Malta Diary Princess Elizabeth’s former villa residence to become national museum to reflect 150 years of Anglo-Maltese relations and connections to the British Royal Family
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After many years of procrastination in which nothing was done, the current Government announced last week it had purchased the villa in Guardmangia that served as the residence of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, during the early 1950s.
Owned privately and therefore beyond Government intervention at the time, the villa has structurally sadly deteriorated and is now in a state of wrack and ruin but in making the purchase the Government has pledged to restore and eventually convert it into a historic museum that will reflect Queen Elizabeth’s early years of marriage to Prince Philip before her ascent to the throne, and his days as a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy stationed in Malta at the end of the Second World War.
The museum will also reflect 150 years of Anglo-Maltese history in a close bond which still very much exists today, Brexit or no Brexit. It will also portray the Queen’s (and her family’s) visits through the years, including that of Prince Charles and Princess Anne when they were still young children, and in later years.
When Queen Elizabeth was asked some two years ago by the “Daily Express” to name her most favourite country outside Britain, she had no hesitation in replying “Malta”.
The reason – she had spent the happiest time of her life there … living a normal life. She drove her own car – unaccompanied by security because this was before terrorism and before the days of the media waiting to chart every step and pick up on any comment.
She roamed around Malta freely, treated with great dignity and respect. She randomly visited military and civilian hospitals, She paid visits to schools. She went out and about shopping in Valletta and Sliema. She frequently visited her hairdresser.
She hosted her own coffee mornings and afternoon teas for the wives of fellow RN officers and indeed lived the life of a free woman unencumbered by heavy protocol and numerous entourages falling over each other.
Malta’s relationship with the British Royal family goes back a long way, way before the Queen was born. One of Queen Victoria’s sons was a Royal Navy Officer and resided in Malta for some time accompanied by his Russian princess wife where they resided at San Anton Palace and the Russian princess had a Russian Orthodox Chapel installed.
Her other son “Bertie” (Albert, Edward, later King Edward VII) visited frequently and is known to have enjoyed “lusty” visits!
Down through the decades a number of Royal Family princes and relatives (including Earl Mountbatten of Burma) lived and worked in Malta – but none more than the Queen when still a princess.
Since her ascent to the British Throne, Queen Elizabeth has re-visited Malta a number of times and in 1992 was taken to view Villa Guardmangia and presented with a portrait of its facade.
Villa Guardmangia itself was built in 1900, originally as a farmhouse on uninhabited Guardamangia Hill. Later it became a built-up area and Malta’s then General Hospital named St Luke’s Hospital, was built a stone’s throw away.
In 1929 it was leased to Earl Mountbatten who loved it for its proximity to Marsa which had a horse racing track as well as polo pony stables and staged polo matches. It was refurbished and later bought by Mountbatten who then made it available to his nephew Philip and his wife the Princess Elizabeth.
Subsequently it was sold again and since then had been owned privately until now when it has been bought by the Government. Returning to Malta in 2007 Queen Elizabeth again wished to visit but this was ruled out because the whole building had deteriorated and was ruled to be in a dangerous state.
The Villa itself is, was, spacious with a beautiful garden and miniature lake and a bridge walkway. Despite the area having been built-up over the years, it is still in a relatively quiet location.
Heritage Malta will now take matters in hand and is in contact with the Royal Family about the museum project for the Villa.
The building is the strongest link that the Queen and Prince Philip have to Malta. One of their visits was during the second anniversary of their marriage when she already had her first child – Prince Charles. Some say that Princess Anne was conceived during another Malta visit.
Overall, the Royal House has very strong links to Malta. The Queen’s father King George VI awarded the people of Malta his George Cross Medal for bravery in 1942 when Malta was sustaining intensive Axis aerial bombing during World War II.
Prince Charles paid a number of visits as a boy, a young man (he came specifically to Malta to learn to water ski) and as the Prince of Wales.
The Queen and Prince Philip undoubtedly love and admire Malta. On his visits, Prince Philip normally broke ranks and protocol and mingled and chatted with people lining the streets, particularly elderly sailors who recounted their RN history and swapped seafaring tales with him.
Head of the Malta Public Service, Mario Cutajar, said the Villa will be restored and changed into a museum of the history of relations between Malta and the United Kingdom.
“As you can see there are about twenty rooms, but apart from those there are many artefacts and statues, which were probably in the garden and will need to be restored; the shelters, the stables, separate living quarters on the other side; the size creates an opportunity for restoration to offer a wonderful experience, both for Malta but also for foreigners who visit, particularly, the British.”
The CEO of Heritage Malta, Noel Zammit, said that the idea is to restore the Villa to the state it was in when the Queen lived there.
“You’ve really set me up in a cool position!”
An ironic phrase meaning the total opposite; that of having been placed in a highly embarrassing situation with consequences yet to be faced.