Ex-king Constantine plans Athenian return

Encouraged by other monarchs returning to their homelands, the exiled king of Greece is planning to resettle in the country that deposed him in 1974.

Encouraged by other monarchs returning to their homelands, the exiled king of Greece is planning to resettle in the country that deposed him in 1974.

Constantine II, who was stripped of his Greek citizenship in 1993, plans to arrive on a Danish passport. He is married to Anna-Marie, the younger sister of the Danish Queen.

Disregarding the open hostility of his former subjects, Constantine, 60, has taken courage from the return to Bulgaria of former King Simeon II, now the country's prime minister, and the restoration of the property of the Yugoslav monarch, Crown Prince Alexander.

Yesterday he revealed his determination to reinstate himself permanently in the Greek capital by the end of next year. He has already begun house hunting.

Constantine left Greece in 1968 and has lived in London most of the time since then. He was deposed in a popular referendum after the seven-year dictatorship of the Colonels, which he initially supported, collapsed.

"He is desperately homesick, there is no doubt about it," an old friend told the Guardian yesterday. "He is no different to other people who identify with the place where they spent their childhood. He lived here until he was 27, and he dreams of Greece every day."

A former Olympics sailing gold medalist, he is looking for a spacious villa in Athens and a country house where he can enjoy the sea, the friend said.

The Greek media reported yesterday that he had shown an interest in a plush Athenian mansion which once belonged to his mother, Queen Frederika. It now belongs to Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the Cypriot owner of Easyjet airlines, who commented: "No contact has been made so far ... in any case, the house is not for sale."

Although Constantine has apologised for the past, he has not relinquished his claim to the throne. When he was visiting Greece in the early 90s his yacht was chased out of territorial waters by gunboats and fighter planes.

It is clear that the prospect of his return has caused the Socialist government deep unease. An official said it was acutely aware of the embarrassment of trying to stop him entering the country on a Danish passport.

Aides who have recently visited Constantine at his house in Hampstead told the Greek press that he believed the time was right to make his return.

More than anything, they said, he had been emboldened by the European court of human rights' judgment last year compelling the Greek government to compensate him for the royal estates it confiscated in 1994, reputed to be worth about £225m.


Helena Smith in Athens

The GuardianTramp

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