The French villa where the former British King, Edward VIII, lived with his American wife Wallis Simpson will open to the public for the first time.
The run-down Villa Windsor in the Boulogne woods of western Paris will open as a museum next year to coincide with the Paris Olympics, following a multi-million euro renovation.
Only days before King Charles III and the Queen Consort are due to make their first state visit to France, Paris city council signed the villa over to a charitable foundation committed to preserving and promoting French heritage.
Set in gardens stretching to 1.5 hectares, the 14-room mansion was where the former king, who scandalized British society after abdicating in 1936, lived out his later life with his wife.
Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene Dietrich and Aristotle Onassis were among the many rich and famous who partied and socialized at 4 route du Champ d’Entraînement, after the then Duke and Duchess of Windsor occupied it in 1953.
The couple lived there until they died – the duke in 1972 and the duchess in 1986. In the days before his death, the duke was visited by his niece, Queen Elizabeth II. Her son, then Prince Charles, had also previously visited – an encounter dramatized in series three of “The Crown.”
Albéric de Montgolfier, president of the charitable organization Fondation Mansart, told CNN Wednesday that the city council leased the run-down mansion to his organization for 32 years.
“This house has never been open to the public before,” he said, as he outlined plans to update the property in time for the Olympics in the summer of 2024.
Viewers of “The Crown” will have seen a recreation of the villa in the blockbuster Netflix show, but none of the episodes were filmed at the Paris location.
The house was built in 1928 and has always been owned by the city of Paris, according to de Montgolfier.
In 1944, it opened its doors to the exiled General Charles de Gaulle, who moved in with family following the liberation of Paris for two years.
De Montgolfier said: “It was a very interesting period because lots of France’s laws were signed there, including the one giving French women the right to vote.”
Following the death of the Duchess of Windsor, the lease was taken over by Mohamed Al Fayed, the Egyptian billionaire businessman.
De Montgolfier said: “Al Fayed originally intended it as a home for his son Dodi and had planned an engagement lunch there for Dodi and Diana.”
But tragically the lunch never took place, said de Montgolfier, as it had been scheduled for the day after the couple were killed in the city in August 1997.
“Four years ago Mohamed Al Fayed decided to give it [the villa] back to the city of Paris,” said de Montgolfier.
Part of why the foundation was entrusted with the house is because it has successfully restored the Château de Bagatelle, just meters from Villa Windsor in the Boulogne woods.
Work on the villa, expected to take more than a year, will include installing a new heating system as well as measures to ensure it meets 21st century health and safety standards. There will be a cafe and small restaurant on site and admission will be free.
As well as a museum with a permanent exhibition detailing its history, the newly renovated villa will also be used to stage events.
“It is a luxury house with a big, big dining room, a beautiful hall, a library and one and a half hectares of gardens,” de Montgolfier said. “It is just 10 minutes from the Place de l’Étoile in a really great location.”