She may be Hollywood royalty thanks to her famous grandfather, but Kiera Chaplin isn’t afraid to get a little extreme.
The 34-year-old granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin is participating in the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc — an off-roading rally in the Moroccan desert that has the women-only participants rely on old-school navigation techniques to get through a series of obstacles and checkpoints every day. After two weeks, the team who completes the race with the fastest time and the least number of miles wins the rally — but Chaplin isn’t thinking that far ahead.
“I’m a little scared and nervous,” the New York luxury realtor admits to PEOPLE about her first time in the rally. “But I’m going for the experience, I’m not going in thinking I need to win. I just want to go in and do the best that I can do.”
Every morning, the teams receive a Road Book — a document that contains only the geographic coordinates or headings and distances of the day’s checkpoints and finish line. Using a compass, a navigational plotter and maps, the “Gazelles” plot their route and plan their itinerary to find the most efficient route to get to the finish line. In the end, the teams will be driving a total of eight days — and Chaplin says it’s all about strategy over driving skills.
“My driving is as bad as it gets — I got my driver’s license in L.A.,” Chaplin, a former model, says. “I live in New York so I don’t drive that often, but this is more about technique. It’s fun that I’m not a big driver and I’m doing this — it shows anyone can do anything if they set their mind to it. I’m excited about meeting all of these incredible women from all walks of life and all around the world that are doing it and feeling empowered by the experience.”
Chaplin was born in Ireland but grew up in Switzerland in the same town where her iconic grandfather immigrated to in 1952 after political persecution in the United States. And although she had a normal childhood in a quiet European town, she always knew about her famous roots.
The Chaplins from left to right: Kiera’s dad Eugene, Charlie with daughter Jane on his lap, Geraldine, his wife Oona holding Annette, Michael, Victoria and Josephine
“It was fairly normal, except that half of the bars and restaurants are called Chaplin’s or Charlie’s,” she jokes. “It’s very quiet compared to L.A. — no one really bothered me when I was growing up and it didn’t seem like anything special. Whereas when I moved to L.A. suddenly people started saying to me, ‘Oh you’re Hollywood royalty!’ “
Still, there was a moment in her early childhood where she says she decided to look in the dictionary at school and found him mentioned. It was the moment when she realized, “Wow, okay, he must be a bigger deal than I think.”
But Chaplin insists she didn’t know how wide-reaching her grandfather’s fame was until she started traveling through her modeling work and encountered people from all walks of life who would fondly remember the famous Charlie.
“I feel like he always gets such a positive response, people really admire him and respect him a lot and he brought a lot of laughter,” she says. “It’s nice to see so many people that loved him and still love him. So many people have little stories to tell and they ask me questions.”
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After years of modeling and trying her hand at acting, Chaplin moved to New York and became a high-end realtor, working with luxury properties for international clients through her company Kiera Chaplin Properties. She says she also has a few projects in the works as a producer — a TV show and a movie — and she’s also looking to do more business outside of her “conversation-starter” last name.
But Chaplin admits she does enjoy working with her family to preserve her grandfather’s fascinating legacy.
“A lot of people today know the image of him, but they don’t really know the story of the man behind the hat,” she says. “That’s what I really like explaining to people — the man that created all of that.”