Party in Provence!


I first came to this extraordinary Provencal hamlet, ‘Le Grand Banc’ when I was eighteen, by mistake, an interloper. I was supposed to be going to a Greek island with two Etonian brothers and had been told very little about our journey. Our hazy plan was for Brother 1 to drive me to the South of France, sleep somewhere and pick up Brother 2, and then on to Greece.

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As I got out of the car, hot, tired and angry at the advances on the road of Brother 1, and gazed up at the incredible hamlet outside Oppedette, a figure wearing a Shirley Bassey wig and a chain mail minidress and very high heels, tripped nonchalantly down the stairs to greet us. This turned out to be Hank, ‘ the chef’! My eyes opened up wide, very wide.

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I had never quite believed in the Greek island holiday and as I am always reaching for new experiences and being surrounded by Etonians all my life was not my ideal plan, ‘here’ seemed a welcome, fascinating refuge.

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“Hi ” said Hank, linking his arms through mine, “would you like to meet Jeremy? ” “I would indeed, ” I said with new found confidence. Leaving the brothers behind and picking my way through lines of gorgeous sunbathing girls and boys my age, I headed toward the cave/workshop where a shy man with intense green eyes , dressed in just a sarong was intently at work. This was Jeremy Fry, inventor, engineer, the man who started James Dyson. Simply one of the most interesting people that I have ever met.

By the end of my first evening, Jeremy had decided that I was not going to Greece and I ended up staying a month and I have been friends with the Frys ever since. I remember writing to my mother and telling her where I was staying and being told to come back immediately, which I ignored.

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Instead, we went to film director Tony Richardson’s decadent hamlet near St Tropez (which is now for sale!) Tony played a huge role in my life when I was an actress in Hollywood. That year, Jeremy was determined that we were going to attempt a crossing to Corsica in his new invention, ‘ the sea truck ‘, a flat bottom boat. Ferries had been cancelled, the waves were ludicrously high, but this didn’t deter Jeremy. Tying us down, after our bags had flown overboard, vomiting, and thinking of my mother’s letter, we made a dramatic crash landing into Corsica. It was always an adventure being with Jeremy.

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Le Grand Banc was a neglected pile of rubble when he first set eyes on it, abandoned by the lack of a water source. Not a man to be beaten by the limitations that nature has imposed, this was child’s play to him. Over the years he rebuilt every house in the hamlet with the principle that this was a place to work hard and play hard. Cosmo, his son, has taken on the mantle and continued developing the hamlet.

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I went back to the Grand Banc this year and stayed in the house where Tom Stoppard wrote ‘Shakespeare in Love’. Cartier Bresson, John Malkovich, Mario Testino, Dom McCullin, Tony Snowdon and Princess Margaret and many others have come over the years, some to work, others to play.

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Le Grand Banc is the perfect place to hold a party, it easily sleeps 26 people, and has a great chef/team. It’s also great for families who like holidaying together or multi-generational groups. Cycling fanatics will love the hills of the Vaucluse. It has a little slice of magic.

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Thank you, Le Grand Banc and the Frys for changing the direction of my life and opening my eyes.