Gstaad Life had the pleasure to spend an afternoon with Taki Theodoracopulos, the legendary long-term resident whose name is synonymous with the Saanenland. From the very start of the interview, the controversial columnist displayed his trademark charm.
“Boys, I’m going to be the Gstaad Life centrefold!” he hollered to pals having a casual afternoon drink at the Palace.
While Taki claims to have a “reduced role in life” (read: the years are catching up with him), he has not lost his biggest gift, his no-holds-barred tongue and wicked sense of humour. Nor has he given up on an important goal—to keep Gstaad the way it is, or rather, the way it was.
Taki’s life story is literally so interesting that one couldn't make up anything so grandiose—or entertaining. The grandson of the former Prime Minister of Greece and heir to a shipping fortune, Taki’s achievements run the gamut from world-class athlete to accomplished journalist, from convicted felon to husband of a veritable princess. An Olympic tennis player, he continues his love for sport, and is the oldest life member of the Eagle Ski Club, having joined the exclusive group in 1958.
At nearly 80, Taki still has a spring in his step and a twinkle in his eye—it’s no surprise to learn that he is considered by many to be one of the last great playboys, giving nod to an era gone by; one of chivalry and manners…that is, if you don’t count the tongue-lashings he continues to give at a steady clip.
The views expressed in this interview are Taki’s own, and not necessarily those of Gstaad Life magazine.
GL: Taki, you’re known for your outspoken columns, which many have deemed racist or sexist. What can you say to your detractors?
TT: The reason I talk the way I do is stop political correctness! Soon we won’t be able to say anything about anybody. You can’t even call someone old anymore. Why are we so afraid to call a spade a spade? Political correctness only leads to a total ban on everything—a censure of sorts.
GL: When did you first come to Gstaad?
TT: I have spent all my winters here since I was eight years old. Around 40 of those were at the Palace—in those days everybody stayed at the Palace. Later, I played the tennis tournament when I was around 20 years old. In summer, being caught in Switzerland was a punishment worse than death. It was filled with old people.
GL: What was Gstaad like back then?
TT: I liked Gstaad in the 1950’s and 60’s so much. It was so tiny in those days. Then, when we were in Switzerland, we acted Swiss. We played by the rules. We didn't drive fast, or fight, or show off, or break the law. It made Gstaad unique. These pigs that come here now…Europe has given in to money. Once we let it in, there’s no going back.
GL: And the Palace?
TT: Back then there weren’t many private chalets, so we all spent three months here at the Palace in the winter. It was wonderful. We all gambled. Poker, backgammon…it was a big game—me, John Zographos, John Heminway, and Bobby Sweeny. But the crooks found out in the 1980’s and started making trouble, so we had to give it up.
GL: You've lived for many years on the Oberbort, which in the past decades has gone from charming hamlet to over-developed hot-spot. Is this why you’re leaving the area?
TT: I’m building a nice old-fashioned chalet that is high up on Wispile in an isolated area. It’s away from the village…my place on the Oberbort became untenable. I couldn't live up there anymore; I couldn't stand to hear Ferraris zoom by and a knock at my door every two minutes.
GL: You say the Promenade is filled with empty boutiques. How was the village different decades ago?
TT: When I go into town, I love all the shopkeepers, but the clientele is a horror. People have no manners anymore.
GL: What’s to blame for the lack of manners?
TT: New money. New money will do it every time.
GL: The world, and indeed Gstaad, has become more multicultural since you’ve been coming here. Do you regret this?
TT: Let me tell you a story. Recently I gave a talk to some of the world’s wealthiest individuals. I was seated on the right of Dame Vivian Duffield (Editor’s Note: Dame Duffield is a philanthropist involved closely with charities, including several Jewish charities) which was odd because I make such fun of her publicly. During my speech, I said that she led the Jews out of Egypt 3,000 years ago…and into Gstaad. Had she not done this, we’d still have only cheese and milk shops, rather than the luxury boutiques that line the Promenade today.
GL: Is it not the wealthy guests, in general, who keep these boutiques running?
TT: All those boutiques are empty. Listen, I don't expect Gstaad to stay exactly the way it was, things have to change. But the idea that you have to have a swimming pool and a movie theatre in a chalet to enjoy the Saanenland is rubbish. It’s really new money that has blemished Gstaad. And, of course, the Arabs.
GL: You say your best friend is Jewish. Can you really be an anti-semite?
TT: I grew up in a “country-club anti-Semite” environment where all the WASPS disliked Jews. They didn't actually know anything about them. I went to school with many Jews and it was easy to dislike them because they were smarter than the rest of us! They were better students and worked harder than the rest of us, too.
GL: And your earlier comment about Arabs and the deterioration of Gstaad?
TT: I’ll quote Winston Churchill: “There is no more retrograde force in the world than Islam,” The people are not the problem…people are people. The problem is the religion.
GL: You’re Greek, but I detect a New York accent. How is that so?
TT: I grew up in America. My grandfather was convinced that Greece would fall under Soviet rule, so he sent the family overseas, to New York. I spend four months a year there now, and I love it. New York is a fantastic place. It’s also when I spend time with my family, with my son and my grandchildren.
GL: Having grown up in the US, why did you come back to Europe?
TT: Europe after the war was the place to be. In the 1950’s the reconstruction had finished and you had the German and Italian miracles. You had no mass tourism…not as many cars. Rome was a delight. I was based in Paris, which I loved. London was like the 17th century…people wearing strange clothes and speaking strange words.
GL: How did you transition from athlete to renowned journalist?
TT: I spent about ten years on the professional tennis circuit and then became a journalist. I started writing and went to the Middle East and Vietnam to cover the wars. I’ve written for National Review, the London Sunday Times, Esquire, Vanity Fair, the New York Press, and Quest Magazine, among others. In 2002 I founded The American Conservative magazine with Pat Buchanan and Scott McConnell, and I’m also publisher of the British magazine Right Now!
GL: You’re the longest running columnist at The Spectator, is that correct? Your tenure at Gstaad Life didn't last as long…
TT: My column ‘High Life’ has appeared in The Spectator for the past 38 years. I wrote for Gstaad Life briefly, but apparently my columns aren’t polictically correct enough. I do, however, still write a column for the Palace hotel magazine.
GL: If you were tourism director here, which type of guest would you recruit?
TT: If we could draw younger, and even poorer, people here to the Saanenland, that would be a great thing.
GL: What is your future vision for Gstaad?
TT: The beauty of Gstaad is that the slopes aren’t crowded here like in St Moritz, or France. How do you keep a resort in its original gemütlich state? It’s impossible. Look at St Moritz…it’s a nightmare. It’s made up of three foreign enclaves, and that’s it. I wish we could find a balance between unacceptable glitz and Hollywood style, and large wallets.