With an opportunity to join some friends in a startup, Ben Rolfe moved to Monaco in 2003 with his family. At the time, he and his wife Sally had two girls and #3 came along in 2005 “born in our apartment on the 19th Floor of the Chateau Perigord!” (Ben fondly refers to his daughters as #1, #2 and #3.)
“I mainly wanted to get away from the commute and the politics of large organisations and Monaco was a great place to bring up the kids with great schools and loads to do,” says Ben Rolfe. “It can be quite a transient community with people coming and going but that can be a huge plus as residents are always looking to meet new faces so the social side is very full.”
Family-man Ben is certainly well known around town, especially for combining his endurance sports with raising awareness and money for charities. “I played a lot of rugby during and post-university but once that stopped, I was a bit lost and gained a ton of weight. Then I entered my first marathon for charity and was hooked,” he recalls.
From the marathon distance of 42.195 km, he graduated to ultras, pushing the boundaries partly for a challenge and partly to raise the bar to encourage people to sponsor him. His team Pussyfooting Around, comprised of family and friends, has been a staple of No Finish Line Monaco for years and by May 2018, he had raised over €100,000 for various different causes through the JustGiving website.
“I always said to my kids that if they were dedicated to training that when they turned 16, they would be able to do the Marathon des Sables – a 7-day semi self-sufficient 250 km-ultra-marathon across the Sahara Desert.”
#1 took him up on the challenge in 2018 and remains the youngest ever female finisher at 16. The dad-daughter duo raised money for Diabetes U.K. who have been brilliant at helping the Rolfe family since #2 was diagnosed as Type 1 diabetic in 2013.
#2 wanted a different challenge and so …“We climbed Kilimanjaro over five days from base camp when she was 16.”
#3 turns 16 this November and awesome dad Ben stumbled across the Camino Santiago – an ancient 900-km pilgrimage from France across Spain to the west coast.
“I like the idea of meeting a bunch of different people and also the challenge of getting up and walking every day for a month, but also focussing on what is important in life – just exercise, company and moving forwards carrying everything you need on your back. It’s just an idea at the moment but hopefully in June 2022, #3 will be walking for a yet-to-be-decided charity.”
In 2013, Ben published Running High, Running Low, Running Long, a book about a fundraising challenge he took on to try and prove to #2, when she was diagnosed Type 1 diabetes, that she could do anything she put her mind to. “I ran over 100 km from Monaco to Limone to the start of the Cro-Magnon ultra-marathon. I then did the race – another 130 km, and I achieved my goal of not coming last!”
The narrative also touched upon his journey “from fatty to fitty” to hopefully inspire other people to get off the couch. In 2004 during a routine medical, Ben, an overweight smoker at the time, was told he wouldn’t see 40 unless he changed his lifestyle. He lost 35 kilos and has since finished some of the world’s toughest ultra-marathons, including the Western States 100, the Ultra Trail of Mont Blanc and, as he mentioned, the Marathon Des Sables.“As they say, if you don’t make time for exercise, you will have to make time for illness.”
When he’s not running around the streets of Monaco in the early morning, Ben likes to have a little fun, and admits he is a fan of Eurovision. “I probably started watching Eurovision at university. We used to have Eurovision parties, sometimes in fancy dress, and friends would come round to eat drink and singalong at the TV. We always put the subtitles on for the songs which are translated into English which makes it even more hilarious.
“The event itself is fantastically mad. Somehow it seems to take itself super seriously but at the same time, there is a huge tongue-in-cheek aspect to it all, especially with the partisan voting – neighbouring countries voting in blocks and ganging up on others that they don’t like,” Ben explains. “Also the randomness of it all. I mean how can Australia be part of Eurovision? Terry Wogan was brilliant at the commentary with his sarcasm and wit and I think Graham Norton is doing a good job following in his footsteps.”
For the second consecutive year (thanks Covid), Ben virtually steps into Graham Norton’s shoes by bringing us Lockdown Eurovision. For the 2021 edition, he has created a special Facebook group, providing summaries of the 65th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest with 40 countries participating.
For the local community, Lockdown Eurovision is a breath of fresh air from pandemic news. For Ben, the last year has been extremely challenging professionally and personally. “Covid has helped me focus on the important things in life, though, staying connected with friends and family. As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”
Monaco and Eurovision
The first Eurovision Song Contest, also known as Le Grand-Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne, was televised live on May 24, 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland. The concept was based on the Sanremo Song Festival.
Only seven solo artists representing their countries participated in the first edition and while duos were permitted in 1957, groups were not allowed to compete until 1971.
In 2021, there are 40 countries competing, each song must be performed live but there are no live instruments.
Before mid-March, each country will have already chosen who will represent them (maximum 6 people) and with what song (maximum 3 minutes, not released before), normally through a national televised selection. Usually France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and the host country (whoever won last year) pre-qualify.
Other participating countries will then take part in one of the two Semi-Finals. From each Semi-Final, the best 10 will proceed to the Grand Final. This brings the total number of Grand Final participants to 26.
Advancement is based on a voting system, one by a jury of five music industry professionals and one by viewers at home, who can vote by phone, SMS and through the app. This year’s host country is Rotterdam and the Grand Finale is on May 22.
Monaco has participated in Eurovision 24 times since it began in 1956, in every edition between 1959 (it finished last) and 1979, and then from 2004 to 2006, when the semi-final system was introduced.
They won once – in 1971 with Séverine’s “Un banc, un arbre, une rue” – and picked up a few second and third places ribbons as well. But in its last appearance in 2006 on the Eurovision stage with Severine Ferrer’s “La Coco-Dance”, Monaco finished 21st in the semi-finals. Télé Monte-Carlo, Monaco’s broadcaster, later commented that the voting patterns in the contest give Monaco “no chance” of qualifying to the final.