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Billionaire prince Albert of Monaco reveals all about life in a tax haven

Prince Albert of Monaco has waived strict privacy rules to give a staggering insight into life inside one of the world's most glamorous tax havens. 

In the new BBC2 series Inside Monaco: Playground Of The Rich, the Prince bemoans the inability for 'spontaneity' in the country that counts rich and famous playboys such as Lewis Hamilton and Ringo Starr among its residents. 

Albert gets to decide which applicants will be allowed the privilege of becoming a citizen. 

But as he opened up about life among the mega-rich, he tells the show: ‘Even spontaneity has to be scheduled. 

'When my father talked to me about the job he said, “You will be alone in that room and you have to be ready for it psychologically and emotionally.”’ 

One in three of the 39,000 people who live in the tiny country – it covers just two square kilometres and sits on the French Riviera – is a millionaire at least. 

And only around 9,000 of the population are citizens – known as Monegasques – the rest are residents.  

Prince Albert of Monaco with wife Charlene. Albert gets to decide which applicants will be allowed the privilege of becoming a citizen

Many of Monaco’s residents describe the tiny principality as ‘a bubble’. Their lives are explored in BBC2 series Inside Monaco: Playground Of The Rich. Pictured, women wave from a yacht

Swedish supermodel Victoria Silvstedt tells the show that she keeps pinching herself that she lives in this glorious world of wealth. 

‘I’ve lived in Monaco since 2011, but when I wake up every morning I still think, “Oh my God, I’m living in Monaco!” I’m living in a dream.’ 

Most would baulk at being called anything less than a billionaire. Its properties might be mainly ugly high-rise apartments, but they are among the most expensive homes in the world.

American actress Grace Kelly became Princess of Monaco by marrying Prince Rainier III in 1956

The super-rich such as Lewis Hamilton and Ringo Starr are attracted not only by Monaco’s zero income tax and wealth tax regime, but also the chance to be among others of their kind. 

Souped-up sports cars jostle for position outside the Hotel de Paris where suites cost an eye-watering £35,000 a night. 

Helicopters are the taxi of choice, while in the harbour yachts sidle up next to each other.

‘One of our contributors said it’s the only place in the world where you can walk down the street in a £1m diamond necklace and feel safe,’ says director Michael Waldman, who gained extraordinary access to some of Monaco’s residents, from street cleaners to its royal family, for the three-part series narrated by First Dates’ Fred Sirieix. 

‘It’s an odd place,’ says Michael. ‘There isn’t just the financial advantage to living there, it’s also a place that makes its own rules. It’s a toytown on the Mediterranean that has its own laws, police and rulers.’

Michael was granted the privilege of getting up close to Prince Albert II, Monaco’s constitutional ruler, and the behind-the-scenes glimpse is extraordinary.

The 62-year-old works out of his mother Grace Kelly’s old office. He was 24 when she died after a car accident and he hasn’t changed a thing, from sofas to miniature figurines. 

Michael travels on Albert’s private jet as he flies to represent his nation at the UN, and also to an apartment Albert borrows from a friend on Grand Prix day, giving him the best view of the race. 

In one moment of self-reflection the prince admits it can be hard having the weight of his country on his shoulders.

‘There’s not enough room for spontaneous activities,’ says the prince, who has five-year-old twins with wife Charlene Wittstock, a South African former Olympic swimmer.  

Just to become a resident you either have to find a job in Monaco, set up a business there, or prove you have the funds to support yourself (around £500,000). 

Lewis Hamilton during practice for the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco. Souped-up sports cars jostle for position outside the Hotel de Paris where suites cost an eye-watering £35,000 a night

You’ll also have to own or lease property there. And you have to have been a resident for ten years before applying to become a citizen – even then Albert has final say.

The zero per cent personal tax rates mean the rich are desperate to come, and space has become so tight that not only are ever-higher apartment blocks being built, but there are also plans to build out into the sea. 

Money comes in from the 20 per cent VAT on goods and services, and the tourism industry buoyed by events such as the Yacht Show and the Grand Prix.

The series also looks at the history of the country and how it went from being little more than olive groves to one of the wealthiest places on the planet. 

‘It has had some clever rulers who saw an opportunity to boost falling revenues when other countries banned gambling,’ says Michael. 

‘They opened up their casinos in the mid-19th century. They also decided to create this tax-free status; it’s not a model that could work for large economies but it is fine for somewhere smaller than most British towns.

‘One hundred years later, with new places to gamble opening up, it had lost its cachet. 

'There’s a story that it was Aristotle Onassis who told Prince Albert’s father Prince Rainier he should find someone in Hollywood to marry, to give the country a lift. 

'Even though the union between Rainier and Grace in 1956 was a love match, it also gave the principality a huge boost in terms of glamour.’

Rich tourists flock to the area and the series delves into some of their excesses by talking to the valets and housekeepers. 

One reveals how a Russian billionaire loved his sushi at the Hotel de Paris so much that he insisted the chef make more for his wife and he then flew it to her by private jet – all the way to Moscow.

‘There isn’t another place like this,’ says Michael. ‘So it was incredible to have the opportunity to see how this small country, which is more like a business, is run.’  

One in three of the 39,000 people who live in the tiny country – it covers just two square kilometres and sits on the French Riviera – is a millionaire at least

Inside Monaco: Playground Of The Rich, Monday, 9pm, BBC2.

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