Tista’ taqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti
While the Maltese government has been only too keen to promote its plans to restore Villa Guardamangia in the days following the passing away of Queen Elizabeth II, who had fond memories of her stay at the residence in 1949, it has said nothing about an offer to fund the villa’s restoration before her Platinum Jubilee – an offer the government turned its back on in the last minute.
The Cook Foundation confirmed it had offered the government to purchase the villa and fund the villa’s restoration – in the name of the Maltese government – and to present it to Queen Elizabeth II as a gift while celebrating her Platinum Jubilee last February. Plans fell through at the final stage, and the Foundation isn’t quite sure why.
“The project I had in mind and put forward to the government was for the Foundation to finance the purchase of the villa, its restoration, refurbishment and equipping/setting it up as a museum in honour of Her Majesty,” George Cook told The Shift.
He said Villa Guardamangia and its connection with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had come to his attention some 10 years ago.
“I also became aware of the pitiful state of the villa and felt that given that my foundation has been involved with charity work with the then HRH Prince of Wales and his charities since 1997, I should do all I can to restore it to its former glory as a gift to Her Majesty, particularly in view of the then-upcoming Platinum Jubilee of her reign,” he added.
The plan was to raise the necessary funds in the UK to restore the villa, estimated by Heritage Malta to cost some €10 million. The Foundation would have raised the money in the UK while the villa would have remained in the hands of the Maltese government or Heritage Malta.
Yet, for some unknown reason, the government then turned its back on the deal, choosing to instead use taxpayer funds to purchase the property from its private owners and hand it over to Heritage Malta.
The problem is that the agency does not have the funds to restore villa, and has announced it is hoping to acquire EU funds to cover the estimated €10 million cost.
This was happening while in an interview following Queen Elizabeth II’s death, President George Vella had recounted how “her eyes lit up” when she was told Villa Guardamangia would be restored.
Prime Minister Robert Abela has also announced plans for the villa’s restoration to proceed, yet no one has explained why the government rejected such a solid offer for funding the project.
In the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, people gathered to pay her tribute at the dilapidated house, placing flowers, cards with messages and ornate wreaths on its doorstep.
It was a sad reminder of Queen Elizabeth II’s words when she last visited Malta in 2015 for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, when she admitted that the villa where she stayed with Prince Philip in Malta as a young couple “looks rather sad now”.
Cook told The Shift: “I was sure that I would raise the necessary funds from donations by the British public and that the fundraising process would engage the British public in wanting to then visit the villa, bringing many more to Malta. I was convinced that the project would be over-subscribed and, through the fundraising appeal in the UK, generate thousands of extra tourists.”
Cook added that the Foundation was still interested in supporting the government’s efforts, even though there has been no contact since its offer was suddenly dismissed.
“I don’t mind who does it, only that the villa is saved, restored and opened to the public to see how the then HRH Princess Elizabeth lived the ‘happiest’ and most normal days of her life”.
The Royal Family was aware of the Cook Foundation’s plans for the villa’s restoration. “I sent a report on the proposed project to HM Queen’s Principal Private Secretary, who confirmed its receipt at Buckingham Palace, and I personally handed over a copy to the now HM King Charles III (then Prince of Wales) at St James’ Palace and discussed it with him face-to-face. He was keen.
“I know that the project was referred to the Royal Household’s solicitors, and I believe that contact was also made with Britain’s National Trust,” Cook said in reply to questions from The Shift.
The Foundation said the opportunity to involve the British public in the villa’s restoration was still a possibility, “engaging their attention and investment and thereafter attract many more to travel to Malta so they can visit the villa because of that engagement”.
Yet, he said, “this is a matter of choice for the Maltese government”.