The Queen’s decision to avoid long-haul travel means Commonwealth summit may never again be within reach in her lifetime
She spent perhaps the happiest years of her married life there, but a row over the Queen’s former home in Malta means she will be denied the chance of a final romantic visit when she arrives on the island today.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh spent two years living at the Villa Guardamangia in Valletta when the Duke was based there with the Royal Navy in the early years of their marriage. It allowed them the sort of carefree existence denied to them ever since the Queen’s accession.
The couple will spend three days in Malta for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, but the villa is in such a poor state of repair that a nostalgic return is out of the question.
The Maltese government had hoped to buy the building and renovate it as a tourist attraction, but a drawn-out legal wrangle with its current owners means nothing has been done.
As a result its stonework is crumbling, paintwork peeling, shutters falling apart, ironwork rusting and weeds have overtaken the garden where the Queen and the Duke once relaxed in the Mediterranean sun.
The condition of the house – the only place outside the UK the Queen has ever called home – has become something of an embarrassment to the Maltese government. It has carried out surveys and estimates on the restoration cost, only to reach stalemate in its attempts to buy the property.
Marika Schembri, who lives in the villa and co-owns it with her siblings, told The Daily Telegraph: “Something is going to happen to this house one day, but maybe not for another ten years.”
The Queen reportedly asked to see the house when she and the Duke last visited Malta in 2007 for their Diamond Wedding Anniversary, but the then owners are said to have refused. She last went inside in 1992, during a State visit.
The grand home, which was rented by the Duke’s uncle, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, at the time the couple stayed there, could eventually be turned into a museum, but there are fears that if the row cannot be settled the current owners could sell it to developers wanting to demolish it and build flats.
Local conservationist Astrid Vella said earlier this year: “This villa not only has immense architectural value, but is the only house outside of the UK that a British monarch has resided in.
“If the Queen asks to visit this property again, it shouldn’t be in this state. We must save it. Tourists are disgusted at how we treat our heritage.”
The Government of Malta said it had begun a process of buying the property “a long time ago” because it “believes that the property is one of historical heritage.”
During their time at Villa Guardamangia (Italian for “look and eat”), the future Queen would drive around the island unescorted in her open-topped car, or pop to the local cinema to watch a film holding hands with the Duke, who was based on the island as commander of HMS Magpie in the Mediterranean Fleet.
“They were so relaxed and free, I think it was their happiest time,” said John Dean, Mountbatten’s butler.
The Queen’s Malta trip promises to be one of the most emotional overseas visits of her life.
Not only will Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh revisit some of their old haunts but the Queen will attend a meeting of Commonwealth leaders for what could be the last time.
The Commonwealth, which has grown from seven members to 53 members during the Queen’s reign, is widely regarded as her proudest achievement, and she has only missed two of the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings since they were instigated in 1971.
But with the next two summits after Malta happening on the other side of the world, the Queen, who no longer travels long distances, may never get the chance to attend another. The next time a CHOGM summit could be close to home will be in 2021, when she will be 95, but only three member states – the UK, Cyprus and Malta – are within easy reach and there is no guarantee any of them will be chosen as the venue.
Photo: Adam Alexander
The Queen is expected to be given a rousing welcome by the Maltese people in St George’s Square in the centre of Valletta, where she and the Duke will be received by the President, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca.
On Saturday they will have a chance to return to the Maria Racecourse, home to the Malta Polo Club where the Duke learned to play the sport. They will also take a boat journey across Valletta Harbour, as they did in 1954 when they took the six-year-old Prince Charles with them. (Courtesy: www.telegraph.co.uk)