Joan Collins

Trouble in paradise

Joan Collins says that St Tropez’s unique beach culture is in danger from the local council. Taki wonders if the changes will see off the disgusting super-rich

Joan Collins says that St Tropez’s unique beach culture is in danger from the local council. Taki wonders if the changes will see off the disgusting super-rich

When people think about St Tropez, they visualise miles of golden sand and dozens of wonderful beach bars, shacks and restaurants catering to an eclectic clientele. But that could all be about to change. Those beaches belong to Pampelonne, which is part of the city of Ramatuelle, and the bars and restaurants face demolition if local council plans are given the go-ahead on 16 September.

The council authorities say that the restaurants and huts pose an environmental hazard — they damage plant species, erode sand dunes and accelerate the encroachment of the ocean on the land. Nobody wants that to happen, of course. But looking closer at the requirements for new licences, one smells a free-market rat.

The scheme proposes the building of an enormous artificial dune to protect the beach from the ravages of the restaurants. There must be some very happy contractor licking his lips at the immensity of this project. But the real kicker is the change in the granting of licences. Until now, I understand, licences have been granted for a year, making it affordable for individuals and unprofitable for conglomerates. Now, apparently, the licences are to be awarded for ten years, which will effectively drive away the families and individuals who have run their businesses for the last 60 years and paving the way for the large hotel chains and conglomerates to take over.

Quelle horreur! There is no other place in the world as gloriously unique which offers so much in the way of the déjeuner parfait. I started going to St Tropez in the late 1960s. It was less frenetic then than it is now, but it has always been a paradise for hedonists. Club 55 was a fixture, as was Tahiti Plage, owned by the affable and much-loved Felix. I stayed at his hotel above the beach several times with my children and once with Natalie Wood. We were both between husbands and had left our children at home to enjoy sun-kissed days at the beach. In the mornings we competed for the best tan. We spent the afternoons in incredibly chic and original boutiques and the evenings at the charming restaurants and bubbly nightclubs. We hung out with the ‘Tropeziennes’ — Eddie Barclay, Charles Aznavour and Johnny Hallyday. 

But lunch was the best time. Whether it was at our favourite Club 55, where we would see Roger Vadim, Jane Fonda or Jack Nicholson, or Tahiti Plage, which attracted a young hip crowd at any of the idyllic huts and shacks that dotted the area, run by individuals whose familiar charm and cooking were the attraction. It’s not the same today, obviously, but the Tropezienne magic has not been altogether lost. Yet.

Last year, at Tahiti, Felix’s widow, who still sits by the cash register surveying her kingdom, beckoned me and handed me a tiny box. ‘Natalie left this behind when she was last here with you and I have held on to it ever since.’ It was a small pearl earring, which I recognised as Natalie’s. Felix’s widow entrusted it to me with the words, ‘Please give it to one of her daughters.’ I doubt one would receive the same personal attachment and shared history after 30 years from a Best Western or a Hilton.

Joan Collins

I used to keep Bushido in the port of St Tropez but moved to Palma in Spain because the Frogs kept upping the ante. In other words the fix was in. Pay more for your berth or we’ll give it to a Russian. The port captain’s name was Fauconnier, Falconer in English, and he sure knew how to strike. Never mind, a man’s got to earn a living.

I first went to St Tropez in the Fifties. Needless to say it was a sleepy little fishing village, albeit already famous for Brigitte Bardot’s film. The port was one third the size of today, and handled mostly sailing boats. The environs of the town had not yet been built up. What I don’t understand about the mayor’s plans to shrink the beaches where restaurants are allowed is the following. Club 55 and the other so-called chic places are vital to the town’s economy. Without it the rich will not come and moolah will not be spent. Who will replace the income? The ecologists? Somehow I do not think so. I think perhaps a bigger fix is in, things like Club Med or something similarly awful. 

Mind you, I gave up on St Tropez because of the Russian, Arab and Far East nouveaux riche. Their disgusting manners and even more disgusting boats have turned the place into a nightmare for a gentle soul with a beautiful sailing boat like the poor little Greek boy. But the slobs only come there during the so-called season, from mid-June to late August. Then they go back to eating their dates in places like London, and St Tropez reverts to type. Club 55 out of season is a joy, and its owner Patrice de Colmont is a very nice man who rates people according to manners rather than size of superyacht. I am convinced a compromise will be found because otherwise a lot of money will be lost to the local economy. What I hate to admit is that if the mayor’s plan is put to effect, someone like me will benefit greatly. The billionaire show-offs will creep back towards Cannes and Monaco. The bay of Pamplone will see the end of stinkpots that pollute the water and of jet skis that endanger the lives of those who swim off their sailing boats. And yet. Who is to say that they will not be replaced by something even worse, if such a species exists?

We know what nation-building and good intentions did for Iraq and Afghanistan. Imagine if the mayor’s good intentions have the same results in St Tropez. I am torn between the desire to see the last of the disgusting rich, and the fear of the unknown. This time I think I’ll sit on the fence.