[Weekly Q&A]

Consul of Monaco Jonathan Warren on Europe’s elegant playground vs. America’s party capital

As an honorary consul of the Principality of Monaco, Jonathan Warren represents everything from the spirited sophistication of its citizenry to the environmental philanthropy that’s close to its monarch’s heart.
Photo: Sam Morris

Across the world from Vegas, another icon of pleasure draws millions of revelers every year. Not Macau. Monaco, the jewel of the French Riviera and one of Europe’s most luxurious playgrounds. Before he became an honorary consul of the principality, Jonathan Warren called Monaco a favorite haunt. He sees parallels between the very wealthy, very tiny destination and Las Vegas, from fiercely loyal locals to absurdly good steak. At his “office” inside Thriller Villa, where Michael Jackson once lived, Warren talked about Prince Albert II’s philanthropic passion and the only Las Vegan His Serene Highness has ever invited to be a citizen of Monaco.

Thriller Villa seems like a clubhouse for honorary consuls—one owns it, another decorated it and you manage it as a venue for special community events. Do most consuls have side jobs? We’re all volunteers, so we all have business interests other than. … It’s the difference between career consuls and honorary consuls. Most consuls are honoraries. There are a few that are careers. They’re employees of the countries that send them and citizens of the countries that send them, and they are generally career diplomats. They usually move around with the administration they’re working for, so they don’t stay long, and their role is more administrative in nature. Ours is more PR in nature, and we tend to stay in place no matter what happens with the presidents of the countries we represent. ... Monaco has an ambassador in the U.S., Gilles Noghès, and they also have a consul general in New York, Maguy Maccario, both very prominent.

Prince Albert II appointed you one of Monaco’s nine honorary consuls in the U.S. and only the second ever to hold the title in Las Vegas. Why you? I was at a consular event in Monaco in 2009. … Somebody sat next to me that I didn’t know, a Monégasque guy who looked like Danny DeVito. ... So I asked him if he’d ever been to Las Vegas and he said, “No, I don’t gamble; why would I go to Las Vegas?” I said, “Well, I don’t gamble either, but we’re both sitting in Monte Carlo.” So that triggered this whole discussion about where the best food is and the best entertainment, and that turned into him inviting me to dinner the next night at an American steakhouse in Monaco called Beefbar, which I had to admit was the best American steak I’d ever had. (Laughs) He wound up recommending me to be consul, and I had no idea of that until I got a phone call from Ambassador Gilles Noghès. ... Consul Sylvain Cohen—he is honorary consul of Senegal in Monaco—recommended me to the minister of foreign relations. He actually had never met Ambassador Noghès at that time and was introduced to him by me at the prince's palace later.

How big is Monaco? It’s 0.7 of one square mile, about the size of Central Park. … It has a little over 36,000 residents, 7,400 citizens, including some that don’t live there full time. Of course, it’s very wealthy. It’s some of the most expensive real estate in the world, especially on Avenue Princesse Grace along the waterfront. It’s a very prosperous place. It’s a country with no debt.

Can outsiders become residents? Becoming a resident is not that difficult. Becoming a citizen requires an invitation from His Serene Highness.

Is he serene? (Laughs) He is serene, actually. He has invited one Las Vegan to be a citizen of Monaco: Steve Wynn.

How does Monaco compare to Vegas? There’s a feel, especially in the luxury markets here, that’s of course similar there. The landscape is completely different, but the fact that most of the people you meet are visitors is the same. Monaco has 36,000 residents and 6 million visitors a year, so it’s very similar to Las Vegas in that regard. It has a significant amount of hotels and restaurants, some of the best hotels in the world—the Hotel de Paris, the Hermitage, Metropole—they’re just fantastic. And, of course, the most elegant casino in the world. Nothing is even close. There’s a very different gaming culture, historically, in Monaco. Everybody talks about the James Bond movies, and there is a lot of truth to that. People would tend to be more dressed, and it would be more sedate. It wasn’t long ago that you wouldn’t have a drink at the table in Monaco. The current feel of luxury for a high roller is more catered to now, but it’s still a very, very elegant feel. There’s no yelling and screaming in the casino in Monte Carlo.

Yet, Monaco can be pigeonholed in some of the same ways Las Vegas can. I personally find that the stigmas that both suffer from are almost identical. When you try to attract big business or foreign governments, political events or official visits to Las Vegas, you get the, “People just go there to party.” Even if they don’t think that, they’re afraid it will be used against them by political rivals. … They’ll fly into LA and drive up; they’ll come unofficially; they’ll intentionally not draw attention because it can be such a political risk. It’s sort of the double-edged sword of Las Vegas’ very successful marketing campaign over the last decade. ... That’s something that also happens to some degree in Monaco. ... The conception that it’s a party place or that it has that Las Vegas-esque feel about it is more in Europe than it is in the U.S. ... I don’t know that firsthand; I just know from looking at how they have to manage the perceptions, that seems to be the case. But in the U.S. I don’t find that to be the case at all; I find Monaco to be really in a dream position as far as their public relations go, and largely due to the work of Prince Albert and, before him, Prince Rainier.

Are most native Monégasques as fierce as Las Vegans about making sure the world understands their home? When you’re in Monaco and you’re visiting or thinking of moving to Monaco and you meet somebody from Monaco or who’s been in Monaco a long time, they tend to talk to you like Las Vegans talk to people who say they’re moving here. You’ve been here two years?

Yeah. So you know what I’m talking about. We look at you like it’s still an elevator conversation. Until you’re here 10 years, you’re not a local because people leave. And we’re used to people making judgments and leaving, sometimes casting their own failings onto their judgments of Las Vegas.

Despite your globetrotting, you’ve stayed in Las Vegas. Why? What I love about Las Vegas is it’s the most cosmopolitan place on the planet—except for Monaco. There’s just nothing like it. I went to a fundraiser a few months back that’s a great example. … I counted around the table, and there were 15 people who’d moved to Las Vegas from 13 different countries, including every continent. And that’s a typical situation here, and it’s not typical anywhere else I’ve been—except Monaco.

Aside from representing Monaco in Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, what do you do as an honorary consul? I publicize what Monaco does, the important projects of the prince and the government of Monaco, but especially things like the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, which concerns itself with environmental issues, especially potable water development, over-fishing. It’s got half a dozen strong directives and that’s all it focuses on. That’s what took Prince Albert to the South Pole in 2009. He was the honorary chair of One Night for One Drop. … He’s very involved through his foundation; that is his passion. ... I don’t think there’s another head of state with a travel schedule as arduous as Prince Albert’s. It’s amazing.

Some of the prince’s top dignitaries were your guests at Thriller Villa last year. Were they unnerved by the painting of the King of Pop on the mantel? I had replaced Michael that day with a portrait of the prince. … That was the first time that an ambassador of Monaco had come to Las Vegas, and it was the first time that the consular corps was hosted outside of Washington, D.C. ... So I consider that quite a coup. We gave the ambassador the key to the city.

Don’t a few prominent residents of Monaco live in Vegas? One of them is Enrico Bertaggia. Enrico owns Dream Racing. He’s a Monaco Grand Prix champion and a very well known guy in Monaco. When he moved here he looked me up.

Have you driven one of his amazing cars? I rode with Enrico, and that was harrowing. (Laughs) … He was a star in Formula 3. … The track in Monaco, nobody ever passes anybody. It’s the craziest track on the circuit. … Enrico passed six cars in the race he won, which made him a legend instantly.

Speaking of legends, how about Prince Albert's mother, Princess Grace? Why did the people of Monaco love her so much? Princess Grace had such a huge impact on Monaco, and that’s forever embedded in their consciousness. It was, I believe, her friendships and her own influences in her circles of friends. Hollywood flocked to Monaco after she became princess, and a lot of the construction that went on after that, the boom of construction, was because everybody wanted to have an apartment there. So there was a lot going on in connection with her being there. And I think everybody who remembers just remembers her as the most natural princess. … If you go to Monaco now you see evidence of Grace everywhere.

You’re currently writing a historical book about your predecessor, Henry Leigh Hunt, who served as honorary consul of Monaco in Las Vegas from 1956 to 1963. It’s such a great story on so many levels. It’s not a biography; it’s really the story of this guy and where he came from and how it morphed into this appointment that is the only reason I ever found him. It’s a touching story. I’ve managed to uncover things that his own grandchildren didn’t know. … I was so connected to his entire life path, and despite being surrounded by historians my entire life, I never came across him or anything about him until I was appointed into the very post he held last.

You serve at the pleasure of the prince, who invites all of his consuls to Monaco once a year. You were even lucky enough to attend his wedding in 2011. How was the royal cake? I have to admit I didn’t have any wedding cake.

That is a tragedy. (Laughs) It was an amazing time.

So are you fluent in French after all of this? I am working on my French, but I am linguistically challenged. … I was in France with a girlfriend who was fluent in French; she had gone to the Sorbonne. I quickly realized that just because someone speaks the language does not mean you want them speaking for you. (Laughs) And I was reminded that it’s more important to understand the culture than it is the language. … Politeness goes a long way.

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