Stéphane Bern, unveils for us the projects of his new presidential mission, while launching the holiday illuminations avenue Montaigne, and monitoring the debate for an entrance fee into French cathedrals.
Three months after your nomination, how are things looking?
I received 1500 files, between the Foundation for the Patrimony and the Ministry of Culture, and an upcoming platform with an interface to handle and follow through these various missions. To my credit, I think I have contributed to a widespread awareness on the importance of saving our heritage. And finally, I have moved ahead on a few projects such as La Corderie in Marseille, the Halle Industrielle in Arles and the Fabrics Museum in Lyon. I am constantly sollicited. I answer in consequence, I try to play my role as best as possible, but I cannot substitute myself to public power, I am just here to help and ensure support.
What's happening with the Patrimony Loto project ?
We are practically finished with the project, it's in the works and should be operational during the Patrimony Days of 2018. The first year, the Fondation du Patrimoine will help to save at least a hundred monuments. I would like to put the spotlight on 14 emblematic sites, one in the French overseas departments, and another in an administrative region. All this to showcase the diversity of our patrimony : château, church, garden, famous dwelling, wash house, fountain, all the properties will be represented.
How do you maintain your independance ?
I work in total complicity with the Minister of Culture, Françoise Nyssen, and yes, it's true I am involved with her services. I have no political status, but my legitimacy stems from my TV shows, my own restoration and the public. I only have to account to the public and the head of state ! I have to make do with the red tape of the administrations, I must accept it, we don't necessarily have the same tempo. When it comes to basics, the Minister is determined to help me. I have no set deadline for my mission which the President can cancel at any moment if he feels as though my behavior is too free. In any case, he will be receiving my first report in 3 months with a mapping and a priority chart of monuments at risk. I also hope to find new financing options with a certain number of generous sponsors who are ready to back me up, because it's me.
What is the restoration you feel most strongly about ?
The absolute urgency is the château of Villers-Cotterêts. At the moment, we are celebrating the 5th centenial of the Renaissance, and the château, symbol of what François 1er did to institute French in official documents as a national language, has been left by the wayside. I would like to make it the fiefdom of Francophonia. It must be saved, and maybe entrust the public part to the CMN, the Centre of National Monuments, so that it can very quickly find means to make it live.
What is your favorite monument ?
Mine ! I am very happy to live in a Historical Monument, the Royal and Military College of Thiron-Gardais, in the Perche. Not because it is more beautiful or more prestigious, but because I know what it entails to restore a monument, to be in debt until the end of your life and to make big sacrifices in order to participate in the national effort. There, I gave it my blood, my sweat, a few tears, lots of money, and I am attached to it. My renovation portion is finished, and now I am helping the mayor of the city to restore the adjoining abbey.
Where are your upcoming film locations for Secrets d'Histoire ?
I go abroad a great deal for filming purposes, notably in England. We are about to begin a piece focusing on prince Charles in a few days, and I will be going to his residence, at Clarence House. I am also returning home, that is to say to the château of Versailles, where there is always an unvisited salon or an apartment not yet shown to the public. With the production, we stay close to historical facts, and film in places where history actually occured. With the Favorite Village of the French, we are going back on a tour of France to discover properties, meet the owners and the collectivities who share their problems with me, it helps me a lot in my mission.
Do you have a 06 hotline to reach the Queen of England ?
In Great-Britain, it's not 06, private lines start with another number…
You are not happy about the tax on châteaux !
No, because we are the country where there are the most châteaux for sale, no less than 1000 at the moment, but people no longer have the means for their upkeep, they just cannot manage the expenses involved anymore. There is constant talk about tax deductions if you do renovations, but if you have no money to pay for the work, what can you deduct ?
Did you speak about it to President Emmanuel Macron ?
Yes, I told him everything , but he is not the one who decides the budget of the nation. The job of the President is to preside. I am auditioned by deputies, senators, advisers, and am constanly telling them not to consider château-dwellers as wealthy people.