Prince Michael of Kent, still curious about BulgariaSeptember, 2023
I hadn't heard of him. It was obviously my mistake.
He appeared out of nowhere in all his dignity, with no fuss, no security, or luxury cars, not even honors or royal business cards. Modest and befitting his titles, an awkward silence before saying anything.
His close friend, Prince Rostowski, whom I had already met, thought it would be interesting to see another representative close to Buckingham Palace while he was in Sofia for few hours.
Turns out it wasn't just me.
We part company with Prince Michael of Kent, first cousin of the late Queen Elizabeth II, and had a long friendly goodbye outside the hotel when
he almost whispers to me:
"I had two super interesting meetings in Sofia. With my good friend of more than 50 years King Simeon and with you. Come and see me soon in London, I will tell King Charles III that we have seen each other, and I will congratulate him from you." I replied embarrassed that he certainly does not remember me, despite all our meetings. "Sir, I will remember, so he will also remember you for sure. There aren't that many people from Bulgaria he had met..."
And… Prince Michael of Kent! We are having dinner in Sofia. The menu isn't Buckingham, but The Prince washes everything down slowly, thoroughly, and dutifully, as - presumably - is his protocol. Red pepper soup, of course, and a typical local Shopska salad (vegetables and white cheese)
and then some barbeque.
A wonderful combination for his only dinner here, but the biggest surprise is that after 53 years he remembers not only the taste of the Shopska salad. But also, the buildings, the streets, even - as he says - the smiles of the people on the streets.
- Sir, it is good that we met, and will continue to see each other, I hope. I visited Bulgaria in 1970. Now I find the country again so beautiful and charming, and ever so unfamiliar. I think Bulgaria needs an even better presentation to the world, but I can speak mostly for Britain. We need more Brits to know about what your country is about, about the people, but also about the opportunities to invest here, to do business, to learn about your culture...
I remind him that at the end of the day, business is the basis of everything, without it no society can develop without profits, without funds. I even mention
Winston Churchill's famous phrase,
when, at the height of the Second World War, to his defense minister's suggestion that money be taken from cultural funds to buy arms, he replied, "Well, if we are going to take from culture, what we are we going to win this war for...".
- I agree with both you and Churchill. This is not a black-and-white picture. Business is important, very important. That’s true! No doubt we should be doing everything we can to get more British investment into Bulgaria, but why are not Bulgarian businesspeople doing good business on our Islands too? Let us not forget that we have at least a quarter of a million Bulgarians who work conscientiously and dedicatedly. Their success is a British success, but it is also a Bulgarian success. Yes, but agree that cultural and historical ties must go hand in hand with business.
And only then did I ask him if he has also a specific project,
for almost an hour. His eyes lighted up, he carefully left his cutlery on the plate, slowly folded the napkin around the edges, and pronounced just one word: Pleven!
I didn't hide my surprise. Where is London, where - Pleven, and exactly at this so quiet, calm and gourmet dinner... What connection could be there be at all...
- Sir – ke said – you may not know. There are five streets in London named after your beautiful city of Pleven. You didn't know, did you? One explanation is that the victory over the Turkish army in Pleven opened the way for British business to the Suez Canal; the other is that the media then took this victory very emotionally and just
people decided to dedicate streets to them...
But whatever the reason, it is already, clear what idea I have - I am planning very soon to invite couple of students from Pleven schools, and friends will show them around these very streets, and I will give them a reception at Kensington Palace to tell them about my impressions of Bulgaria.
Now, and in 1970 - I saw different countries, of course, but you know - I'm equally attached to them.
That's how Prince Michael from Kent mixed business with culture, with history, with youth... We stay late into the night in the quiet restaurant, we are alone, and the waiters look at us from time to time a bit bored. Prince Michael, however, did not pay attention to them at all, and when I asked him when he will come again, he jokingly replies that he will not wait for another 53 years, and adds: "And we'll definitely go to Pleven, right..."
Text to the photo: Maxim Behar and Prince Michael of Kent, Sofia, May 2023