Friends of wealthy socialite Primrose Dunlop are saddened by the failing health of the heiress who was famously left at the alter when her bridegroom ‘prince’ ran off with the best man on the eve of their lavish wedding.
Dunlop, 67, the daughter of Australian society doyenne Lady Potter and an heiress to a $60 million fortune, has been put in full-time care with frontotemporal dementia.
Just before Christmas, some of Australia’s most prominent women – including rock publicist Patti Mostyn, author Janise Beaumont, painter Mary Pinnock and publicist-turned-celebrant Glen-Marie Frost – learned of her sad decline for the first time.
Expressing sadness, dismay and genuine affection for ‘Princess Primmie’ – who was witty, sharp, with a great sense of fun yet unpretentious – they said it was ‘a horrible way to go’ for ‘such a lovely girl … a dreadful disease’.
They also reflected on the ‘brilliant and exciting’ life Primrose had, her high-spirited encounters with the rich and famous, and the ill-fated Venice nuptials that made world headlines.
What made Primrose Dunlop a global cause celebre in April 1990 was meant to be Primrose’s marriage at Venice’s Basilica di San Pietro to diminutive Qantas flight steward Lorenzo Montesini.
Primrose herself dismissed the idea the union was her entree into European ‘royalty’ as ‘a load of rubbish’, but that didn’t stop the gossip.
Lorenzo Montesini claimed to hold the titles of Prince Giustiniani, Count of the Phanaar, Knight of St Sophia and Baron Alexandroff.
Primrose Dunlop and Lorenzo’s Montesini’s (above) intended marriage became a full-blown scandal when the groom – ‘Prince Giustiniani, Count of Phanaar – eloped with the best man
Robert Straub (above) and Montesini had become lovers on a ‘moonlit’ beach during the Vietnam war, but that was all a ‘secret’ until the lavish wedding plans became a notorious social fiasco
Society royalty, Lady Primrose Potter AM (centre, in 2018 with grandaughter Zofia, left) planned a glittering wedding in Venice where daughter Primmie (right) would become a princess
He also had a partner of two decades, Robert Straub, who Lorenzo had met as a 19-year-old soldier in Vietnam, and been with since an ‘encounter on a beach at moonlight’ on the South China Sea.
Primrose, who had been a social writer, at the time worked for Lord McAlpine, British Conservative Party fundraiser and developer who turned the remote West Australian town of Broome into a famed tourism destination,
Primrose was to become Lorenzo’s princess in a dress inspired by Balenciaga and wearing a diadem of gold oak leaves given to her by Lorenzo.
Three days of lavish celebrations would culminate in the wedding on Easter Monday 1990 at Venice’s Basilica di San Pietro.
The pre-nuptial parties at the Countess Maria Pia Ferrie’s opulent palazzo on Venice’s Grand Canal, one of Europe’s most fashionable addresses, were meant to be the high point of the season for 70 rich and fashionable guests.
Lady Potter and Primrose’s stepfather, multimillionaire stockbroker Sir Ian Potter, had invited American author Barbara Taylor Bradford, and American hostess Evelyn Lambert.
Sir Ian’s daughter Caroly is married to Simon Betterman Parker Bowles, then a brother-in-law to Camilla who later became the Duchess of Cornwall.
The lavish nuptials planned after three days of celebration sin Venice (above) were abandoned when the groom and best man took off for Paris after an argument about money
Primrose, above in classic high spirits with author Janise Beaumont, has been put in permanent full-time care and is suffering from right frontal lobe dementia, aged 67
After the wedding, the guests would return to the Palazetto Pisani in a regatta of gondolas, disembarking at the water entrance.
Champagne and a candlelit dinner would be served in the marble hall which runs the entire length of the palazzo.
The stage was set and for the Australians already flying in to Venice, it was to be the closest thing to a royal extravaganza they could experience.
The Potters had even flown in their own society priest, the jet setting Father Vincent Kiss, who unbeknown to anyone at the time had a predilection for stealing church funds and fondling boys.
And then the bridegroom dropped his bombshell and did a runner with his best man to Paris, causing a media frenzy.
But long before it fell into the most deliciously scurrilous feast for the world media – making news across Europe, in the UK, the US and Australia – Primrose’s bizarre wedding plan had been the subject of intense gossip and speculation.
Primrose Dunlop had a fabulous life among the rich and celebrated but was never pretentious and even after becoming the subject of global gossip about her wedding fisco took it in her stride
It began with a friendship forged between Montesini and Lady Potter – who he nicknamed ‘The Empress’ in deference to her noble manner and exalted status in Australian society.
Montesini later said he and Lady Potter ‘recognised in each other the quest for excellence in … living’ which ‘replicated that civilised world’ he had grown up in Alexandria, Egypt.
Montesini and Straub also became drinking buddies with Lady Potter’s daughter, and at one cocktail session, Primrose – nicknamed in her family Pitty Pat – was bemoaning the expense of getting to parties in London.
Straub suggested Lorenzo marry Pitty Pat. He said this would give her access to cheap Qantas tickets which at the time were not available to same sex partners.
The idea took hold, the news was leaked, the Potters announced the engagement and the couple posed for a formal photograph.
It was shot in the overstuffed living room of the ornately decorated twin rose pink terraces Montesini shared with Straub in the then shabby Sydney wharfside suburb of Woolloomooloo .
Lady Potter and Primrose’s daughter Zofia Krasicki (above) remain close after the death of Zofuia’s father Count Jerzy Krasicki v Siecin and the confinement of her mother
Dressed in a tuxedo pinned with his Vietnam medal, Montesini stands behind an elegant Primmie who sits on an elaborately carved chair beneath a chandelier in front of a massive gilt mirror beside a Chinoiserie screen.
The couple are holding hands.
Over the ensuing months, as Lady Potter organised her daughter’s extravagant wedding, tongues wagged at Sydney parties about Montesini’s claim to royal titles and his relationship with Straub.
Lorenzo said his grandmother was Princess Anna Grazia Papajionavi Giustiniani, but someone would claim his mother had been illegitimate, rendering him ineligible to be prince.
Burke’s Peerage, the London-based reference for the aristocracy, described the title as ‘a bit dodgy’ and said they had no record ‘of a Montesini’.
Lorenzo said he grew up in a grand house in Egypt, speaking four languages, and that his mother was a grande dame of post-war Egypt, a cross between ‘Ava Gardner and Ingrid Bergman’.
In the years since, Montesini has described his ittles as ‘courtesy titles’.
Four days of pre-nuptial celebrations in Venice would culminate on Easter Monday, 1990 with a wedding at the Basilica di San Pietro after which guests would return to the Palazetto Pisani in a regatta of gondolas
He and Straub had been together since the end of his deployment to Vietnam, but being openly gay back then was impossible.
Of the wedding, Montesini later said, Straub ‘wanted it to happen, and it would shut everyone up that we were not gay’.
Montesini said he tried to call it off, but the plans had taken on their own momentum and when he broached it with Lady Potter she replied, ‘now, now,n ow Lorenzo’.
He later told the ABC, ‘I was in this bubble. Midsummer madness. I tried to be as sane as I could. But it did get completely out of hand [and] I found myself on a plane heading for Italy’.
Before prenuptials could begin, an argument broke out about money.
Countess Pia would later recount coming home to her palazzo to hear crying and argument, remarking that ‘the bridegroom’s companion, an old man who sells clothes in Sydney, was telling the groom to pack his things and get out’.
The man was Lorenzo’s groomsman, John Lane, who pioneered the importation of Italian menswear to Sydney, and whose Transvaal Avenue, Double Bay, boutique outfitted ‘men of consequence’.
Now aged in his early 70s, Lorenzo Montesini endured being outcast from Primrose’ circle, the death of his lover Robert Straub from HIV, but has poured himself into the construction of a grand library in his native Alexandria, Egypt
Montesini later said he walked out after being expected to pay for a meal in Venice.
‘With the rich … they can spend millions on you and yet you can fall out over a taxi fare,’ he told the ABC.
‘I grabbed the opportunity when I was asked to pay for a rather large lunch and I said .. that’s it, not doing it.
‘We had to try and sneak out and it didn’t work. It all blew up
‘We flew into Charles de Gaulle there was a whole media pack. We were followed around in taxis.’
The Italian and British press in particular had a field day, with La Republica published a cartoon of two men throwing a tiara to a bride on a jetty while escaping in a gondola.
The Observer called it a ‘jet set sensation’ and ‘wedding eve fiasco’ and Primrose hired celebrity agent Harry M Miller to handle offers for the rights to her story.
Montesini said back in Sydney he ‘retreated’ into his ‘bubble’, but in truth Sydney society dropped him like a stone.
When Primrose relocated from Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay to Melbourne, she met a real estate agent named George Kirk.
The suave 60-year-old was actually Polish Count Jerzy Krasicki v Siecin and in 1993, 39-year-old Primrose married him in a small family wedding.
She became the Countes Krasicki v Siecin and they had a child, Zofia, a year later.
After a short period of being chased by the media, Montesini retreated into his own world with Straub, who had contracted HIV.
After the death of Primrose’s husband, Count Jerzy Krasicki v Siecin and her own decline from frontal lobe dementia, their Melbourne house in Brighton East (above) was sold and its contents auctioned
There would be no rapprochement between Primrose, the Potters and Montesini.
In 1994, Sir Ian Potter died, leaving a $60m estate.
After 27 years together, Straub died in Lorenzo’s arms in St Vincent’s hospice on August 15, 1995.
Montesini’s groomsman John Lane would die aged 85 in 2008, and Primmie’s employer Lord McAlpine in 2014, aged 78.
Father Vincent Kiss, the charming priest who had driven in chauffeured limousines with unwitting society grand dames, Lady Potter, Lillian Frank, Sheila Scotter and Jeanne Pratt, went to Pentridge Prison.
Sentenced in 1992 for stealing $1.8m church charity money, Kiss was named in 1995 by the National Crime Authority as owner of a guesthouse south of Manila which sold children as sex slaves to an Australian paedophile syndicate.
In 2002, Vincent Kiss pleaded guilty to three charges of buggery and ten of indecent assault against four teenage boys.
Author Janise Beaumont is among many of Primrose Dunlop’s friends who only became aware recently that the 67-year-old heiress had quietly been put in full-time care due to her dementia
Lorenzo Montesini threw himself into promoting a project is his native Egypt, the $400 million Biblioteca Alexandrina.
It was to replace one of the largest libraries of the ancient world, the Great Library of Alexandria, established in about 285BC.
In Melbourne, the Krasicki family prospered and Primrose’s daughter Zofia grew up very close to her grandmother, Lady Potter.
In 2017, Zofia was one of a handful of young women to be presented at Le Bal des Debutantes in Paris.
In 2018, George Krasicki died, aged in his 80s, and afterwards Primmie’s health began to decline with friends noticing her Facebook posts were erratic and confused.
Zofia, a design student now aged 27, went to live in London, but remained in close contact with her grandmother.
Lady Potter AC, now aged 91, was awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia in 2019 for her outstanding support for the arts, medicine and sciences in Australia.
She has been a patron or founder of, among many organisations, the Melba Foundation, the Victorian Opera Company the Bell Shakespeare Company, the Australian Ballet School, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, the National Gallery Victoria and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Before Christmas, friend Glen-Marie Frost (above) said of Primrose: ‘I valued our friendship and feel so saddened that our beautiful vital Primmie succumbed to this ghastly disease’
In April last year, George and Primrose Krasicki’s Brighton East home sold for $3.233 million at auction.
Lady Potter listed for auction silver, porcelain, antiquities and sculptures belonging to herself and Primmie.
Before Christmas, friend Glen-Marie Frost said of Primrose: ‘I valued our friendship and feel so saddened that our beautiful vital Primmie succumbed to this ghastly disease’.
Lady Potter revealed that both Primmie and her brother had both been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, which affects a person’s intellectual abilities and changes in personality, emotion and behaviour.
Lady Potter said of her daughter: ‘The bright lovely girl is no more.’