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Sun, champagne and SLRs at dawn – a portrait of glorious hedonism at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc

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There is a plaque set in the gardens on the path down to the famous seafront cabanas of the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc that quotes the writer Anatole France. It reads: “What will be, is what was.”

It perfectly captures the tone of the Hotel du Cap, a Riviera icon that looks down upon the coastline with a gaze that has seen it all: a century and a half of tumultuous times, various financial crashes and two world wars. During the second world war, the Americans requisitioned the building and in a sense they’ve never left, still making up 50 per cent of the devoted clientele that decamps here every summer with luggage sent on ahead and nanny, children and pets in tow. While the pandemic has curtailed that annual migratory flightpath, an army of valets and gardeners – “artisans du paradis”, as they are dubbed – have been preparing since July for their return. At 6am, the hosing-down of the clay tennis courts settles the dust for a day’s play, and wind machines remove rogue leaves and begonia blossom from the cushioned pathways that run parallel to the Grande Allée, the famous avenue connecting the belle époque hotel to the sea. In this rarefied atmosphere – whispering pines and Whispering Angel, the Riviera’s favourite rosé, left to rest in chilled silver buckets – everything seems right with the world. It’s a return to Baudelaire’s state of grace: luxe, calme et volupté, albeit with a surgical face-mask on. 

David Bailey was among the photographers who gathered at the hotel in the late 1970s-early ’80s
David Bailey was among the photographers who gathered at the hotel in the late 1970s-early ’80s © Don McCullin/Contact Press Images
Bailey with his then wife Marie Helvin
Bailey with his then wife Marie Helvin © Don McCullin/Contact Press Images

As a photogenic backdrop, the hotel has always drawn attention. It was exploited most memorably by Jacques Henri Lartigue, another hotel regular and one of France’s national treasures. The late ’70s brought a group of nine of the top photographers of the day – among them Helmut Newton, David Bailey, Lartigue and my husband, the war photographer Don McCullin – all invited by Olympus Cameras to spend time in the creative environs of the hotel and to test-drive the brand’s new XA. Over a handful of summers until the early ’80s, they contributed to an album of images that would eventually be published by Lustrum Press as Nine by Nine, which formed the basis for the opening exhibitions of Olympus Galleries in London, Hamburg and Tokyo.

These Riviera images conjure balmy days and nights, where, as the foreword reads, “cameras and photographers clicked, and conversation flowed”. Half-clad and high on champagne, they had larky debates about their craft, with Ralph Gibson, the American conceptual photographer throwing down the gauntlet: “We know how to use photography, but we still don’t know what it is.” The photographers acknowledged the challenges of the erotic image; its master, the Japanese Eikoh Hosoe, kept silent while Helmut Newton, bumming Marlboros, lamented his own inability to capture the perfect nude. This atmosphere of lighthearted joshing and unbridled enjoyment evidently unleashed something in the normally reserved, war-weary Don, who posed for Lartigue stretched out horizontally on the gravel of the Grande Allée. For Lartigue, the Olympus folios were a return to the familiar Cap d’Antibes autochromes of the 1920s and ’30s – sensual snapshots of a naked shoulder spangled with seawater, a spaghetti tangle of oil-slicked limbs on the iconic diving board, a sunbather in plaits.

Don’s portraits of his colleagues lounging around Eden-Roc also convey the easy playfulness of the time. Spontaneous, underproduced, they evince unselfconscious intimacy and optimism, with sweet snapshots of his then girlfriend Laraine Ashton (owner of the eponymous model agency ) gazing candidly, almost childlike, at the camera. The model Marie Helvin, all limbs and languor, is caught draped over an armchair – or over her new husband, David Bailey. Gibson and Newton link arms and cavort in their Speedos. You can hear the shuffling of ice in the wine buckets, feel the warmth of the rocky platforms around the pool.

Helmut Newton
Helmut Newton © Don McCullin/Contact Press Images
Don McCullin’s then girlfriend, Laraine Ashton
Don McCullin’s then girlfriend, Laraine Ashton © Don McCullin/Contact Press Images

The exuberant, unbuttoned late ’70s – an era of shifting social paradigms and expanding creative boundaries – was also the high-water mark for the hotel. The Oetkers, a German food-production family keen to expand their empire into hospitality, had bought it in 1969, and attracted a new kind of clientele. It was no longer just royalty and aristocracy around the pool – Hollywood rock stars mingled with European mobsters, artists, writers and reprobates to form an intoxicatingly democratic mix. 

“I had just witnessed the brutality to which humankind can sink, in Lebanon,” remembers Don. “I should have been unshockable. Yet the toplessness still threw me – me, a boy from Finsbury Park, in a place where the bills were settled only in cash, and where you ‘summoned’ the valets from a panel of buttons from your bedside table.

Jacques Henri Lartigue
Jacques Henri Lartigue  © Don McCullin/Contact Press Images
Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz © Don McCullin/Contact Press Images

“But it was liberating, exhilarating,” he continues. “I felt no guilt. I felt I had earned the pleasure of ironed sheets and manicured lawns after spending nights under tables to protect myself from air bombardments. I arrived in my DMs and khaki, tailored by Mr Mingh in Saigon, which had served me well in the Vietnam war but were out of place in those silent marble halls where you could hear a pin drop.”

But he quickly settled into the rhythm of a new lifestyle. On the advertising guru Frank Lowe’s yacht, The Floating Pound, Helmut Newton and Helvin gambolled with the others on the decks. “Newton’s role was to be life and soul of the party,” recalls Helvin. “We fell about when he tied me to the mast. It was living the dream. I was top of my game, still very much in love with Bailey and thanks to him no magazine was allowed to become bored with me.”

John Swannell, the fashion photographer, was an Olympus assistant at the time: “Photographers then were rock stars; no one was trying to be top dog, but they spent their time photographing each other endlessly. Patch [Patrick] Lichfield geekishly fiddled around with the equipment, Brian Duffy stomped about in a Che Guevara T-shirt. Wondrous Sarah Moon was always swimming. There were the statuesque Americans, Mary Ellen Mark and a young Annie Leibovitz, and Hosoe, singing karaoke. I can’t even remember if there were other guests around; we were absorbed in a bubble of our own. The hotel gracefully turned a blind eye to the shenanigans – even when Gibson came down the central staircase in Marie’s Ralph Lauren kaftan with a rose clamped to his mouth.”

Patrick Lichfield
Patrick Lichfield © Don McCullin/Contact Press Images
Helmut Newton and Ralph Gibson
Helmut Newton and Ralph Gibson © Don McCullin/Contact Press Images

“Yeah,” adds David Bailey. “I think I asked why no one had thought to tell Gibson it wasn’t a fucking fancy-dress party.” Bailey, who was in effect the poster boy for Olympus’ new cameras and the reason they were all there, is not given to nostalgia. But it was a pinnacle moment for fashion, photography and advertising – and the Hotel du Cap, he acknowledges, was properly old-school grand.

But the magic of those weekends eventually waned; by the 2000s, an economic tidal wave had tipped what was fun into decadent excess. “[In 2004] we were assigned our own bodyguards for the weekend,” Bailey recalls. “I said, ‘What do I need a fucking bodyguard for?’ Then Helmut rowed with my wife over the issue of a Montblanc pen and, well, that was the end, my friend.” 

Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc
Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc 
The hotel’s pool
The hotel’s pool © Jean-Pierre Bouchard/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Don left his job at The Sunday Times well before then. The world view had shifted, and he was disillusioned to have his pictures passed over in favour of style and celebrity shoots by the new proprietorship. “When I look back on these images, it’s with a kind of nostalgic fondness for a dreamy, playful decade,” he says. The moment is frozen in the smile of Lartigue, in his white suits and flowery shirts. He, like many in these pictures, is dead now. And, Don notes, it’s the end of an era too for Olympus, which sold its camera operations to a Japanese private-equity firm earlier this year.

No one can yet say whether the aftermath of the pandemic will usher in another roaring decade of euphoria, as it did for the Lost Generation in the 1920s, escaping prohibition to the Cap d’Antibes, thrilled to have survived the war. Or a revival of the Swinging ’60s, the liberated ’70s, or the consumerist ’80s – decades intoxicated with pleasures. But strangely, if the black-and-white images of a handful of weekends in the Hotel du Cap still strike a chord, it is for a joyful innocence that is all but lost. 



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CDU leadership backs Armin Laschet’s bid to be German chancellor

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Armin Laschet won a key victory in his campaign to succeed Angela Merkel when the party he leads, the Christian Democratic Union, backed him as their candidate for chancellor in September’s Bundestag election.

The CDU governing executive’s decision to back Laschet was a setback for Markus Söder, governor of Bavaria, who has also laid claim to the title.

The move was expected, but could prove controversial. Söder is by far the more popular politician, and many CDU MPs had argued in recent days that the party would have a much better chance of winning September’s election with Söder as their candidate.

After throwing his hat into the ring on Sunday, Söder said he would accept the CDU’s decision. However, it is still unclear whether his party, the Bavarian Christian Social Union, will accept Laschet as the CDU/CSU’s joint candidate. The CSU’s executive is meeting later on Monday.

Sunday’s events threw the process for finding a successor to Merkel, who will step down this year after 16 years as Germany’s leader, into confusion. The CDU and CSU traditionally field a joint candidate for chancellor: that person is usually the leader of the CDU, which is by far the larger party.

Volker Bouffier, governor of the western state of Hesse, said the CDU’s executive had unanimously backed Laschet at a meeting in Berlin on Monday morning. He added, however, that no formal decision had been made on the issue.

Bouffier said the executive had made clear “that we consider [Laschet] exceptionally well-suited and asked him to discuss together with Markus Söder how we proceed”. He added that “the current polls should not determine the decision over [who we choose as] candidate”.

Since Laschet was elected CDU leader in January, the party has suffered a precipitous slump in the polls and that created an opening for Söder. He has frequently argued that the CDU/CSU’s joint candidate should be the politician with the best chances of winning in September.

Voters have blamed the CDU for the government’s recent missteps in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, in particular the slow pace of Covid-19 vaccinations. Revelations that a number of CDU and CSU MPs earned huge commissions on deals to procure face masks also badly damaged the party’s image.

The malaise in the CDU was highlighted last month when it slumped to its worst ever election results in the two states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, which for decades had been Christian Democrat strongholds. National polls currently put support for the CDU/CSU at between 26 per cent and 28 per cent, way down on the 33 per cent it garnered in the last Bundestag election in 2017.

There was more bad news at the weekend for Laschet, who as well as being CDU leader is also prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. A poll for broadcaster WDR in NRW found that only 26 per cent of voters in the state are satisfied with the work of the regional government Laschet leads and only 24 per cent of voters consider him a suitable candidate for chancellor.

The slide in the CDU’s fortunes contrasts with the rise of the Greens. The party garnered 8.9 per cent of the vote in 2017 and is now polling at 23 per cent. It is seen as a racing certainty that it will be part of Germany’s next government.



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EU and UK edge towards accord on trade rules for Northern Ireland

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The UK and the EU are making progress in talks on how to apply post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland, raising hopes of an agreement that could help reduce tensions that have spilled over into violence on the streets of Belfast.

Officials on both sides said that recent days of intensive contacts had given cause for optimism that the UK and EU can craft a “work plan” on how to implement the Northern Ireland protocol, which sets the post-Brexit terms for goods to flow between the region and Great Britain. EU Brexit commissioner Maros Sefcovic and his UK counterpart David Frost may meet to review progress this week. 

“They are advancing on a technical level and probably we will see a [Frost-Sefcovic] meeting rather sooner than later”, said one EU diplomat, while cautioning progress depended on firm commitments from the UK and its “unequivocal support” for the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Other EU diplomats and officials said strong UK engagement in the technical talks on implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol had raised hopes that an understanding could be reached. 

“The mood seems to have warmed up a bit — the tone of the discussions is quite good,” said one British official. 

The talks are a follow up to a draft plan about implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol that was submitted by the UK to Brussels at the end of last month — a step the EU said was essential to rebuilding trust after Britain unilaterally extended waivers for traders from some aspects of the rules in March. This move prompted EU legal action.

The discussions between British and EU officials in recent days have taken place against the backdrop of violence in Northern Ireland, stoked in part by resentment within the unionist community at how the protocol treats their region differently to the rest of the UK.

From April 2 there were eight consecutive nights of unrest in Northern Ireland, involving both unionist and nationalist areas. The police responded by deploying water cannons for the first time in six years.

The Brexit deal placed a trade border down the Irish Sea in order to keep commerce seamless on the island of Ireland. The Northern Ireland protocol requires customs and food safety checks for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

Officials said the EU-UK talks now under way about implementation of the protocol cover a wide array of practical issues ranging from trade in steel and medicines to the policing of food safety standards, how to deal with residual soil on plant bulbs, and the construction of border inspection posts. 

“Technical talks are ongoing”, said an EU official. “Depending on the progress made at technical level, a political-level meeting may be held soon.”

But EU diplomats and officials also cautioned that more work remains to be done, especially on the thorny issue of applying food safety checks. Difficult talks also lie ahead on the timetable for putting particular measures in place.

Meanwhile Downing Street played down a report in The Observer that it was resisting proposals by Dublin for a special crisis summit to address the outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland.

“We have not refused anything,” said a Number 10 official. “It’s something we will consider.”

However there are concerns on the British side about the wisdom of holding a summit in Northern Ireland with Irish government ministers at a time when pro-UK loyalist groups have been engaged in street violence.

Irish officials said taoiseach Micheál Martin and British prime minister Boris Johnson have spoken and would “maintain close contact over coming days”.



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France to offer mRNA jabs as second dose after AstraZeneca 

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France has become the second country after Germany to recommend that younger people who have had a first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine be given a different jab for their follow-up shot.

The mixed-dose approach has been recommended by health experts in both countries — despite there being little clinical trial data to support it — because of the slim risk that younger people can develop blood clots when given the AstraZeneca jab.

The World Health Organization reiterated its position on Friday that there was “no data on interchangeability of vaccine platforms”, noting further research was needed.

The move comes as the European Medicines Agency said it is also probing a possible link between the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and four serious cases of unusual blood clots in the US, where it is currently being rolled out. It is not yet being distributed in the EU or UK. The vaccine is based on an adenovirus vector, similar to the AstraZeneca shot.

The EMA said it was not yet clear whether there was a causal link. J&J said it is working with experts and regulators to assess the data. “Our close tracking of side effects has revealed a small number of very rare events following vaccination,” it said. “At present, no clear causal relationship has been established.” 

In France, the policy will affect roughly 530,000 people under age 55 who were given a first shot of AstraZeneca from early February to mid-March when they were eligible under its strategy of giving healthcare workers the vaccine, while reserving the mRNA vaccines for elderly people most at risk.

The Haute Autorité de Santé, a panel of medical experts which advises the government, has said they should be given booster shots from BioNTech/Pfizer or Moderna. France has changed course to use AstraZeneca only in people aged above 55 since the blood clot issue emerged.

France announced its decision on Friday after the HAS recommended the mixed-dose strategy. Germany took a similar stance in early April. 

Health minister Olivier Véran told RTL radio on Friday that the mixed-dose approach was “totally logical” given the analysis of European regulators and France’s desire to continue its vaccination campaign as the scientific evidence evolved.

European countries, whose vaccination campaigns have been slower than world leaders such as the US, Israel, and the UK, have been grappling with how to use AstraZeneca doses since the blood clot reports emerged, with some countries applying new age restrictions and others pausing its use entirely.

But with Covid-19 still spreading, officials are also seeking to reassure people that the AstraZeneca vaccine’s benefits still largely outweigh the risks. 

The European Medicines Agency recently established that there was a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca vaccine and unusual blood clots with low blood platelets that have mostly affected women under 60 years old, though regulators have said there is no specific risk factor by gender.

The EMA said it had examined at least 86 such reported cases and 16 deaths, and recommended updating the vaccine’s safety information to list the clots as a possible side effect.

Élisabeth Bouvet, a vaccine expert and member of the HAS, said on Friday that the mixed-dose approach was a practical solution intended to protect younger people, who are at lower risk of developing severe forms of Covid-19, from the risk of blood clotting side effects. “It is really a choice based on safety,” she said.

“Given that the protection of the Covid-19 vaccines begins to diminish after three months, these people need an additional dose,” she added. “The idea is to give mRNA vaccine as a second dose for this population in a ‘prime-boost’ strategy.”

Even in the absence of clinical data, Bouvet said that they believed the approach carried low risks of side effects and was likely to offer people additional protection given that the Covid-19 vaccines all aim at the same spike protein on the coronavirus.

“We think that this approach will work,” she said. “There is no reason to expect any particular side effects with mixed dosing but it would be good to study the immune response it creates.” 

Peter English, a retired Public Health England consultant in communicable disease control, said it was “reasonable” to use other vaccines, particularly in younger patients, until the risk of blood clots caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine has been clarified.

“If we are to achieve vaccine-induced herd immunity [not just through masks and social distancing] a high uptake of vaccination will be required in the groups most likely to spread the virus, not just in those most at risk if infected,” he said, noting vaccine mixing and matching has been done for other diseases. 

Trials studying a combination of vaccines, including AstraZeneca’s and Russia’s Sputnik V shots, are under way.



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