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Louisette Azzoaglio @ Amedeo M. Turello – The Naked Soul 2018

At the age of 88, the founder of CREM and President of Action Innocence Monaco Association has agreed to retrace her exceptional life’s journey, from her years with Princess Grace to her current philanthropic and charitable commitments.

You have held Monegasque citizenship for decades. Could you say a few words about your origins and your arrival in the Principality?

I am of Italian descent, my parents are Italian, but I was born in Monaco. As it happens, both my father and grandfather were also born in Monaco, but they retained their Italian citizenship.

Tell us about your work with Princess Grace. How did you cross paths with her?

I was already working in the Palace as secretary to the Governor of the Princely House, Colonel Ardant (father of Fanny Ardant), who said to me one day: “, Louisette, from tomorrow you will have to replace Princess Grace’s Canadian secretary, because her mother is seriously ill and she is leaving in three days’ time. As you speak fluent English, the Princess requests that you to replace her until she has found another secretary”.

I was very touched by this suggestion because I did not know the princess at the time; I had only met her in passing in the corridors of the palace but had not yet had any direct contact with her. To my great delight, the princess seemed pleased with my work and I was happy to work for her. At the same time, I continued to do the secretarial work for Colonel Ardant, but after a month I asked him if it was possible to find a permanent secretary for the Princess, as this double secretarial work was difficult to manage in the long term. He replied: “Don’t worry, I will find myself a new secretary, the Princess wants to keep you”! And so, I remained her personal secretary for 19 years until her tragic accident.

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Princess Grace of Monaco © Hans Peters / Dutch National Archives

What impressed you the most in your work with Princess Grace? Is there a particular event that comes to mind?

Many events have left their mark on me in terms of her life, what she was and what she achieved.

One event that deeply touched me was when I lost my husband, and the Princess herself took me and my children to Paris where they enrolled in school, as she resided there during the winter for the studies of Princesses Caroline and Stéphanie. At that time, Prince Albert was attending university in the United States. After a few months, I was still greatly affected by the loss, and everything became too overwhelming for me – my work, my children.

So, I asked the Princess if she would allow me to take two or three months off so that I could regain my balance. During that period, I had no idea what to do with my life anymore. The Princess immediately agreed, and this gesture deeply touched me. After spending those three months in London, where I had found temporary employment, the Princess welcomed me back by her side. I was incredibly happy to return, and I felt immense gratitude towards her.

Could you recall the Princess, as you knew her?

I need not describe the beauty of the Princess; everyone who had the good fortune to meet her was impressed by her. She radiated such charm and such purity of soul and features that her aura was almost visible to the naked eye.

This woman, who was endowed with great intelligence, also possessed a rare sensitivity and curiosity in all domains. She shared the Prince’s desire to make the Principality shine in as many areas as possible and worked tirelessly to promote the social, cultural and international aspects, attracting numerous personalities from the most diverse fields to Monaco.

Despite the limited time her commitments left her, she insisted on taking a personal interest in the upbringing of her children and respecting family values. Her Irish roots certainly contributed to her exceptional sense of family and empathy for others. She led an extraordinary life and had an illustrious career. Everything she touched was successful: the cinema, which she shaped with her elegant style, and her office as Princess of Monaco, which she dedicated to her family and her new country.

She was a role model for me and had a lasting influence on my life and my world view.

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Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace at the White House in 1961 © Jfklibrary.org

You have been involved in various associative and charitable projects for many years. Could you say a few words about these experiences?

After the death of the Princess, I was not sure what direction my life would take. Prince Albert, who had returned from the United States, offered me the opportunity to set up his secretariat, which I did until his accession to the throne, after the death of his father, Prince Rainier III. After that, I retired but remained connected to the palace.

One day, a friend suggested setting up a “Lions Club for Women” in Monaco, which already existed in Italy but not in the Principality. At that time, these clubs were exclusively for men and did not accept women. I was not used to being involved in clubs, apart from what I had experienced alongside the Princess. I agreed to my friend’s suggestion and together we founded the Monte-Carlo Women’s Lions Club, which I chaired for several years.

During this time, I also had the idea of founding another club called “Stradivari” together with the pianist Michael Desjardins, as I had always regretted not being able to play a musical instrument properly. For me, music is not just a collection of sounds, but a companion in everyday life, a reflection of beauty and creation.

The aim of this association was to support young violinists and pianists at the beginning of their careers and we organised several concerts, sometimes with the participation of renowned musicians.

Louisette Lévy-Soussan Azzoaglio presiding a charity auction for “Action Innocence Monaco” © Direction de la Communication / Manuel Vitali

In addition, Valérie Wertheimer, the president of the Action Innocence France association, contacted me one day and asked me if I would be willing to found Action Innocence in Monaco. At that time, this association already existed in France and Switzerland, but not yet in the Principality. I said yes because it is a prevention organisation for young people that deals with the dangers of the Internet. The Internet is undoubtedly a wonderful means of communication, but it was already a danger for children when it first appeared. Today, children are much better informed than they were 22 years ago. Back then, they were an easy target, so it was necessary to educate them about the various risks. Action Innocence’s motto is: “Yes to the Internet, no to its dangers.” Even today, our psychologists still give lessons in schools in the Principality and neighbouring municipalities to educate students about the dark side of this indispensable tool.

Action Innocence is also extending its efforts to the fight against the increasing harassment that is a new dark side of the Internet. Anonymity on the internet is causing great harm in schools and can even lead to children committing suicide. We have intervened in numerous cases to tackle these problems and prevent such tragedies. Our psychologists support distressed children who have experienced bullying and help them to regain their balance. After a suicide attempt, these young people and their families often go through such emotional turmoil that they become completely unbalanced and lose faith in themselves.

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Louisette Azzoaglio Lévy-Soussan pictured with her two sons, Guy-Thomas Lévy-Soussan (left )and Criss Roux © Louisette Azzoaglio Lévy Soussan

As I was unable to take on both presidencies, I left both the Lions Club and “Stradivari” as I could not find anyone to replace me, especially as Michael Desjardins, with whom I had founded the club, had an accident during this time. I therefore decided to concentrate fully on Action Innocence.

What advice would you give to parents?

I think that modern life doesn’t make family life any easier, because parents today have to reconcile this family life with a very demanding professional life, especially women. When a working mother comes home, all the domestic chores are waiting for her, unless she can afford to hire an assistant. Tired parents have little time in the evening to devote to their children and give them the attention they need.

I advise parents to talk to their children every day, despite the pressures of modern life and their work. I think it’s important to return to the family as often as possible. It’s very tempting to get distracted by things that you imagine or that are happening elsewhere, but we need to get back to our community. Globalisation has created challenges and problems for which often no solution has been found.

Louisette Azzoaglio Lévy Soussan @ Amedeo M. Turello – The Naked Soul 2018

How are the projects of Action Innocence Monaco financed?

As we receive no subsidies and only a few members pay modest contributions, we have decided to create a flagship event: the Christmas tree auction, which provides us with the financial means to continue our activities. This also includes paying school psychologists, as all our activities are free of charge. We also distribute numerous prevention materials free of charge. To organise this auction, major companies in the Principality, particularly from the fashion and decoration sectors, but also well-known hotels in Monaco and private individuals, design, create and decorate Christmas trees that are auctioned off once a year in the lobby of the Hotel de Paris for the benefit of Action Innocence. This event always attracts many people, and H.S.H. Prince Albert has honoured us with his presence time and again over the years to show his support.

Would you advise children in the Principality who are in distress, suicidal or being harassed at school to contact your organisation directly for help?

Yes, I would. But today, the Department of Education, Youth and Sport of Monaco, together with the government, has set up a hotline for emergency calls. However, we often follow closely the families who are distressed by these events and need to be accompanied and supported to deal with the aftermath of a tragedy.

In my speech at this year’s Christmas tree sale, I said to parents: Talk to your children! Children are often ashamed and do not dare to say anything. They are very vulnerable during such events and it is important that parents talk to them. Families are devastated by these events, and Action Innocence endeavours to support them and help them overcome these dramatic events.

Then, more recently, you created CREM (Club des Résidents Étrangers de Monaco). How did that idea come about?

That was an idea that had occurred to me a long time ago. I had realised that many foreigners live in Monaco, but often you only find out about their existence when you read about their death in the newspaper! So I thought it would be good to create a place that would be their “new home”, as they had left their homeland. Newcomers to Monaco can sometimes feel lost. That’s why I thought of creating a club for them… a kind of “second home”. We started very humbly with meetings of a few friends who subscribed to the idea.

Our team consisted of H.E. Mr Henri Fissore, my son Guy Thomas Lévy-Soussan, Vanessa Tubino, Georges Cardona, Martine Deplanche, and Michel Dotta.

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HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco at the inauguration of the new salons of the CREM © Palais Princier, Eric MATHON/ Yvan SOULIER de Carte Blanche

However, the initial phase was a challenge, as we spent four years looking for an affordable locale. It was particularly difficult to find suitable premises in the Principality. One day, I presented the idea to Prince Albert, who found it fascinating and supported us in realising it.

The English bankers Frederic and David Barclay, the owners of the “Mirabeau” building, agreed to make premises available to us. It was a former restaurant which, after some renovation work, became the headquarters of CREM. The renovation work was carried out by Patrice Pastor, who provided us with completely renovated premises.

We had a locale, but the club still lacked a name. One day I had an inspiration and decided to string together the initials of the Club des Résidents Étrangers de Monaco, which led to the acronym CREM.

I wanted an ambience reminiscent of a British club, but as I did not know much about interior design, I did not know where to start. Knowing the remarkable design talent of Lady Tina Green and in particular her commitment to philanthropic causes in the Principality, I approached her. I presented her with the project details and floor plan of the space and conveyed to her the ambience I envisioned for the club.

Three months later, I received a call. The club was beautifully decorated, right down to the customised furniture. Lady Green’s contribution was a gift, we just had to cover the cost of the high-quality, customised furniture.

Louisette Azzoaglio Lévy-Soussan with HSH Princesse Charlène of Monaco, HSH Prince Albert II and Guy-Thomas Lévy-Soussan © Photo Eric Mathon/Palais Princier

So, we recruited some donors and five sponsors came on board and became honorary members of CREM. The new premises were inaugurated in June 2010 by H.S.H. Prince Albert and the then Minister of State Michel Roger.

Initially it was a kind of makeshift operation, but since 2010 the club has grown and is currently run by a director and three colleagues, two of whom have been with us from the beginning.

As of 2024, how many members do you have?

Still around 500.Some leave, others return; it fluctuates. Over time, we have established contacts with the government, local businesses, artists and writers. Our aim was to create a place for foreigners living in Monaco where they could come every day to catch up on news, entertain their guests, have a drink, organise small meetings, attend lectures and concerts. During the year, we even organised outings and receptions in prestigious or unexpected places, which were much appreciated by our members.

The club brings together people from over 45 different countries and fosters friendships based on common interests. We also help them integrate into Monegasque society.

I hope that CREM can continue to bridge the gap between old and new residents of the Principality for many years to come and provide them with a home where they can flourish.

Given my age, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to fulfil the role of President. At the moment, my eldest son, Chris Roux, is Vice President and will hopefully take over the leadership.

My youngest son, Guy Thomas Lévy-Soussan, helped me set up the foundation at the beginning. I’m grateful for their tireless support.

Could you say a few words about your love of animals and your commitment to the animal shelter in Monaco?

Animals have always been a part of my life; I’ve had dogs and a few cats too, although not many. Most of my dogs have been exceptional, not because of their breed, but because of their “human” qualities. My current dog is called Joy, and like many of my four-legged companions, I adopted her from the shelter of the Monegasque Society for the Protection of Animals (SPA).

A dog adopted in this way becomes a lifelong companion and, unlike humans, they often know how to express their gratitude for the new life they have been given.

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Louisette Azzoaglio Lévy-Soussan with HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco © Louisette Azzoaglio Lévy-Soussan

These animals depend on us and it is our duty to provide them with love and support. I believe that they are also wonderful companions for people who are alone or unwell. In Monaco, there is an association called “Les chiens de coeur”, of which I am a member. We visit sick and elderly people in care homes to comfort them and bring them joy.

I can only encourage everyone to visit animal shelters from time to time. Many people favour purebred dogs, but if that is not a priority, there are many animals that need rescuing and will repay your kindness a hundredfold.

In Monaco, a new shelter with more space for animals to play is being planned.

The Principality and the ruling family have always been committed to the protection of domestic and wild animals. I recently joined the Board of Directors of the Monaco SPA and hope that I can make a positive contribution to this organisation.

What are your passions and hobbies in your private life? Who is “Louisette” when she is not busy with her various charitable activities?

I tend to my garden and cultivate friendships. At a certain age, it’s a blessing to have so many friends, even if I have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But nowadays, young people have so many different activities that the role of grandmother is less active due to lack of time.

We see each other often, especially for our traditional Wednesday lunches, and we also spend a lot of time in our country house. Even though my love of travelling has diminished with age, I enjoy immersing myself in classical music. I also love opera and anything to do with art. But nothing compares to the joy of gardening, which I do as often as possible in Monaco or in the countryside. The joy of nurturing those tiny seeds that one day reward you with beautiful flowers or trees is a pleasure I never tire of savouring.

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Louisette Levy Soussan’s son Guy-Thomas Lévy-Soussan and his three children (grandchildren of Louisette Levy Soussan) , Mila, Edmond, Tobata © Louisette Lévy-Soussan Azzoaglio

I also enjoy family-style cooking. I have had the privilege of watching my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Mila, Tabatha, Edmond and Adem Melina, grow up almost to adulthood. They never cease to amaze me. And one of them is developing into a promising musician, which I really appreciate.

What are your plans for 2024?

At my age, you don’t make so many long-term plans! I can only hope that my family will experience as much happiness as possible in this increasingly complex and unpredictable world.

I hope that I can continue my charity work for a while longer, because it motivates me a lot. My priority is to cause as few problems as possible for my family and friends and to share many more happy moments together, because they mean everything to me. I think I’ve been more faithful in friendship than in love!

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