Occupying less than one square mile, an area approximately the size of Holywood in Co Down, Monaco is one of the smallest countries in the world. With more billionaires and millionaires per capita, it's also among the wealthiest on the planet. Throughout the year the tiny principality hosts some of the most glamorous events in the social and sporting calendar, including the famous Monaco Grand Prix which usually takes place in May. But in recent months, coronavirus proved an unwelcome visitor when it forced everyone indoors and sent the party lifestyle into lockdown.
Originally from Conlig in Co Down, businesswoman Sonia Irvine, who has two children, Megan (18) and Katie (10), has been living in Monaco for over 15 years and is a familiar face among the local jet-setting community. Now 56, Sonia, sister of former F1 racing driver Eddie Irvine and founder of Amber Lounge, known for its bespoke party events and VIP guest list, tells me how Covid-19 has impacted her family.
"Monaco is quite small and everyone tends to know everyone else - it's a very friendly place," she says. "But like everywhere, we were affected by the coronavirus. Compared to other countries though, Monaco has had very few cases.
"I feel really lucky that Monaco dealt with the virus extremely well. We were in lockdown for about 10 weeks but then, as they slowly let us out, we were all tested so all in all we were very reassured."
However, Sonia's experience of coronavirus came rather too close to home when her elder daughter caught it, she believes, in the UK. And, like many others who've suffered symptoms of the virus, it has taken a long time to recover completely.
"Megan was in quarantine for three weeks until she'd fully recovered," Sonia explains. "She wasn't tested in the UK but she had the test with all of us (here) in Monaco. That's why we are certain that it was coronavirus. Even, now, three months later, she's just beginning to recover her sense of smell and taste."
Both Sonia's children are clearly talented, already showing success in their chosen fields.
Megan shares her mother' interest in Amber Lounge and is soon to start studying law.
"Megan went first to the International School in Monaco then on to England where she attended the Cheltenham Ladies' College," Sonia explains.
"She just graduated with the top score of 45/54 in her International Baccalaureate, an amazing achievement after all her hard work. She is going to the London School of Economics to study law in September so we're just getting ready for this.
"Megan is focused on getting her primary degree and then wants to do a Masters, but we'll see. I believe she should make her own way in life and follow her own passion, be that what it may. It might turn out to be the Amber Lounge but then again it may not.
"Katie is still at school in Monaco and as they shut down for 14 weeks I had the joy of home-schooling her, which certainly had its moments. But I did manage to get the best out of her and I even managed to learn some new computer skills at the same time.
"Katie is every bit as determined as her sister but in a different way. All the children in Monaco went back to school in mid-June. Everyone wore masks so it worked out quite well. The children became somewhat more independent."
Like her mother, Megan has coeliac disease, an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in the lining of the intestine.
"Megan was diagnosed as grade four coeliac," Sonia reveals. "Admittedly, I did recognise some of the symptoms and had an idea what was wrong. Still, it's always a shock to have it confirmed."
How are mother and daughter now?
"Megan manages the condition extremely well," Sonia says. "For us, eating a gluten and diary free diet is not a lifestyle choice. I always have to watch what I eat. Lockdown gave me a chance to train and get back to my previous fitness levels which I love and really needed to do."
Nowadays, domestic restrictions in Monaco are mostly lifted. Bars, restaurants and non-essential businesses are all operating as normal albeit under social distancing guidelines. Masks and gloves are mandatory in confined public spaces, including shopping malls. Temperature checks are also becoming commonplace. How does Sonia feel about wearing a facemask?
"Honestly, I feel like I'm about to suffocate," she admits. "But I do understand the importance, especially in confined spaces. One of the worst aspects of lockdown was not being able to fly over to Northern Ireland and visit my mum. She has Alzheimer's disease and is in a nursing home. The staff there are great and have handled Covid extremely well so mum is in good hands, but I do miss her."
Sonia previously told the Belfast Telegraph how allowing her mum Kathleen to go into a home was the toughest decision she and her brother had to make.
"It was really hard for us," she said.
"We found out about her illness after we got a brain scan done. Things she was doing ... you realised that they weren't appropriate.
"With my mum we always laughed about it because she was always a little bit eccentric in her ways, so we'd laugh and say she was doing eccentric things. For a while we didn't really register the illness, because she was always like that. She probably had it a lot longer than the diagnosis."
Sonia's mother was a huge influence in her and her brother's lives from a very early age, and they had a happy childhood and were involved in many activities.
"Mum was a home help and my dad used to run a garage business," Sonia said.
"He used to race cars himself but stopped because we needed money to carpet the house.
"Edmund (junior) had been doing different things to get money for racing - selling potatoes, flogging second-hand cars. He often slept in the back of vans, it was tough at times.
"Then mum and dad decided to remortgage the house to send Edmund racing, and he was very lucky with the people he knew."
She added: "Mum enrolled us in different things - bike races, fancy dress competitions. We were very athletic, we swam competitively, I did Irish dancing competitively. We were brought up to be very independent, focused, determined, and to never give in."
That independence and determination were qualities that helped Eddie become a successful racing driver and later, to acquire a worldwide property portfolio. The same characteristics led Sonia to turn the nomadic Amber Lounge, founded in 2003, into the ultimate in high-class entertainment during Formula One weekends.
In the male dominated world of F1 racing, Sonia has certainly carved a niche as a formidable businesswoman. As a schoolgirl, however, she didn't get much encouragement.
"If I'd listened to my careers teacher, I may not have made it," she reflects. "She told me I wasn't smart enough to sit exams and suggested I join the Wrens instead. That only made me more determined."
Sonia began her professional career as a physiotherapist after training in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and as well as working for the NHS she ran her own private sports injury clinic.
She entered the dazzling world of Formula One in 1996 when Eddie signed for Ferrari and invited her to work for him. She soon began working with the whole Ferrari team, led by seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, who is still recovering from severe head injuries sustained during a skiing accident in 2013.
Seven years later, Sonia found an unlikely niche as a party planner for the rich and famous.
"The racing fraternity are a close knit bunch and after a race, when the adrenaline is high, they like to let off steam and have a good time," she explained.
"Before Amber Lounge, it wasn't always possible for us to meet together in one place. So one time, while I was driving around Brazil after the finale, looking for a suitable place for us all to hang out, I had a brainwave. It suddenly occurred to me that we could form our own venue.
"I had some very definite ideas as to what Amber Lounge should look like. For a start, I didn't want it to be a black tie venue. I envisaged something informal but stylish. In the end, I held my first Amber Lounge in Monaco and it was so successful, everyone kept asking me to do it again. It just grew from there."
Indeed, Amber Lounge has welcomed the likes of Prince Harry, Bono, Kylie Minogue, Naomi Campbell, Jennifer Lawrence and Prince Albert II, the reigning monarch of Monaco, through its doors.
Sonia's bespoke events are legendary, and tables can carry a price tag of between €9,400 and €26,250. Such costs are beyond the average budget but within the racing fraternity, celebrity and VIP circles these unique extravaganzas, where privacy is guaranteed, are well worth the money.
She is keen to maintain her charity work too - through the Amber Lounge Fashion Auction, Sonia has raised funds for a variety of organisations including Elton John's AIDS Foundation and Sir Jackie Stewart's charity Race Against Dementia.
And she was delighted when Megan decided to get involved with the Watamu Happy House Charity in Kenya. The organisation provides a home as well as education for more than 60 of the country's children. Megan raised over £6,000 for the charity and last year, accompanied by her mum and grandfather Edmund Irvine Snr, paid a visit to the Watamu orphanage where they were given a traditional welcome in song.
Now, as we emerge into the new normal of social distancing and face masks, what's on the cards for Amber Lounge? Sonia is optimistic.
"Well, coronavirus has been a challenging time for business that's for sure," she says. "But Amber Lounge has been using the time to get creative and be super-organised for when the world re-opens. I think guests will be delighted by what we've lined up for 2021. One of our new products, the Tour with Legends, is a high-end and exclusive driving experience. Clients can have the opportunity to drive with heroes of Formula One. The experience will include wining and dining in five-star hotels as well as driving in some of the world's most beautiful cars along roads that are the best Europe has to offer. The event finishes in style at the Monaco GP."
Her enthusiasm is infectious as she launches into details of other delights on offer.
"We'll also be bringing a touch of Amber Lounge style when Formula E (electric-powered race cars) return to the streets of Monaco," she says. "As well as hospitality and yacht packages, we will host an Amber summer brunch party to celebrate their return to the principality."
So far, Sonia has responded to questions with alacrity. However, when the subject turns to romance, words fail her. Last time we spoke, she revealed only that her current love interest was a great cook.
Anything else she'd like to add?
"Five years down the line, we're still very happy. Let's just say that," is all she'll share.
As the interview winds down, I mention her brother's recent comment that he'd attended parties which disgraced financer Jeffrey Epstein and his alleged madam Ghislaine Maxwell were also at.
Has Sonia ever bumped into Mr Epstein?
"No, happily I never met him," she confirms.
I remember that Sonia once told me that if she could have one wish it would be to spend more time with her girls. It appears that coronavirus has his made her dream come true.
"Oh yes, it's been amazing," she says. "I've loved being with the girls. The lockdown has given us more time to be together as a family and I would never change that about it.
"It's definitely given me time to stop and smell the roses. But I've also enjoyed not having to travel all over the world. When the world re-opens, I'm sure people will think in a different way and really decide what they want out of life.
"Of course, we all have to work to pay the bills but I suppose it's how you work and how you deal with things. It's knowing what you actually need or don't need in life that's important."