It's a little-known fact that Queen Elizabeth called Malta home for a period between 1949 and 1951. Before her coronation, the then Princess stayed in a villa leased by Lord Louis Mountbatten from 1929 while her fiancé at that time, The Duke of Edinburgh was stationed in Malta as a serving Royal Navy officer. Malta is the only country outside the UK, the Queen has ever lived in.
Now, the Queen's former residence - called Villa Guardamangia - is at the centre of a row over its restoration. A recent survey conducted by the Telegraph revealed that 84% of respondents would visit the villa in Malta if it were restored and opened to the public.
The only property outside of the UK which the Queen has called home
Located on the outskirts of Valletta, the formerly imposing house is now in need of considerable renovation and being privately owned, there are conflicting opinions as to who should fund the work. Leading conservationist Astrid Vella feels that the government should foot the bill for the work which would considerably boost tourism on the island, already a popular destination for international holidaymakers.
"This villa not only has immense architectural value but it's the only property outside of the UK which the Queen has called home," said Ms Vella from the steps of the villa itself. "It is crucial to our heritage and our collective memory and could really boost quality tourist numbers," she added.
The row comes in the build up to the next Royal visit scheduled for November. It has been reported that on her last trip to Malta, the Queen requested she be able to visit her former home but the current owners did not agree to it. Mrs Vella believes the Maltese government has a duty to restore the building to its former glory as an important part of the island's heritage.
She said: "The only other solution is for the government to buy such houses outright and restore and maintain them at state expense, for public use. If these buildings are considered public heritage, then it follows that public heritage must not be maintained at private expense, enforced by law, but at public expense but with the consent of the owners and market-price compensation paid to the, and not through enforced expropriation or requisition. The government is, apparently, in negotiation with the owners to buy Villa Guardamangia, or so it has told the press".
The row has prompted Malta's government to issue a statement concerning the villa in which it says it has already embarked on a process to restore the property: "Surveys on the property have been carried out and restoration costs estimates have been gathered. However, the government has no title on the property and this has created legal complications with its owners".
Despite the legal issues, the government has confirmed the property will be expropriated, with full compensation to its owners because it "believes that the property is one of historical heritage".