In a perplexing stance being taken by Heritage Malta, the national heritage agency is refusing the no strings attached offer of millions of euros from a British foundation willing to fund the restoration of Villa Guardamangia, Queen Elizabeth II’s former home in Malta.
Heritage Malta has, for over two weeks, ignored questions about comments made to The Shift by the Cook Foundation, which said it had offered the government funds it could raise in the UK for the villa’s restoration, but the government had backed out at the last minute.
The Foundation said the intention was to have finished the restoration last February, in time for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, in recognition of Her Majesty’s fond memories of her time at the residence in 1949 with Prince Philip as a young couple.
The Foundation made it clear that the villa would remain in the hands of the Maltese government and that the offer was still on the table.
Heritage Malta, however, has not replied to questions about why the offer was rejected and whether the heritage agency was prepared to reconsider its stance now it has found it would take up to €10 million to restore the villa.
If the Foundation’s offer had been taken up, the villa’s restoration would already be at an advanced stage, if not completed. Instead, it remains in a state of disrepair and abandonment since the agency does not seem to have the funds available for its restoration.
Given the context, Heritage Malta’s silence is stunning.
“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 the equipping/setting it up as a museum in honour of Her Majesty,” George Cook told The Shift.
In the wake of the Queen’s passing in September, many mourners visited the villa and laid wreaths at its main doorstep. As the British press began to focus on the villa, Prime Minister Robert Abela committed to its restoration and President George Vella recounted in an interview how “her eyes lit up” when she was told Villa Guardamangia was to be restored.
Her Majesty’s words when she last visited Malta in 2015 for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting were a sad reminder of the state of her beloved former home when she acknowledged it “looks rather sad now”.
Yet the government is offering no explanation as to why the offer continues to be rejected.
Cook explained to The Shift how Villa Guardamangia and its connection with 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 in view of the then-upcoming Platinum Jubilee of her reign,” he added.
Yet, for some unknown reason, the government then turned its back on the deal and chose to instead purchase the property from its private owners only to hand it over to Heritage Malta, which does not have the funds required to carry out its direly-needed restoration.
The Foundation told The Shift it was still interested in supporting the government’s efforts, even though there has been no contact since the offer was suddenly dismissed.
It 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”.