Historical anecdote or bon viveur: What was ex-King Farouk's life in exile really like? Samia Nkrumah, in Rome, talks to the woman claiming to be the last Egyptian king's third and final wife
The general impression of ex-King Farouk following his 1952 abdication and arrival in Europe is that he was concerned above all to live the good life, enjoying a reputation as a bon viveur. He frequented fine restaurants and night clubs; he played cards and he gambled. Many surviving photos show the former king in the Via Veneto, the renowned street in the centre of Rome that was the hub of high society in the 1960s and backdrop to Fellini's film La Dolce Vita.
Then there are the reports of Farouk's collecting and his attempts to pursue this in Rome. Apparently, he tried, but failed, to stop the auctioning off of items from his collection in Egypt after he left the country.
However, much less is known about the close friends and associates of the last reigning monarch of Egypt after his arrival in Italy. Italian journalists who could have given firsthand accounts have passed away. One commentator contacted by Al- Ahram Weekly referred to the last Egyptian monarch as a "minor figure", "an anecdote" in Italian history. Another recalled how Farouk was known as Faroukone in a reference to his burgeoning size.
Such a casual attitude is not altogether surprising, since many Italians at the time would have been less than enthusiastic about the institution of the monarchy. Just a few years earlier in 1946, following the end of WWII, the Italians had voted in a referendum to end their own monarchy, dating to the unification of the country in the late 19th century.
The reputation of Italy's penultimate king, Vittorio Emmanuele III, had been tarnished by his association with Mussolini and fascism. And the constitutional law prohibiting the return of the male descendants of the former king was only abolished in late 2002.
However, there is one person in Rome closely associated with the former Egyptian king, and, contacted by the Weekly, she was prepared to describe her knowledge of him. In a telephone interview, Irma Capece-Minutolo, a Neapolitan singer of some repute, revealed she was the former monarch's third and final wife.
A Catholic, Minutolo says she got married to Farouk in the Islamic tradition and they lived together for eight years. Various old photographs show the couple together at various gatherings in the late 1950s. They also show the considerable age gap between the two.
"When I first saw Farouk, I was 11 years old. We got married when I was 16," says Minutolo. She recalls how impressed she was with the former king, who spoke very good Italian apart from his fluent English, French and German.
When pressed to say how she met Farouk, Minutolo refuses to give more details about their early encounters. She is saving these and other anecdotes for a book, for which, she says, she is currently searching for a publisher. The book, Minutolo says, will be based on a diary chronicling her life with Egypt's last king.
Born in Naples, Minutolo also reveals that she is a princess in her own right -- Princess of Canosa, a descendent of the old Neapolitan Capece- Minutolo family.
Without divulging any particular tidbits of her life with Farouk, Minutolo says she has many good memories of their life together. She insists they did what many other couples in love do: escaping from Farouk's bodyguards, the couple more than once succeeded in enjoying the countryside together.
Farouk and Minutolo travelled together extensively between Rome, Paris, Monte Carlo and Geneva. However, home remained a house in Parioli, a posh residential district of the Italian capital which houses many members of the diplomatic community. Minutolo also claims to have known the former Egyptian Queen Farida, Farouk's first wife.
Were there other women who featured in the former king's life in Italy? Minutolo brushes aside the question, only admitting that Farouk had "many women friends" with whom he went out. The day Farouk died, Minutolo was not with him in Rome, but in Monte Carlo. "We had spoken on the phone earlier, but no, I obviously wasn't the woman at his side in the restaurant the evening he died," she said.
"I was only 24 when he passed away at the age of 45 in 1965," Minutolo says.
As for whether the ex-king was the victim of a plot by Egyptian intelligence, Minutolo declined to comment. Instead she reminisced about her concerts in Egypt organised by the Italian Cultural Centre a decade ago. After Farouk's death, Minutolo pursued a singing career, which took off two years later, she recalls.
She performed in famous works by Verdi, Puccini and Leoncavallo at the opera house La Scala in Milan, her career reaching its peak when she was awarded the Maria Callas prize. Minutolo never married again, being too busy running her singing career. Today, at 64 years old, the woman who claims to be Farouk's last wife runs a singing school in Rome.