyes when I stood by Kiko’s grave today.

Your brother was devoted to your mother; you were devoted to your father. Has your mother got over the death of her first-born?
For her, the circumstances of Kiko’s death were surreal. For a long time, she couldn’t come to terms with the fact that it had actually happened. She is good at repressing it though. In her mind she has also pushed aside the fact that we grew up with a very busy father while she enjoyed herself all over the world. Her egocentricity is also a form of self-protection. An important principle in her life is: «I don’t want to look into things too deeply.»

The American Marilys Healing, your father’s third and last wife, took her own life at the age of 59 due to depression. Your father then became addicted to drinking.
Her suicide killed my father. He felt guilty because he had never taken her depression seriously. After her death, he didn’t care about anything. Life was no fun anymore and he fell apart.

You now live in his finca in Marbella, surrounded by brightly coloured pop art and large-scale photos on the wall, which you show off to celebrities.
My father bequeathed the finca to his last wife’s children out of a guilty conscience. I bought it off them. When I found out that they had taken my father’s furniture with them, I thought, let’s give the house some pep and some pop.

Your father shared a fondness of many aristocrats for practical jokes. When Christina Onassis complained to him that there was no caviar at the Marbella Club, he rubbed rifle shot with paraffin and had it served as caviar on a baked potato. When she noticed what was in her mouth, she cried: «Alfonso, you are a murderer!» Has this kind of humour been passed onto you?
No, I’m more of a starfucker offering people at our club nights good vibes and effortless style. Instead of milking Russians and Arabs, we focus on wit and savoir-vivre. Tomorrow night in the DJ’s booth, we have Princess Scilla Ruffo di Calabria and Fernando Fitz-James Stuart y Solis, duke of Huéscar. We entertain the children of the people who used to be entertained by my father. I would have found it awful if the flair he created had died out after a single generation. So I keep the flame going.

What pranks did you see your father do?
When he got together with Gunter Sachs, the two of them became utterly childish and did all kinds of nonsense. They once wanted to ride into Badrutt’s Palace Hotel in St. Moritz on the back of an elephant. They borrowed the elephant from a zoo for the day. However, it didn’t fit through the door of the hotel. For me, the greatest feeling I had was that I had learned to ride on a donkey at a party at my home.

You’ve been a notorious party-goer since you were 15. How is it that you don’t drink alcohol or take drugs?
At 16 years of age, when I was lying in hospital for six weeks with jaundice, the doctor said that if I was to drink any alcohol over the next few years I would never get properly better. Over time, I noticed that I have a natural high. If I was to suck stuff up my nose, I would lift off and disappear into the sky like a balloon. But why? I like it down here.

What makes a party work?
The biggest problem with parties is their predictability. You miss the feeling of not knowing what is going to happen next. That’s why I put a friend, who has been in prison, next to the ex-wife of the Emir of Qatar or Dolph Lundgren next to Princess Bea von Auersperg. Established aristocracy and young freaks: Mixing it up like this creates experiences and ignites a spark. When my mother goes to the Red Cross ball in Monaco, she complains every time: «I’d rather shoot myself because I already know who I’m going be sat next to, and that it’ll be someone like Rod Stewart or Elton John singing.» The older you get, the less up you are for playing along on such deadly dull evenings. Instead of living the moment, you observe the people who are observing you. It’s not cool.

You mostly wear highly daring combinations of stripes or t-shirts with prints like «Big Beat» or «Trash is très chic». Do you have a name for your style of clothes?
Sophisticated hippie-chic best hits the mark. It’s got to be kind of free but cool. I celebrate diversity, even if I often look like a clown. Anyone wanting to celebrate life shouldn’t wear a uniform. I have to admit, however, that my wife often asks me: «You aren’t seriously going to leave the house in that are you?» She is allowed to wear what she wants, but she is a bit on the conservative side when it comes to men’s clothing.

Your wife Simona Gandolfi is the cousin of Italy’s skiing legend Alberto Tomba and runs the fashion label Amen.
We got to know each other in 1994 at the Olympic village in Lillehammer. She wanted to get married and have children with me at a time when I hadn’t really found myself yet. In a four-year-long break from our relationship, she had two children with another man – whereby the second child could certainly be mine because at the time in question we were back together again really.

The second child is called Rachel and she’s now a beautiful young woman. Have you ever considered doing a paternity test?
No, it is fine the way it is.

You turned 60 in February. Do you regret not having any biological children?
Yes, but thank God I feel like Rachel is my own child. For the history of the Hohenlohe family, it would of course be better if I did have biological children.

Does your title transfer to Simona Gandolfi’s children?
No, only if I adopt the children.

A few years ago, you said in an interview: «I am a libertarian Aquarius. I’m not the type to get married. I am also not an ideal caregiver.» What made you marry at the start of the year in the Principality of Liechtenstein, despite your scepticism?
I have seen too many people who take themselves too seriously and don’t manage to share their life with another person. I was also on this path, but I don’t want to end up as a self-important sack, who sits alone in the back seat of his Bentley and gets his chauffeur to drive him around the block to get the feeling of being among people. I come from a problematic family, but ultimately family is the only thing that’s going to last. Bringing up children contributes a great deal to your own habe zu viele Leute gesehen, die sich selbst zu wichtig nehmen und es nicht schaffen, ihr Leben mit einem anderen Menschen zu teilen. Ich war auch auf diesem Weg, aber ich will nicht als selbstherrlicher Sack enden, der allein im Fond seines Bentleys sitzt und sich vom Chauffeur um den Block fahren lässt, um das Gefühl zu haben, unter Leuten zu sein. Ich komme aus einer problematischen Familie, aber letztlich ist Familie das Einzige was Bestand hat. Kinder zu erziehen trägt eine Menge zur eigenen Menschwerdung bei.

How did you propose to your wife?
I said: «I’ve now found the suit I want to get married in.»

What type of suit was it?
Vivienne Westwood. Instead of wearing wedding rings, I got «Simo» and she got «Hubi» tattooed on our ring fingers.

Your mother didn’t come to the wedding. The reason for that was that on the same day she was in London presenting her brick-heavy picture book «Ira: The life and times of a princess». In the book, she writes this about her second pregnancy: «I didn’t want Hubertus. I really didn’t want him.» Can one be more heartless?
I should be surprised by it, but I’m not. I took part in six Olympic games. Did she come and watch me in any of them? No. Did she come to my school leaving party? No. Her seeming disinterest in me is a common thread throughout my life that I have to accept. It hurts her pride and bruises her ego that she cannot take credit for my career. The reason for not coming to my wedding could be that she is jealous of my wife. Simona is beautiful, like my mum was once, and both are Italian. My mother would have probably preferred me to marry Lady Di or Madeleine from Sweden.

Your 79-year-old mother – her real name is not actually Ira but Virginia Carolina Theresa Pancrazia Galdina – was a film star in the seventies alongside Anthony Quinn & Klaus Kinski and was photographed by Irving Penn, Cecil Beaton and Helmut Newton. She justified her ostentatious lifestyle with the principle: «You have to look at something beautiful in the morning to have a good day.»
My father had the gift of simple chic. For my luxury-mad mum, everything had to be larger than life. Her house in Via Veneto in Rome, her apartment at the Place Vendôme in Paris with taps made from gold: everything looked styled and inflated. I wish I’d brought friends there so that they could see that it really was like that. You have to have some understanding for her though. Her uncle was the Fiat billionaire Gianni Agnelli. She grew up in a realm made up purely of superlatives. At the age of 15, she married my father, a man twice her age. That only happened because the Pope granted them special permission. At 16, she had Kiko and me aged 18. In the same year, she began an affair with a playboy from Brazil who was worth millions. At 19, her first marriage was over; at 24 so was her second. She had got caught up in a man’s world as half a child, in which laws applied that she neither knew nor was okay with.

Her parents’ wedding ceremony in Venice went on for 16 days and was a spectacle that attracted worldwide attention. The television broadcast how 130 gondolas accompanied the bridal procession. How did you celebrate your marriage?
With 24 guests. It was a very beautiful, very harmonious wedding. There were no family intrigues and no issues. Everyone liked each other.

Does your mother have a man in her life?
No, she’s done it all. She’s not interested in men anymore. She has houses or apartments in Madrid, Rome and London. She still flies to Manila when invited there by Imelda Marcos and is a guest of the Presidents of Guatemala and Côte d'Ivoire. She’s pretty unstoppable, even if she does spend a long time in spa hotels or Buchinger clinics now and again in order to lose weight and do something to enhance her beauty.

How often are you in contact?
We phone almost every day. Most of the time, I have to ring her. If I don’t do it, she gets offended. If I do it, it’s often the wrong time for her. Then she complains in a reproachful voice: «I have absolutely no time!» However you do it, it’s complicated.

Is there a particular principle that has been with you throughout your life? Yes, there is: «The most fatal thing would be to climb up the ladder of your life to find at the end that it was leaning against the wrong wall.»

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