King Charles enjoys 'difficult challenges' as TV show follows restoration of stately home

Dumfries House redevelopment acting as template for Greek royal palace plan

King Charles, left, greets Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his wife Mareva Grabowski at Windsor Castle. AFP
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King Charles III has described a vast restoration project at the 18th-century stately home Dumfries House in Scotland as an international model.

On a visit to the UK on Monday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met King Charles at Windsor Castle where the experience was discussed.

The two discussed Greek government plans to develop the former royal palaces at Tatoi, north of Athens, using the restoration of Dumfries House as a template.

The monarch spoke of the “appalling risk” inherent in the project as he appeared in a royal Grand Designs-style TV documentary.

The programme took more than a decade to make and follows the story of King Charles’s ambitious plan to restore the building to save it from ruin and regenerate the deprived local community.

Saying he enjoyed taking on the “most difficult challenges”, the king, then the Prince of Wales, led a consortium that paid £45 million ($54 million) for the dilapidated estate in 2007.

King Charles said it was worth it to help the local people, who had suffered since the loss of the mining industry.

As well as restoring the main house, tasks included bringing the walled garden, one of Europe’s largest, back to life, and adding a horticultural and education centre, a cookery school, textiles centre, Stem unit and adventure playground, creating jobs in the process.

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“I wanted to try to make a difference to the local area, it had many of the worst indices of unemployment and ill health and everything else,” King Charles says in the programme.

“I’m one of those people who rather likes taking on the most difficult challenges. I felt it was worth taking this appalling risk and taking out such a big loan.

“This area has been so battered and deprived, particularly since the loss of the mining industry and everything.”

The British royal also outlines his hopes of a similar project elsewhere in the UK in future, saying he was inspired to help people and their families.

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“That’s my problem, I’m frightfully over ambitious,” he said.

“I long to use this model in other parts of the country where I know it can make a big impact on people’s lives and livelihoods, and their whole future and their families’ futures, which is what matters to me.

“I hope there’ll be another project fairly soon somewhere, which could be quite large, and hopefully there will be other opportunities. We’ll see. I haven’t given up yet … Watch this space, as they say.”

King Charles acceded to the throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth in September and the broadcast is dedicated to her memory.

Footage includes Prince Charles showing his mother around the grounds when she opened the walled garden in 2014.

Narrated by actor Richard E Grant, the documentary is said to capture the “real man behind the crown”.

King Charles is seen greeting a local and his dog, waving at visitors and trudging around the site in wet and windy weather.

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He expresses his fear that the 810-hectare estate, 43km south of Glasgow, would have been turned into a golf club.

“I knew if we hadn’t stepped in and saved it, somebody would have bought it and said they had a great idea, you know, for golf courses and things, and it would never have worked, so, it would have joined the list of yet more derelict country houses," he said.

Priceless Chippendale furniture and other antique treasures, saved from being sold, were kept in the house and restored.

King Charles is also seen sharing his concern over the 300-year “Old Sycamore” tree in the garden when it appeared to be dying.

“I can’t bear it because it was such a wonderful thing,” he says.

But the tree survived and continued to grow, with a relieved King Charles calling the change “remarkable”.

The king expressed an interest in Tatoi when he visited Greece in March 2021 for the centennial of the Greek War of Independence.

The Greek government plans to use the Tatoi estate as a mixed-use development when restoration is complete.

Meanwhile, Mr Mitsotakis said there was “progress” and a sense of “momentum” in talks with the UK to reunite the Parthenon Sculptures in Greece.

Athens has campaigned to have the “Elgin Marbles”, as they are often known — 75 metres of Parthenon frieze, 15 metopes and 17 sculptures — returned from the British Museum since they were removed by diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which then ruled Greece.

“We have seen progress,” the Greek Prime Minister said during an event at the London School of Economics, saying that while discussions remained private, the reunification of the sculptures could be a “win-win solution”.

The British Museum bought the marbles in 1816 and UK officials say they were acquired legally by Elgin, a claim Greece denies.

“I do sense the momentum [to reunite the sculptures],” Mr Mitsotakis added.

Updated: November 29, 2022, 10:42 AM