Greece's former king goes home after 46-year exile

Constantine II stuns Greeks by moving back to his crisis-plagued homeland with his wife Anne-Marie

Greeks who have the means may be leaving in droves, but after 46 years in exile the former king, Constantine II, has moved back to his crisis-plagued homeland.

The deposed monarch, who was forced to flee Athens shortly after the seizure of power by a group of army officers in 1967, has stunned Greeks – and most of his relatives in the royal households of Europe – by resettling in the capital where he was born and schooled.

"He and Anne-Marie have decided to move here permanently," said a member of Greece's small circle of royalists, referring to Constantine's Danish-born wife. "His son Prince Nikolaos and his wife Princess Tatiana made the same move a few months back."

Soaring property prices in London apparently spurred the move. But Constantine, who was dethroned by referendum on the return of democracy in 1974 and stripped of his Greek citizenship by the then socialist government 20 years later, is known to have been homesick.

More than a decade ago he told a Greek newspaper: "No one can keep me away. For so many years I have lived through my own Golgotha, now I am ready to return."

The 73-year-old, a first cousin of the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince William's godfather, faced the double whammy of not only being unwanted in his country but also being financially constricted: in 1994 he suffered the humiliating blow of also seeing his palaces and other royal estates expropriated in a nation where republicanism runs deep. The European court of human rights, to which the monarch was subsequently forced to resort, did little to alleviate his plight when, more than a decade later, it ruled that the Greek state compensate Constantine for a fraction of the £320m he had originally sought in damages.

Earlier this year, however, Constantine struck lucky when he sold his north London mansion, his home for the past 30 years, for £9.5m. By contrast, property prices in Athens have plummeted to the point where real estate can be acquired for a song: studio flats, should the ex-king want one, are selling for as little as €6,000 (£5,000) in the city centre.

"From that point of view it was considered the very best time for his majesty to not only downsize but return," said another insider, adding that the royal was sending out scouts to scour the property market with a view to buying a permanent residence in Athens.

With Greece mired in a sixth straight year of recession and unemployment at record heights, an estimated 300,000 Greeks – the vast majority highly qualified professionals – have left the country since the eruption of its debt crisis. The reversal of that trend by Constantine, who has still not been forgiven for the support he initially gave the colonels – the junior army officers who threw the country into seven harsh years of military rule – is unlikely to be received lightly on the left.

The former monarch, who in recent months has been spotted cane in hand walking the streets of Athens, has repeatedly denied political ambitions. Instead he has long maintained that his former subjects have been "deliberately misinformed".

Constantine's treatment by his homeland has been an ongoing source of grievance for the British royal family with the Duke of Edinburgh, who was born on the island of Corfu, expressing fury at the way his cousin has been dealt with.

But the new generation of Greek royals appear to have forgotten the past. Prince Nikolaos, it is said, is now renting the apartment of the daughter of Andreas Papandreou, the late socialist leader who gave his father so much grief.

Contributor

Helena Smith in Athens

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn goes global with political ambitions

Buoyed by its meteoric domestic success, the far right party is planning to expand 'wherever there are Greeks'

Helena Smith in Athens

01, Apr, 2013 @5:00 PM

Article image
Q&A: Greece's debt crisis
Just how bad is the Greek economy – and how did it happen?

Aditya Chakrabortty

31, Jul, 2011 @8:06 PM

Article image
Divers plunder Greece's sunken treasure troves

Government move to boost tourism backfires as looters descend on antiquities

Helena Smith in Athens

30, Jan, 2009 @12:01 AM

Article image
Thieves raid Greece's Ancient Olympia Museum
Armed robbers wearing hoods steal between 60 and 70 items of 'incalculable value' after breaking in and tying up female employee

Peter Walker

17, Feb, 2012 @9:59 AM

Greece's dim view of Street View
Hellenic Data Protection Authority asks Google about steps company is taking over rights of people photographed

Haroon Siddique

12, May, 2009 @6:10 PM

Article image
Antonis Samaras appointed Greece's prime minister
Three-party coalition cabinet expected as PM pledges to honour bailout commitments

Helena Smith in Athens

20, Jun, 2012 @8:46 PM

Article image
Greece's euro future: the speculation goes on
When Nicolas Sarkozy said 'some' should clearly not have joined the euro club, Greece was no doubt on his mind

Helena Smith in Athens

11, Dec, 2011 @7:59 PM

Article image
Greece's hopes for quick bailout agreement dashed

European commissioner Olli Rehn says the cuts agreed by Athens at the weekend were a 'crucial step' – but the final decision looks set to be delayed until 1 March

Ian Traynor in Brussels

13, Feb, 2012 @5:40 PM

Article image
Arab unrest puts spring in Greece's tourism step

Holidaymakers are opting for European beaches, offering much-needed economic cheer to Greece, Spain and Portugal

Tom Bawden

15, Jun, 2011 @3:08 PM

Article image
Greece honours Maria Callas with arts academy in former Athens home
American-born soprano’s links to Greece celebrated as fans try to reclaim ‘La Divina’ as a national icon 37 years after her death

Helena Smith in Athens

16, Oct, 2014 @6:33 PM