|His Highness (Pra Worawongse Ther Pra Ong Chao) Prince Birabongse Bhanutej was born HSH Mom Chao Birabongse Bhanutej Bhanubhandhu on 15 July 1914 to HRH Prince Bhanurangsri Sawangvongse (son of King Rama IV and younger brother of King Rama V) and Mom Lek Bhanubhandhu na Ayudhya. He received his education in Thailand until the age of 13 when he was sent for further education at Eton in the United Kingdom.
Prince Bira lost his mother when he was 4 years old, and 9 years later on 13 June 1928, while studying at Eton, his father passed away. It could be said that the prince became an orphan when he was not quite 14. He was promptly taken into custody by his elder cousin King Rama VII. Later, HRH Prince Chula Chakrabongse (son of HRH Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanath) took a liking to Prince Bira, and asked the King's permission to act as legal guardian, as they were both studying at Cambridge University in England at the time. Prince Bira later left Cambridge and attended the Byam Shaw Art School.
After Thailand changed from absolute monarchy to democracy in 1932, HM King Rama VII decided to abdicate the throne, and moved to England. The Princes Chula and Bira thus became regular guests at the king's residence in Virginia Waters. At that time, Prince Bira became interested in race car driving, and he had to get permissions to drive from both Prince Chula and the king. His first race was in 1935, at Brooklands, driving for the "White Mouse," Prince Chula's team. The prince drove a "hyacinth blue" Riley Imp, which in later time became known as "Bira Blue." And, as one would say, the rest is history. Prince Bira was, and still is, the only Siamese/Thai who made a name in race car driving for his country. It could also be said that he had single-handedly put Siam/Thailand on the map. His first win came on 11 April 1936 at the Monaco Grand Prix driving the "Bira blue" Era. Prince Bira retired from racing in 1954.
Prince Bira first married Cyril Heycock on 12 January 1938, whom he met at the art school, the sister of his classmate. They divorced in 1949. The prince then married an Argentinian named Chelita on 18 December 1951, and they had a son - M.R. Biradej Bhanubhand. The prince moved back to Thailand in 1956, intending on finding a job. Chelita followed but could not bare the life in Thailand and promptly moved back to France where they were living. They divorced that same year. Their son lived with his mother until his death at 17 from liver cancer. The prince finally married a much younger Salika Kalantanonda, a Thai, in 1957. After Salika left him, and his car business failed, the prince moved back to France, and then finally to England.
Prince Bira died at Baron's Court Underground Station in London on 23 December 1985. He fell down with a heart attack, and no one knew who this old Asian person was. A handwritten note was found in his pocket, and so Scotland Yard sent it to be analyzed at the University of London, which identified it as being written in Thai, addressed to Prince Bira. The Royal Thai Embassy was notified, which then realized that the old man was Prince Bira, a forgotten hero who had once made such an impact for Thailand and whom all Siamese knew. A Thai funeral service was held at the Wimbledon temple, and the prince was later cremated according to Thai and Buddhist customs.
Throughout his life, Prince Bira remained in contact with his first wife, Cyril, and often visited her and her companion, Bruno, in France. After Bruno's death, Cyril moved back to England, and met up with Prince Bira again in 1983.
Summarized from the book "Chao Dara Thong" by Ying Mud, 2003 (in Thai)
Left: Books written by Prince Chula, who financed the White Mouse racing team
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|Updated 26 May 2021