The following presentation is a personal account of the Amber Lounge 2015 event and its surroundings in Monaco during the Grand Prix weekend.
[photo finish - note to F1: the series could actually use some female drivers]
€186,000 raised publicly, a pageantry of invaluable pieces or art and memorabilia exhibited and auctioned silently, some of the world’s best racing drivers and most beautiful models taking the cat walk and the midnight party - a selected list of measurements that describes the Amber Lounge 2015 event I was invited to at the Méridien Beach Plaza in Monaco on Friday, 22nd May.
“Excusez-moi!” says me on a rented bike while dodging a pedestrian on the zebra crossing in downtown Nice. Romain and I are whooshing through the streets in the Friday afternoon traffic in the shade of palm trees, splitting lanes, fearing for my life as traffic lights are merely suggestive gestures in this town as the example above shows. Romain is a flight attendant and my host in Nice for the weekend and we are both guests - as press - to the Amber Lounge party in Monaco, a few kilometres to the East. About twenty minutes later we hit the freeway in a diesel Peugeot 106 with some of the familiar mountains of the Monte Carlo rally in sight in the distance and we head down to Monaco - right through the Grand Prix track - just to get the car parked in France, a two-minute walk away from the Méridien Hotel in the Principality.
This is to contrast the surroundings we are stepping into. You watch the Monaco Grand Prix and the Monte Carlo rally for years and years and try to fathom the amount of wealth and star-power these events attract (especially the former one) and even dream of getting somewhat close to this world, but I would never have imagined I would be invited to be right in the middle of it.
To recap on matters: Amber Lounge is one of the most exclusive after-parties during the Monaco and selected Grands Prix throughout the Formula One calendar, thought up by Sonia Irvine, sister of former F1-driver Eddie. It usually sees a fashion show with models and Formula One drivers alike taking the catwalk, loads of celebrity guests, a charity cause and exuberant parties.
Our passes enable to go up into the backstage in the hotel that looks right at the sea and the tunnel of the F1 track. Models’ make-up and hair is being prepared, some last touches on clothing, a few rehearsal steps in various lengths of clothes by fashion designers Melissa Odabash and Julien MacDonald as Formula One drivers are starting filling the room to dress into Apsley Tailors clothing. Sky Sports is filming everything and the word “glamour” is used in narration just as I cross the camera’s view. The irony.
[Watch out for the monkey in the Hungarian Grand Prix shirt on the left between 7:16 and 7:20 - among many others]
Nevertheless, I catch Manor F1 driver Will Stevens for a few words about our mutual friend, Nicolas Perrin - who is no longer with the team - and about his own season. What I’m most interested about is his view on the Manor car (which is virtually the same as last year’s) and the Caterham one he drove in Abu Dhabi last year. To much of my surpirse he says he, himself can’t even compare them because the tyres are so much different. The last call for F1 drivers is heard and they gather up for a photo shoot. And with that, all backstage activity ceases and we head back downstairs to the beach.
David Croft And Susie Wolff is hosting the event with pop star John Newman setting the mood with a live rendition of his hit song, ‘Love Me Again’, followed by the drivers’ and the F1 ladies’ parade in their beautiful Vionnet apparel. I am cramping myself among the high-profile journalists to get maximum view.
[it’s called a “Friday” in May in Monaco]
Then the main attraction, the auction for Autism Rocks, a charity organization that raises awareness of autism through music. The public part picks up steam a bit slowly, but ultimately €186,000 is raised, but even more interesting is the exhibited, silent part of the auction. Pieces include drawings from Picasso, Matisse, etc., various experience items and framed signatures from the Moon-landing Apollo 11 team, Wimblendon Legends, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, the members of the Beatles, Senna, Mansell, Prost and Piquet; James Hunt, Michael Schumacher, a short signed by both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, shoes by Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo and one of the centrepiece, a signed helmet visor by Senna and Damon Hill at the 11th March, 1994 F1 test at Imola - among many others.
[no disrespect, Your Serene Highness, but the real ruler of Monaco is right here]
As the auction winds down and the guests get ready to have their lavish dinner and part one of the evening draws to a close the oddity of the event hits me as I get to chase Niki Lauda down the Monaco seaside hotel’s hallway for a photo with a champagne glass in my hand that contains actual gold bits. Is this the real life, is this just fantasy? Romain and I decide to get a taste of Monaco street life. Supercars keep cruising up and down revving their engines, the rattles reverberating between the houses from blocks away. The road section between the swimming pool and the Rascasse is opened up for party people, pumping techno music at every step. It’s hard to believe that 900-horsepower cars are going to ride flat out here in 12 hours as the place is so much littered with the remains of partying. We head back to the hotel for the REAL party in town and just as we enter, the DJs are warming up.
The dance floor is filling up slowly, some of the models from the evening are here. I am reminded by this fact by them being significantly taller than me and dancing in one group. Two sets of dancers take turns to set the rhythm, while non-dancing people chill outside having a conversation by the set of high-end Desvall shisha pipes. Former and current F1 drivers are walking in an out, centered around Eddie Irvine. All of a sudden, the DJ announces John Newman once again and the dance floor explodes. People are jumping up and down, singing and cheering on. The party reaches a peak (or low point) at around three o’clock in the morning when someone decides to go F1 style and sprays a bottle of champagne into the crowd. Luckily for him, he just misses Adrian Sutil, but the people do not seem too much concerned about the adverse shower.
As the party draws to a close, I hit the early morning streets of Monaco again - through the tunnel, past the swimming pool, around Rascasse, back on the start-finish line, past Saint Dévote, up to the Casino. Someone recognizes my badge and shouts: “Dude, what’s the party like?” “It’s over.” I answer. “Over?” he asks. “Too bad. What was it like?” “It was effing amazing” I say. “Dude, you have to come on Sunday!” he says. “Nah, that’s how far my accreditation goes” I reply. “Come on, it will be fun!” “It sure will.” I say with a smile. “I just had the time of my life.” as I think of my cca 9-year old self watching the Monaco Grand Prix for the first time.
This is the closest one can ever get to the ethos of the Monaco Grand Prix without actually driving in the race. Work towards your dreams, people!
[all images - except helmet - are property of http://www.amber-lounge.com/]