The situation in Iran could hardly be worse. American hostages in Tehran, the shah critically ill in New York. Yet, in the social week that was, Princess Soraya, the wife the shah repudiated because she did not bear him an heir, made a spectacular comeback into Paris night life.
Last Tuesday, she made a rare outing to the Alcazar nightclub and a dinner party for 200 to see social butterfly Jacques Chazot receive a cup from Regine's naming him 'Number One of the Night." (Chazot has not had one lunch or dinner by himself in 25 years.)
Two days later, on a still rarer occasion, the princess gave a cocktail party at her Avenue Montaigne home, and then went on the new club 78. Since she had kept conspicuously out of headlines since the Islamic coup that toppled her husband, people started wondering why she would, all of a sudden, go out in public.
The princess, who has not given an interview in 10 years, succeeded in keeping journalists and photographers out of her party. "There were only friends, nothing unusual," one of her guests said. But she agreed to talk on the telephone.
Why would she give a cocktail party just now? "For no real reason," she said. "This is just because, more or less, I give one cocktail party a year. sThere's no special occasion. For a long time, I've been very quiet, so I felt like going out."
But why the Alcazar? "My brother was in Paris," she said. "He had not been here for a while. I wanted to show him the town." (Chazot confessed that he was surprised just the same, but, naturally, pleased. "I don't quite understand," he said. "But I think she did it out of friendship, without thinking of the consequences.)
Asked if she felt that the timing was, well, right, Soraya answered: "It's very hard for me to talk about politics. I've cut all ties. I have no more information about Iran than anybody else. Except for what I see and hear on television, I'm just like everybody else."
No, she does not like going out much, she added. Never did. "Much less than normal," she said. "But once in a while, after all, one does live in a big city. But anyway, I'm not very social, as you know. I live a quiet little life."
As to what city she considers home, the princess, who has never been back to Iran since her separation from the shah in 1958 said: "I used to live in Italy. For three years now, I've lived in Paris."
Friends say that she left Rome and her Via Appia Antica villa (with two pools, 30 rooms a projection room and a sauna) because of kidnaping threats. Otherwise, she had not been as free to travel as she wanted, friends added. Whenever the shah and the empress turned up anywhere, but mainly in such closed social circuits as St. Moritz, Soraya would be discreetly asked to leave.
"I'm in a delicate situation," she said. "But I've always kept out of contact and tried to make a little life for myself, without feeling sorry for myself."
Of the situation in Iran, she said: "I've been away for more than 20 years. It's a long time."
What the princess said is no doubt true. She has been away so long that she may very well feel detached from the whole situation.However, it's hard to stop people from talking.
Some friends claim that she can't help but be inwardly satisfied at what's happening in Iran, because she was, after all, the first victim. The same friends note that, while the Shah and the empress are hated, Soraya is still remembered with love. "Her royal neck is not on the ayatollah's list," they say.
Others claim it's a lot of nonsense. According to Yves Vidal, a frequent escort of Soraya, "She is not resented at all. On the contrary. She is a very simple person who I don't think ever really enjoyed being at the head of a country.
"She is shy, slightly scared. She was always afraid of major dangers her position might put her into. Besides, I don't believe she has any ambition at all. She's no Evita Peron."
She had even less curiosity, said Vidal, and was not as widely traveled in Iran as one might have expected. "One day, I was telling her about some artistic spots in Iran she had never heard of. My, she said, you know more about my country than I do." Yet, Vidal added, "I'd only spent four days in Iran."
Still, according to Vidal, that story of the sad, green-eyed princess is nonsense, a legend fabricated by the press. "There's no soap opera there," he said. "On the contrary. And while she has a tendency to close up in big parties, she is quite relaxed in a small group of friends. A nice woman, not aggressive at all. Her life, as she put it herself, is really quite banal. She gets up late, never has lunch and does the rounds of social spas such as Monte Carlo and Gstaad, always keeping on the quiet side of things."
As for her love life, the princess has been romantically linked with a number of socially prominent men. But close friends insist that her only real love was Franco Indovina, an Italian film director with whom she made one rather bad film called "I Tre Volti." The film was a flop, but not, apparently, the romance, which lasted seven years until Indovina died in a plane crash en route to Sicily. Otherwise, her escorts were prominent bachelors in various capitals such as Massimo Gargia in Rome and Jacques Chazot in Paris.
As friends still point out, of all Iranian royals she fared the best. After all, the shah left her the magnificent jewels he gave her as wedding presents. The story goes she bought her Roman villa with the sale of one necklace. The shah also set her up with a very comfortable income and she retained her title of princess as well as diplomatic status.
She lives her life quietly, discreetly. Nobody really talked about her anymore before the Iranian coup. And that, friends say, is just the way she wanted it.