My Moroccan Sojourn with Francesca Von Habsburg – Hot Cameras, Hot Air Balloons & Stampeding Horses In The Desert


Tom Reynolds art director of the Sunday Times Magazine called me and said “Clive would you like to go to Morocco with Chessie (Francesca Von Habsburg who was at that time the Arch Duchess Austria), ” who is organising a tour for her charity the Arch Foundation”. Having photographed her previously for the cover of Tatler Magazine (holding a large Salmon) I was of course delighted to oblige. Francesca is a spirited and passionate advocate of the arts and her father was known to be one of the greatest collectors in the world, as an ex art student myself I found this exciting as I did not know that she was doing these things. The last time I’d seen her she was out and about in society and sharing an abode with Steve Strange (the new romantic performer).


I arrived with my German assistant Stephan at the palatial La Mamounia Hotel in Marrakesh. We met Francesca outside the hotel where she stood head to toe in white, wearing a wide brimmed straw had and looking radiant. “Clive how wonderful to see you, how are you?” I said “Good, great to see you in exotic Morocco” and we both laughed. She then said “We are off to the Souk to see the repairing of the ancient fountains”.  There were 12 black shiny air conditioned Toyota land cruisers with chauffeur’s in white moroccan outfits with red sashes  waiting for us. This was impressive I thought to myself while my assistant loaded up the cameras and equipment and we made our way in a convoy with the invited guests.  Richard Branson’s parents (who I got on very well with as I’d worked with their son Richard on shoots for various albums) were there and various other dignitaries who wanted to support The Arch Foundation, each contributing a large fee to take part. We then went to see the restoration work on the ancient fountains in the souk and then onto a restored Moroccan villa where Francesca gave a press conference to the assembled global press and we all had delicious mint tea and Moroccan sweet meats.


The next day we visited the ruins of an ancient Moroccan fortress which where I took the above photograph of Francesca.


We toured around a lot over the seven days I was on the trip. The above picture is of Francesca and her daughter Eleonore Von Habsburg.  The trip was being covered by multiple magazines and I was very concerned that Tom at the Sunday Times Magazine would feel that we didn’t have enough exclusive photos. I took Francesca to one side and as we had a long standing relationship she was very happy to do an exclusive shoot with me and leave the other photographers behind. We then travelled outside Marrakesh to a hotel built by an entrepreneur who  was ambitiously developing the edge of the desert.


When we were alone and since I had known her for sometime I asked her how she felt about being Arch Duchess of Austria. She said “Oh it’s fine but apparently when you die they cut out your heart and bury it somewhere else, which I have to say does not appeal” “But then again.” I said “You won’t know anything about it” and we both laughed.


The desert hotel  had no electric air conditioning and was designed in the traditional Moroccan way so that the air circulated freely between the rooms and the hallways. There were high towers that allowed the hot air to rise from the ground and then circulated cool air through the building.


We then moved into the gardens and as I was about to photograph Francesca and the children I went to pick up one of the two black SLR Leica’s that my assistant Stephan had left on a table in the bright sun. It was so hot I dropped it onto the ground exposing the film in the process. After some expletives I put the other camera into the shade and fortunately only a few frames were lost. That though is the sort of stuff that every photographer has nightmares about.



Early the next morning we went out into the desert where two hot air balloons were waiting. The air is still in the early morning before the heat of the day, which is the best time for ballooning. Francesca looked at me and said ‘Clive, get in the other balloon and you can photograph us from the other balloon” I laughed and said “Francesca you have no control once the balloon is up in the air, there is not way I will be able to accurately photograph from balloon to balloon.”

Francessca-balloon-basket copy.jpg

So I watched Francesca and the Arch Duke and family float of into the sky and once they were out of shot I decided to sit down and try to meditate. After what seemed like a long peaceful moment, I heard the sound of a large car approaching and the crunching of footsteps behind me. I turned around and said to the smiling face ” Hello if you are looking for Francesca she’s up there floating in a balloon.” I introduced myself and said “I’m Clive a photographer from London” the man smiled and said his name was Xavier Hermes and said “You were sitting very still when I approached, were you meditating?” “I was trying” I said in the stillness of the morning. He said “What were you meditating on?”, ” I said “I was thinking of my Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Khongla Rato Rinpoche, trying not to think without trying”. He smiled and said, “That’s so interesting I am a follower of Subud” and we then talked about spiritual paths and practices. Then he said “We are all meeting back at my place in about two hours for lunch why don’t you come back with me now”.


He very kindly showed me around his house and incredible art collection which included some beautiful renaissance sculptures and paintings. On the roof was a beautiful swimming pool lined with  beautiful classical Greek mosaics. The bottom of the pool depicted an eye floating in a palm tree. We sat around the pool on incredible extra large soft Hermes towels with a dolphin woven into them. This was when Francesca explained that Xavier was one of THE HERMES brothers and she looked at me and said “I wonder if he would do me a deal on these towels” which I found endearing since she was a Princess and could easily afford them.


Xavier (pictured above) was such a kind man and he really touched me with his knowledge and spiritual insights. Xavier has gone on to be a very revered and respected theologist working closely with the incredible organisation Religions For Peace which I find so admirable.  There are many people in the world that have great power but don’t necessarily do anything brilliant with their position, that certainly cannot be said of Xavier.

As we were leaving Francesca said “Don’t forget tonight we are all going to the desert to see the Tourareg Horsemen and dine with the tribal elders” After we had eaten I heard a thundering of hooves and the sound of gun fire as I witnessed horsemen emerging from a cloud of dust against the dramatic rose red sky. I ran out of the tent and laid down on my side to get a good angle as the ground shook beneath me. In the low light I had to shoot at a 30th of a second as they rode down towards me and at the last minute swerved to the side. I regretted that the pictures were not sharper but it was all over so quickly and that was my epic Moroccan sojourn.


  • Clive Arrowsmith is shooting stunning images, staging exhibitions and is as passionate about photography as he was when he first pressed the shutter at The Paris Collections. He is available for global media opportunities related to his work and photography generally. Bespoke prints from Clive’s archive are also available by special request, for any enquiries  (email Eugenie here). Clive’s book Arrowsmith: Fashion, Beauty & Portraits is available hereand Lowry at Home: Salford 1966 is available here


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