Alicia Sedgwick

Communications Coach Alicia Sedgwick. Photos: Nancy Heslin

You may know her as a host of TEDxMonteCarlo, a third of the Lib Day Darlings, a Public Speaking teacher at the International University of Monaco or even Alicia Sedgwick Communications Coach. 

Now Alicia can add published author to her list of achievements, as her book Communicating Through Change is due to be released on Amazon in paperback and Kindle format on January 19, the same day as she is throwing a Covid-safe ZOOM launch party.

“My book provides an insight into my life, and shares with the reader what I have learned through the experiences of change. I write in a way that whoever reads the book can deal with their experiences and come through them with strength and courage,” Alicia explains.

Having had a sneak peek of a few chapters in Communicating Through Change, Alicia powerfully puts herself out there without playing the victim or preacher. From trying to maintain a heterosexual lifestyle to coping with health uncertainties, she writes in a concise and effectively formatted style, written for real people who want to make real changes.

“We all go through change in our life and anyone at any age can relate to the experiences I write about in this book. Also, the practical guidance and applicable exercises enable the reader to communicate their way through the variety of different changes,” Alicia emphasises.

It is hard to imagine Alicia in her former life. Originally from Leigh on Sea in Essex – “I was actually born in the room in my mum and dad’s house, that was my bedroom!” – the professional blues singer and stage performer originally studied Law and Sociology at Warwick University “because I had more chance of getting a job at the end of my degree.” 

She became a solicitor, eventually specialising in Family Law, and having her own practice. “I loved being able to help people through very difficult times for them but I hated injustice. And I did not like being undermined by my male Partners!”

She adds, “When I came to the South of France, I knew I wanted to be totally true to myself, and that meant not being a lawyer and having to tolerate all the restrictions and regulations imposed that inhibited one’s ability to serve my clients.”

In the process of a major life transition Alicia “took strength and comfort in the good that I had in my life, as I always do. Making the most of life.”

Through two South African ladies living here, Alicia was introduced “to my beloved” Annette Anderson. She travelled back and forth from the UK to see her, until she finally moved here full-time and began living a more authentic life. “Having the incredible love and support of Annette helps me beyond words to believe in myself. Finding a love that is completely balanced, equal, and where each person can be themselves and independent gives tremendous strength and peace.”

Alicia, who is a Communications Expert for the Vitruvius Partners Group, continues to meet change head on. “I learned during the health pandemic that as long as we can stay well, and are able to work, I can be very much in the present, and see this change as an opportunity.” And, more than ever, people are needing her services to help them communicate effectively, and with impact, on camera and online.

Hard to imagine but she admits, “I have been without confidence for a lot of my life, especially as a lawyer. Only in recent years have I felt fulfilled – through teaching, training and coaching in public speaking, presentation and communication skills, all of which help people, give them confidence, empower, motivate and inspire – and come into my own.”

Communicating Through Change by Alicia Sedgwick is available in paperback and for kindle on Amazon from January 19. There are only a few more spots open for her release party here – sign up here.

Merrily Lustig-Tornatore

Merrily Lustig-Tornatore with friends Debbie and Mary Lynn at No Finish Line.

I first met American Merrily Lustig-Tornatore at Stars’n’Bars on November 3, 2016. It was election night in the US and MonacoUSA was hosting a party in the days when it was normal to have a room full of mask-free people sitting on top of each other, drinking from the bar and cheering on a country that was once synonymous with democracy.

“I decided that the only way Europeans and the rest of the world could know who Americans were was to be exemplary and bright and funny so they would not get the wrong idea by seeing Trump,” says the long-time Monaco resident.

Born in New York, Merrily moved in 1964 to Killington, Vermont – via boarding school in Switzerland with a couple of months in Karachi and also in Paris – to be a ski bum. “I got my Vermont real estate licence in 1971 … I think!” 

What a unique name. “When my parents were married, in the Forties, there was a cartoon in the Sunday paper with a little girl named Merrily who had long reddish-blond braids. My father liked her so much that I ended up being Merrily and having to live up to her reputation.”

Merrily comes from a line of accomplished women. In the Thirties, her mom started Airlines, the first in-flight aviation magazine, and was a speechwriter at NASA for the associate administrator for the Office of Manned Space Flight for the Apollo program.

In 1983, she had just received a “hard-earned” Emergency Medical Technicians accreditation in Vermont when she got a call from a family member in need. “My mother’s sister who ran Society Magazine for Société des Bains de Mer needed help so away I went to Monaco. It was really an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Working alongside her aunt, creative genius June Quin, and her financial guru husband Mark, Merrily replaced her cousin Vally who had left for London. “You name it, I did it. Having been brought up in the publishing business, it seemed second nature. I think I learned to read by helping the family proofread.”

In 1986, she met Rémy, her first aid instructor at the Monaco Red Cross and “after a long engagement” they wed in 2009. “You can never be too sure you have made the right choice,” Merrily laughs. (Rémy retired two years ago as director of First Aid for the Monaco Red Cross.)

Merrily has been a member of MonacoUSA for over 20 years and also serves on its Board. She has laid the memorial wreath for association to commemorate when the  517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team led the liberation of Monaco from German occupation on September 3, 1944.

She was also vice-president of the American Aid Association of the French Riviera, founded in 1948 “to assist American citizens who find themselves hospitalised, jailed, resident in retirement homes or facing other temporary financial difficulties.” For years, Princess Grace worked personally both with the association and with the former American Consulate in Nice, assisting Americans living in the region. The association, which shut down in 2019, had strong ties with the Monaco Red Cross and its social work and youth outreach.

Following the Bastille attacks in Nice in 2016, Merrily spent ten days in Nice as a First Aid volunteer with the Monaco Red Cross. “We were helping the psychologically wounded and sat with people until a professional could see them. There was an American woman who came in with an aura of pain, and I just sat apart offering to translate if necessary. If I ran into Americans, I would help them liaise with the consulate in Marseilles if they so desired.”

Merrily’s current claim to fame is to have received the Covid vaccine yesterday in Monaco. “It is absolutely fantastic, considering the world population, to be one of the first people to have the honour to live in a place where I am so well treated.”

Merrily getting Covid vaccination at Espace Leo Ferré on Wednesday.

She was contacted by letter from the Ministry of State (see letter), signed both by minister of state Pierre Dartout and minister of health and social affairs Didier Gamerdinger, explaining who, when, how and why to get vaccinated. The letter invited her to make an appointment if she wanted to get the vaccine. Additionally, there was a full page of information addressing “Les Vaccins à ARNm” – how it differs from a traditional vaccination, benefits, possible side-effects and so forth. It states that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna (EU-approved this week) are the vaccines that will be used in Monaco.

“The organisation of the campaign is fantastic. I phoned, it took ages to get through, and said YES. They called Monday and asked if I could come in Wednesday. I was so excited, I could hardly get the words out.”

Merrily says she becomes livid when people don’t wear masks. “Being really short and OLD, I occasionally walk into a grocery store and what not saying loudly, ‘SVP, mettez vos masques sur vos nez!’ It feels great. I’m too small to hit so they usually obey.”

Her vaccination appointment was for 9:20 am and she arrived 10 minutes in advance to check in and be interviewed by the doctor with the usual questions.

“I told Rémy after I got the Covid shot Wednesday morning that if I passed out during the day, don’t blame it on the vaccine. It could very well be because of the on-going election debacle in the US.”

2016 US Election Night at Stars’n’Bars.

Bertrand Petyt

Bertrand Petyt comes from a long line of scientists. The Monaco resident was expected to follow suit, as well as manage the family business, but after completing a Master of Science in Paris he moved to New York on a whim. “In 1996, I graduated from Long Island University with an MBA in Managerial Finance and that was the beginning of my career in hospitality.”

With persistence, and after a few years of learning the ropes in the American hotel industry (where he found a mentor in his general manager), Bertrand had his first opportunity to pursue his passion in the cruise line industry. “Don’t ask me why, but even as a little boy I can remember looking at cruise ship catalogues and I have collected more than 35,000 cruise brochures from all over the world, from all cruise lines, past and present.”

He says he will always remember joining his first cruise ship, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ flagship Seven Seas Mariner in Vancouver as a junior officer. “Stepping on the gangway, I cried. The HR manager thought I needed comforting but I told him they were tears of joy as I was living my dream.”

He worked for two cruise lines, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Silversea Cruises (formerly owned by Monegasque Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio), both at sea and on land, in various positions, including corporate HR manager and hotel director. “Cruising the world was amazing and I believe that travelling is the most precious learning experience. I left the industry in 2014 but I still carry that passion and, who knows, maybe one day the sea will beckon me again.”

Bertrand returned to Monaco and became Chief Executive Officer managing the professional assets of a prominent Chinese family established in the Principality. “The family’s wealth came from real estate development but by then Parkview World had become an operator of luxury sites and assets, including hotels, restaurants, yachts, luxury shopping malls, luxury residences and museums.”

In September 2020, Bertrand transformed his knowledge of the hospitality and luxury sectors into Vitruvius Partners Group, a business he launched with his friend Lilian Bougy, first in Paris and, later this year, in Monaco. This game-changing advisory firm with 12 expert advisors and six Business Ambassadors specialises in an externalised Change Management Office solution.

“In short, we offer small- and medium-companies in corporate hospitality the benefit of change management, leadership development and corporate eco-system redesign services, a business format similar to the one of a family-office or a legal firm providing a specific service at a cost-effective price,” explains Bertrand.

Vitruvius Partners Group advises leading organisations on the four dimensions of business change — people, processes, technology and risk control — identifying problem areas and making organisations more responsive to change in their industries and markets, equipping them to take maximum advantage of emerging opportunities.

“Our business model is highly relevant and also innovative in its approach to change but we are not consultants,” he emphasises. “We are expert advisors that bring a wealth of strategic and operational experience, as opposed to only the ability to audit and sell ‘off-the-shelf’ systems like most consulting companies.”

Although the idea of this venture had been brewing for a while, the first Covid lockdown gave Bertrand that final now-or-never push. He decided to leave his secure CEO position and jump into entrepreneurship with the launch of Vitruvius Partners Group.

In the same year, the academic’s Iconic In The Midst Of Chaos was published. “This book was written as an attempt to provide guidance to those who understand that chaos – like what we are experiencing today – can be an opportunity to become iconic. The approach is a very holistic one, albeit based on proven techniques to install great leadership skills in every manager.”

On a personal level, Bertrand reflects that 2020 was a year of empathy as he witnessed most of his friends in the cruise industry affected on so many levels – losing their jobs, stuck on ships for months, separated from families, and a few suicides as well.

“I felt powerless yet during this crisis, I witnessed such kindness, community cohesion and incredible support from colleagues and friends. It produced my motto, “to enable people to tell their true stories so they may inspire greatness in their lives and for others.”

Bertrand admits that when he left Europe in 1994 for the US he never thought he would return to the continent and relocating to Monaco in 2007 was with reluctance based on his experiences as a teenager. “When I was young, Monaco did not have much to offer except for glamour and tourist-oriented activities and it was difficult for a teenager to grow with a sense of what the world had to offer. I would often spend free days in Nice, where I felt more challenged intellectually. Monaco has evolved in a much more dynamic and open way. It is a place of innovation, creativity and education – the International University of Monaco is, in my opinion, a great success story for the country. Monaco is still a village but a vibrant village,” he comments.

Bertrand, whose surname evolved from its Dutch origins Petïjt, is not a natural networker and in a large group you’ll most likely find him in the corner of the room with the people he knows and trusts. “I network for business, mostly online through LinkedIn as it offers access to a wider array of interesting people.” In Monaco, he’s been involved with various associations like Skal Monaco, the Propeller Club and Global Business Owners.

While Bertrand would chalk 2020 up as a success professionally, over the past two months an autoimmune disease has been causing him debilitating inflammation. “Nothing to worry about long term but I could not even open a laptop let alone have the energy to think. I am an extremely positive person but I can tell you that when faced with such pain, your positivity disappears and you discover a darker side of yourself, one that does not allow you to see the future as bright as you should. For the time being, I have had to slow down all my activities and focus on fully recovering my health and energy. I talk about this in my book, how our abilities rely on four pillars – our health, spirit, mental and emotional state.”

Bertrand Petyt adds, “Sometimes life has a way of reminding us how important it is to take care of our bodies. Health is the cornerstone of everything.”

Vibeke Thomsen

Vibeke Thomsen. Photos: Nancy Heslin.

On Friday, a French court handed down a 25-year jail term to 36 year-old Jonathann Daval, who was found guilty of killing his wife, Alexia, and then burning her body in 2017. The verdict has brought to a close a saga that rocked the country, especially as Jonathann had moved in with the victim’s family after he reported her missing.

The 6-day trials ends just before International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women 2020 on Wednesday, November 25.

This year of Covid has particularly highlighted the issue. During spring confinement, a police headquarters in Paris witnessed a 36% increase in domestic violence reports in just one week. So urgent was the need for intervention that the then French minister of interior, Christophe Castaner, created an alert system that would allow victims to get help by going to a pharmacy and use the code “mask 19.”

According to a 2019 IMSEE report, there were 33 cases of violence against women recorded by the police services, including 31 acts committed in Monaco. 58% of the 33 victims resided in Monaco. (For more Monaco statistics, see Box at end of article.)

Monaco resident Vibeke Thomsen, founder of SheCanHeCan, has been involved with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women since 2013, and helps to make sure the Palace, Tour Odeon and Conseil National are glowing orange is solidarity on the night of the 25th.

In previous years, SheCanHeCan would co-organise events but with the health pandemic, the non-profit association has instead launched an online campaign working jointly with Fight Aids Monaco and the Committee for the Promotion and Protection of Women’s Rights.

“We sent out a call to find 100 men to send us their picture and to choose a message to publicly say NO to violence against women,” explains Vibeke. “We reached 100 in less than two days! It’s been heartwarming to see this silent majority of men – who we seldom hear from but are against violence – stand up and publicly show their face.”

The #violencesfemmesjagis campaign of 100 portraits and messages, including from Princess Stephanie’s son Louis Ducruet, freediver Pierre Frolla and F1’s David Coulthard – ambassadors of SheCanHeCan – has gone live today.

“Next year, we are already planning a larger in-person campaign and we would love to see the community involved, so stay tuned,” Vibeke adds.

Vibeke is a huge supporter of the Monaco community. Born in Copenhagen to Danish parents, the family moved to Geneva when she was a baby. “Surprisingly to the people who meet me today, I was a very reserved and shy child,” she admits. “I was an avid reader and loved to write, too. Somehow I skipped a grade so I was a year younger than my classmates, which contributed to my shyness.”

Her family relocated to Monaco when Vibeke was eight and she attended local schools before heading off to boarding school for a couple of years. “Monaco was different then, less international, less dynamic, less cultural offers and less activities for children. Going to the local school felt very normal. There were no parties on yachts, it’s much more low key than what people expect when they hear I grew up here. I was lucky to find incredible friends, many of who I’m still close to 30 years later,” she shares.

She left Monaco at 16 and for the next 13 years reinvented herself, living in many places around the world. “Travelling definitely helped me come out of my shell as I had to open up and meet new people.”

During her time abroad, she worked in a bank in Frankfurt, with the Danish Delegation to the OSCE in Vienna and spent three years in the US – one in Washington D.C. working for a non-profit to end the death penalty and then two in Ann Arbor, MI, where she picked up a double Master’s degree in Public Policy and Arts in Russia and East European Studies. 

“When I came back, Monaco had completely changed,” she describes. “It became a much more dynamic city with many cultural offerings – you can go out every night, which is surprising for a city this size. There are now more families with young children, more activities, restaurants and bars to enjoy, too. Every week, you can meet new people from every path of life and that’s what I enjoy about living here.”

Vibeke’s favourite haunts were the Bombay Frigo in Emilie Palace on blvd Princesse Grace – “incredible for drinks, dinners and dancing on that bar, it’s a shame it closed.” – and the Sea Lounge at the beach club: “It was a fun place for parties, especially the White Night party in August.”

Vibeke created her non-profit association GenderHopes in 2012, which in 2017 became SheCanHeCan, a name change “to better reflect our work locally and with the community, which is our main focus.” She has a team of three volunteers and five ambassadors.

“I had a 3-year experience in Brussels working in security, including for women in post-conflict countries and reconstruction. That’s when I got bitten by the bug and when I moved back to Monaco in 2011, I tried to find ways to continue in the same field.”

Pre-Covid, SheCanHeCan did various events, including movie screenings, fundraisers, the “A Confident Girl” exhibit at the Columbus Hotel featuring over 20 artists, and the launch of the Equality Pledge in 2019.

Every International Day of the Girl on October 11, SheCanHeCan invites students to the Conseil National to meet with the president and the (mainly) female MPs, to better understand the role and importance of women in politics.

Last year, the association launched the Red Box Project Monaco to address period inequality by bringing period products to local schools, raising awareness about organic menstrual products and breaking the taboo when speaking about periods in schools and in the workplace. The International School of Monaco was the first school to adopt the Red Box and provide free period products to its students in middle and high school.

In terms of companies and/or institutions providing free organic period products, it has been a learning process. “Most of us have learned that periods are private, almost secret and shameful and something not to be discussed in public spaces or at your workplace. It has been a fascinating experience to see how quickly the mindset and approach can change once we become aware of period inequality,” Vebeke relates.

“The environmental impact of period products is also important and often overlooked so, along with our partners Freda and FabLittleBag, this is something we work to address and raise awareness about. Overall, I would say the welcome has been positive but it’s been slow and that’s partly due to Covid.”

And for the past three years, SheCanHeCan has hosted a parent child Book Club in which we read inclusive stories,” relates the mom of three whose children go to local schools.

“I think life with kids is relatively easy in Monaco. There are many moms with young children and a wonderful informal support networks and supportive mums. There is a great play group, twice a week, at the St Paul’s church on avenue de Grande Bretagne, and the Princess Grace hospital provides some support in terms of breastfeeding.”

Vibeke, who speaks Danish, English, French and German, considers herself fortunate. “In confinement, I was able to spend time with my three children in a way we might never experience again, outside of daily stress and routine and with more time to listen and focus on each other. Despite homeschooling and work, we found time to just be together, go for long walks, talk, play, do activities. I’ll cherish this time, also because I know confinement has been a difficult experience for many.”

Vibeke Thomsen pauses for a moment. “In terms of what’s come out of it, I’ve realised the importance of focusing on the people who really matter in your life.”

Need help?

0800 91 90 10
Free hotline in Monaco for victims of all violence (rape and sexual violence, violence perpetrated within the family, sexual harassment …) and on their rights available to them.

WHO reports that 1 in 3 (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. For more information about getting help during Covid, click here.

Monaco in numbers

According to an IMSEE report, there were 33 cases of violence against women recorded by the police services in 2019, including 31 acts committed in Monaco. 58% of the 33 victims resided in Monaco.

The average age of the women aggressed was 37; for the perpetrator, he was around 42. One in two cases were committed at the victim’s or perpetrator’s home, with 58% committed by the spouse or ex-spouse of the victim.

Nearly 60% of cases concerned physical violence while 25% were sexual violence.

113 women were admitted to hospital, including 83% suffering from physical violence and while these cases was recorded at CHPG, not all these acts of violence took place in Monaco.

In 2019, 74% of cases of violence committed in Monaco in 2019 resulted in a complaint being lodged and 33 proceedings were opened.

At the time of IMSEE’s publication, 15 cases were subject to legal proceedings, or under investigation. Of these cases, perpetrators were on average 39 while the victim was 35. There were 4 convictions and 2 protection orders for acts committed in 2019, all against men. There were no condemnations for rape in 2019 in Monaco.

Nazanine Matin

Nazanine Matin. Photos: Nancy Heslin

In the summer of 1978, Nazanine Matin visited Monaco for the first time. At only 18 months old, it would be the beginning of a long relationship with a country she would eventually call home in 2014. “My uncle had moved to Monaco and we spent a lot of time here and with him over the years,” says the founder of TEDxMonteCarlo.

Nazanine has a soft spot for the Monaco of yesteryear, with tales of the Beach Club or early days of Sea Lounge, but not all of these are for print! “I remember one evening after the Red Cross Gala, we went to Jimmy’z and in one corner you had now President Trump and Melania and in the other, Ivana and her then Italian boyfriend. Meanwhile Jean-Claude Van Damme was in a white suit doing splits on the dance floor! It was quite a scene and memories I’ll never forget, especially as I was a huge Jean-Claude Van Damme fan and had seen every one of his movies!”

Born in Tehran, Nazanine moved to the South of France due to the Iranian Revolution and she attended boarding school in Switzerland from the age of five. “I enjoy connecting people, connecting passions and maybe this comes from me going to boarding school, where we were always with other children and we had to give back and help.”

In 1989, her family moved to Toronto, where the 13-year-old went into a French Immersion program. “On my first day of school, we walked into my homeroom – I didn’t know that concept as we didn’t have homerooms in the French system – and the teacher was talking. I turned to my dad and asked him what language she was speaking. I didn’t understand her French Canadian and the students made fun of my accent, too. It was quite interesting,” recalls Nazanine, who describes herself as a “troublemaker” growing up.

Although she is a trained Mechanical Engineer from U.C. Berkeley and worked in Bioengineering, Information Technology, Logistics, and Finance, most people know Nazanine as the inspired woman who brought TEDx, the independently planned and non-profit TED-like talks to Monaco in 2014.

This was no easy feat, amongst a long To-Do List, she had to get licensed by TED to host more than 100 people, find speakers, build a team of volunteers and find a venue, which is not cheap in Monaco. Finding sponsors was also a huge hurdle as the TEDxMonteCarlo budget was “ten times more than my friend’s budget in London for the same number of speakers and attendees.”

A determined and resourceful Nazanine pulled it off. In 2014, she put on TEDxIUM (she obtained an MBA in Luxury Management at the International University of Monaco). She then held TEDxMonteCarlo events at the Grimaldi Forum in 2016 and 2017, with five smaller session Salons the following year.

“After that, I was exhausted,” Nazanine confesses, “mainly from fundraising. As a team, we thought that every two years would be better for the big flagship event. In 2019, we didn’t raise enough funds so we had to postpone to 2020. Then lockdown happened.”

To keep the community engaged and connected during confinement Nazanine and her team organized fiver free TEDxMonteCarlo vitural Salons, with up to 100 attendees. And this coming Saturday is the team’s first Women flagship event, TEDxMonteCarloWomen to showcase the TEDWomen 2020 Fearless pre-recorded TED talks and drive discussions. The event will be virtual and will address global and local topics.

“TEDxMonteCarloWomen will be different as there will be a lot of time for interaction between the attendees and with our local experts on the topics we’ve selected,” she explains, adding there will be breakout sessions running in parallel with smaller groups to discuss the topics at hand and then lots of time for Q&A.

“We really want the audience to share their ideas, speak up and be fearless. Also, even though it’s labeled with “Women”, we encourage everyone and all genders to join in the conversation. All genders need to help with the change that’s required,” Nazanine encourages.

She admits that she would love to host a live event again. “The biggest challenge is raising money and balancing my full-time job with the requirements to put these events together. A one-hour virtual event takes almost 40 hours of prep work from me and the team.”

Reflecting on Covid-19, the Monaco resident says she is “very lucky” with her situation and although it has meant less business travel, she has enjoyed “great home made food and lots of time with the friends I cherish.”

“I know that there are many less fortunate than me, and I try to give back in any way I can to make it easier for them,” says Nazanine Matin. “I leave much bigger tips at restaurants, and each time I get a GoFundMe campaign or a local funding campaign for a business that might go under, I try to contribute.”

Support Nazanine and her team by signing up for the TEDxMonteCarloWomen virtual event themed Fearless on Saturday, November 28. It costs only €5 for a full day pass and you can sign in and out as you wish. This TEDx event begins with yoga or meditation and rounds off with a virtual aperitif and networking with a DJ .

Philippe Verdier

NFL’s Philippe Verdier. Photo: Nancy Heslin

Geologist Philippe Verdier first came to Monaco in July 1995 to develop Gramaglia Assurances, which specialises in corporate risk.

Over the past 25 years, Philippe has become a widely admired personality in Monaco for creating the popular fundraising event, No Finish Line. For each kilometre a participant runs or walks over the 8-day event, his non-profit association Children and Future donates one euro to support disadvantaged and sick children through various projects.

For 58-year-old Philippe (who shares his birthday on Halloween with his twin sister), benevolence has played a part of his life since junior high when for seven years he was a Sea Scout in Rouen. “Being a scout taught me to show solidarity and how to set up projects for groups of five or six friends.”

And although his family wasn’t particularly sporty, in school he did everything from ping-pong and handball to windsurfing and sailing, becoming an instructor in the latter in St Vaast la Hougue (Normandy). In fact, growing up Philippe dreamt of sailing and being a skipper of a boat from his hometown of Rouen in the Tour de France.

At the age of 30, he did his first marathon and finished with a time of 2:49. This would launch his passion for mythical ultras – UTMB (6th,), Marathon des Sables (15th), Badwater USA (4th), 100km Ventoux (1st) – completing around 60 with 80% podium finishes by scratch or category.

Combining the two elements of sport and solidarity, Philippe put on the first No Finish Line (NFL) in Monaco in 1999. His original idea was to have one person at all times on the 1-kilometre circuit over eight days. But in 2002, a bank sponsored the event for €20,000 and 18,000 km were completed, which lead to the concept of a sponsor donating one euro for every kilometre. This has been the formula since NFL 2004.

“The NFL concept is simple and can bring together all types of personalities – runners, walkers, athletes or not, children, elderly, pets – all for the soul purpose of helping sick or disadvantaged kids. Even those who are not athletic walk 400 km, with some taking a week off work or others hitting the circuit every night.”

Philippe says he is most pleased when he sees groups of friends or business associates coming together every day on the course, chatting while walking or running, while they help to change the world.

In the year of Covid, it would be impossible to maintain social distancing for the hundreds of participants on the 1.3-km circuit in Fontvieille. So the 21st edition from November 14 to 22 will be virtual. “The show must go on! For this first connected NFL Monaco, I would be happy with 4,000 registrants and 200,000 km. In post-containment Paris in June, we had 3,000 registrants who completed 123,000 km.”

It’s only €12 to participate and individuals can register online until noon on November 22 but teams need to do so before November 11. You’ll need to then download the ZAPSPORTS app and register for “No Finish Line Virtuelle” and start the stopwatch. All the kilometres you run or walk 24/7 from November 14 at 3 pm to November 22 at 3 pm will be automatically saved.

Super important to note also is the NFL Toy Drive at Fontvieille Big Top from Saturday, November 14, to Saturday, November 21. This is to collect as-new condition toys for the kids affected by Storm Alex (some of the NFL proceeds will also support this cause.)

Since 1999, NFL Monaco participants have covered a total distance of nearly four million kilometres (3,799,042) to raise more than four million euro (€4,018,092) for various charities, including the Cardio-Thoracic Centre Monaco, Aviation sans frontiers/African Rencontres, the Chaîne de l’espoir, Maison de vie Carpentras, and the Monaco Red Cross.

From the get go, Philippe has said he would love to see one NFL event for every week of the year. “I know 52 NFLs is hard to imagine but it’s what gets me out of bed every morning.”

In addition to Monaco, there are five 5-day NFL fundraisers in Europe –Paris (2015), Oslo (2016), Athens (2017), Nice (2018) and Bratislava (2019, where a connected edition takes place this week with at least €30,000 donated) – which have raised a combined total of €874,259. Philippe hopes that 2021 will see new NFLs outside of Europe.

Children & Future was founded by Philippe in 2001 to promote the protection of children’s rights around the world, and to finance projects that improve their condition, education, health and lifestyle. In addition to NFL, “NFL Danse,” a friendly dance competition in Monaco, was launched to also support the cause.

For Philippe Verdier, the dedication of his association and all the volunteers who all give so much during the week of No Finish Line is well rewarded. “One year, a child who was operated on and recovered only a few days earlier at the Cardio-Thoracic Centre Monaco, came to the NFL start line and was then carried by the winner of the 8-day total distance during his last lap. Every one of us was crying seeing the smile on his face.”