There’s a car valet outside the Byblos hotel in St Tropez who’s watched me go from child to mother. A single narrow street leads from the house we stay in every summer (a family friend’s) to the town, and halfway down the Avenue Paul Signac is the monument to fantastical excess, ode to jet-set Riviera life and supermodel convention centre that is the Byblos. The car valet who stands outside hasn’t changed in 40 years (all that olive oil), but I’m now out of a pram, and done with pushing one myself. I don’t know the man’s name, but when he gives me the usual nod and semi-smile, I’m reminded that he’s seen it all.
The early 90s was probably my St Tropezian heyday. Bandage dresses, white denim, indelible lip-liner… I rocked that look. And, of course, this is the one town in France where ‘de trop’ is a compliment, not an insult. My French friend and I would climb out of our bedroom window, leaving large, ancient dolls in each of our adjoining beds (had my mother ever checked up on us, the fact that we’d both turned into flaming redheads might have been a giveaway). Then, because it was all we could afford to do, we’d sit on the rocks overlooking the old port and kiss boys named Raphael, Laurent and Rolland.
Celia in St Tropez aged 16
When I went back to St Tropez for my honeymoon and saw a teenage couple necking on those very same rocks, the nostalgia nearly winded me. But I’d been a grown-up for a while by then, and had come to enjoy different pleasures. I could shop, for one thing – and buy handmade earrings at Gas Bijoux, bikinis from Eres and treat myself to a pair of K Jacques Aphrodite leather sandals. I could drive down to the Jas des Roberts antiques market in Grimaud every Sunday and weave my way through the treasures, picking up anything from vintage Chanel bags and Jean Paul Gaultier dresses to art deco jewellery and 18th-century paintings – each for less than €150.
Grace Jones pictured in the Byblos hotel in 1978 CREDIT: EDWARD QUINN
I could also drink rosé on the terrasse of the Senequier – even stretching to a €20 mojito once my career got going. But I’d never eat there. Aside from a few that lie purposefully under the radar, restaurants in St Tropez are a mug’s game: every summer, come 11pm, hundreds of dazed tourists are disgorged onto the streets, bills in hand, muttering, “But we only had two pizzas…” So stick to the artichoke with home-made aïoli at the Café des Arts, as you watch the old Tropezians playing boules on the Place des Lices; fresh sushi on the Hotel Ermitage’s patio, or the best Thai mussels in existence at my favourite beach restaurant, Plage des Graniers.
The Byblos hotel pool
Of course, when I go with my husband [Piers Morgan] he’ll insist on one six-hour lunch at Le Club 55 (always go for the 3pm sitting – the 1pm is famously for no-marks), where he’ll start to engage in braying matches with Lord Sugar around 5pm. Two years ago, when I stayed at the Byblos for the first time ever, my car valet was nowhere to be seen. I had conjured up all sorts of doom-filled fantasies when on the last day he finally showed up – mildly surprised to see me leaving the hotel with a suitcase. “A l’année prochaine?” he asked with a smile. “Next year indeed,” I replied.