Princess Antoinette of Monaco, the sister of Prince Rainier, died last month aged 90.
A few months after the death of Princess Grace, Antoinette announced her intention to marry John Gilpin, a friend for more than 30 years. They had met when he danced with the Marquis de Cuevas Grand Ballet de Monte Carlo to celebrate Rainier’s accession.
Gilpin was Principal Dancer of the London Festival Ballet (now the English National Ballet) for over twenty years from its inauguration in 1950 until leg injuries forced his retirement. The company was founded by Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin and this began Gilpin’s close, lifelong relationship with Dolin. The couple lived together and wrote the forewords to one another’s autobiographies. In 1959, Noël Coward wrote in his diary, “John Gilpin, I think, is the finest male dancer I have ever seen.”
Notwithstanding his relationship with Dolin, Gilpin decided to marry. In 1960 he wed Sally Judd (sister of Lesley, presenter of the classic children’s TV programme Blue Peter), a ballerina with the London Festival Ballet. Anton Dolin escorted Princess Antoinette of Monaco at the ceremony.
Gilpin and Judd had a daughter in 1962. From 1962 to 1968 Gilpin was the artistic director of the London Festival Ballet. His wife, however, left the company and started appearing in film musicals (Half a Sixpence and Oliver!), Gilpin was touring all over the world, and the couple drifted apart. They divorced in 1970 but remained friends.
When Gilpin married Princess Antoinette in July 1983 it was — for the first time for this royal bride, married a couple of times before — within the walls of the palace surrounded by her Grimaldi family. Bliss, however, was short-lived, as Gilpin died of a heart attack 40 days later. He was 53 years old.
Photo: from left, Anton Dolin, Princess Antoinette, and John Gilpin in Margot Fonteyn’s arms
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.