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Calm down dears, it's only £60m

Published 21 August 2011
The Sunday Times

Winner, who is marrying Geraldine Lynton-Edwards

At the age of 75, Michael Winner is finally making a move. Not only is he getting married, he is leaving his childhood home and putting it on the market for more than £60m.

Just weeks before his wedding to his long-suffering fiancee, Geraldine Lynton-Edwards, 70, at Chelsea register office next month, he has discreetly put his home up for sale. Britain's answer to the mansions of Hollywood sits in a leafy crescent in Holland Park, west London. With it comes a host of memories of visits by some of the world's greatest actors, including Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren and Charles Bronson, who played the vigilante in Winner's Death Wish movies.

Winner intended to leave it to the nation, but the recession and squeeze on public sector spending means that Kensington and Chelsea council has had to look again at the financial outlay required to freeze the building in aspic and open it to the public.

The director even hoped a life-size animatronic dummy of himself in the entrance hall with moving lips would welcome the guests.

However, the council wanted him to arrange the purchase of the property's freehold, which would cost a prohibitive £15m. The leasehold runs out in 2045.

Winner, who is seeking offers in excess of £60m for the leasehold, is tiring of running such a huge home. "It's a very big job," he said last week. "It's like running a museum. There are 46 rooms, nine lavatories, seven bathrooms and a swimming pool. We have 168 light bulbs outside the house to beat off the thieves. Every night at 6pm it looks like Blackpool but it works. The last burglary was 20 years ago.

"We also have 3,400 bulbs inside the house and they are nearly all different. It costs me a fortune to have a man in to change them. We paid £1,000 the other day.

"I want a simpler life. Geraldine wants me to sell the house. It's a new start. It's a new life. The upkeep, the pure hard work in keeping the house going is a nightmare for two people."

Instead Winner, who has never previously married, wants a penthouse suite with sweeping views of the Thames similar to those enjoyed by Jeffrey Archer and John Major. He says he may also buy a smaller flat on a lower floor to house his home cinema.

He will be leaving behind a house with memories in almost every room. It was built in Queen Victoria's reign by the architect Richard Norman Shaw for the artist Sir Luke Fildes. When Edward VII sat for a portrait in Fildes's studio - now Winner's bedroom - he described it as "one of the finest rooms in London".

In 1972, when his parents moved abroad, Winner acquired the house for £150,000 and set about restoring it and buying out the tenants. He built the home cinema in the basement and used a cutting room upstairs to edit his films.

The home cinema is covered with posters from his more than 30 films and the autographed photographs of stars including Jack Lemmon, Burt Lancaster, Faye Dunaway and Robert Mitchum. Another is of Sir Michael Caine, who will be one of the wedding guests. He played an ageing vigilante similar to the hero of Death Wish in 2009's Harry Brown.

Jimmy Page, who provided the music for two Death Wish sequels, lives next door.

Once, Warren Beatty and Michelle Phillips, the Mamas and Papas singer, were canoodling on one of the sofas at the rear of the cinema room while Winner and his then girlfriend were trying to watch The Day of the Locust, a new film by the British-born director John Schlesinger, nearer the front.

A few days later Winner got a call from the head of the film distribution company saying he would get no more preview films. "I asked why and he said: 'It's because Warren Beatty is going around saying what a dreadful film The Day of the Locust is. John Schlesinger found out he saw it in your cinema. He is furious because he is getting bad-mouthed by Beatty before the film has even opened.' " It is still in Winner's will that he is leaving his house to the nation, he said. "That was my total desire and aim but the council is not going to spend £15m on the freehold and wants money to help maintain the house. With interest rates going to zero, I don't have the multi-millions in ready cash to to give them."

Daniel Robbins, the curator of historic homes for Kensington and Chelsea council, said: "It's certainly less certain that we could take it over."

Tim White, regional chairman of Knight Frank, the estate agents handling the sale of the house, said: "It oozes history."