For those of us born long after WWII ended, the House of Savoy was a name to be found in history books, an important detail that went hand in hand with the unification of Italy in 1861. Our grandparents, and some of our parents, had vivid memories of the reigning monarchs, sometimes holding on to faded sepia photographs. I remember fantastical stories told about Regina Margherita when I was taken to the park of the same name in the city where I grew up. It could all have been a fairy tale.
If you happened to be a member of the House of Savoy, though, this was your life and your heritage, as a large group of us was reminded on October 16, when Prince Emanuele Filberto di Savoia took time out of his latest US visit to meet with the D.I.V.E. (Donne Italiane che Vivono all’Estero) at the private residence of Marisa Antonini.
Who could pass up the opportunity to meet a real life Prince? Emanuele Filberto, Prince of Venice, 45, (whose full name is Emanuele Filberto Reza Ciro Rene’ Maria di Savoia) turned out to be charming, warm, engaging and open to answer questions, both the ones that DI.V.E. President Lucia Peretti had prepared for the Q&A, and those from the audience.
It was a trip down memory lane for Prince Emanuele and a history lesson for some of us: he spoke of growing up in exile in Switzerland, where his family moved after the Royal Family was forced to leave Italy by Parliamentary decree in 1947, a decree that was supposed to be temporary, to give time to the fledgling Italian Republic to grow roots but that was not reversed until 2002.
Former King Umberto, Emanuele’s grandfather, never saw his beloved Naples again, while his grandmother, Maria Jose, was granted a single visit before she died.
But Prince Emanuele, while keenly aware and proud to be the heir of a dynastic family that was established in 1003, is a man of the present, one who has fashioned his life around modern pursuits. His flair, ease and good looks made him a perfect candidate for a television career (“I wanted the Italian people to know me”, he said) and is now setting his sights towards business opportunities in the culinary industry. Prince Emanuele has high ambitions for his fresh pasta food truck, aptly called Prince of Venice, that is now roaming Los Angeles and that will become more stationary when a restaurant of the same name will open in Hollywood next year.
Married to French actress Clotilde Courau, Emanuele spoke adoringly of his two daughters (“I am just a regular dad. I take them to school and pick them up”) and made it clear he lives a family life in Paris, while taking care of his business and of a number of charities linked to the Savoy family. His love for Italy is undisputed, and he loves to visit as frequently as he can but Paris affords him more anonymity. After winning “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009, his celebrity soared. Of the experience, he recounted, half jokingly: “ I didn’t win because I was the best dancer but the Italian audience voted in overwhelming numbers because they connected with me.”
It was a lovely evening, balmy enough to sit in Ms. Antonini’s garden after the Q&A was over, where everyone relaxed, drinks in hand, and enjoyed three different types of pastas that Prince Emanuele’s food truck had graciously provided (bolognaise, pesto and pumpkin sage, for the record), while waiters circulated with plates of dainty appetizers by Think Italian Events.
Prince Emanuele charmingly and informally chatted with everyone, indulging questions and basking in the attention: he was, after all, the only man in a crowded house full of women.
D.I.V.E. extraordinaire and professional singers Maria Elena Infantino, Paulette Dozier and Elisabetta Russo provided the music interlude that opened the evening and broke the ice. And, by the end of the night, noble history and titles were forgotten, and the charming man who could have been become king became a trusted friend who will always be welcomed with open arms in the City of Angels.