Stéphane Bern, the ardent defender of France’s cultural heritage, treated the AAPA to an hour of his insights into the post-pandemic state of play, progress on resurrecting Notre Dame Cathedral, the Christo stunt at the Arc de Triomphe, and more.
The ebullient journalist and author is a household name in France thanks to his hugely popular television shows, and is a darling of crowned heads and aristocrats.
“I never understood why they closed down the museums” during the pandemic, he said, noting that privately owned cultural sites were hurt the most as the public ones enjoy subsidies.
The man who rubs shoulders with royalty all over Europe – he remarked that he has known Prince Albert of Monaco for 30 years – was somewhat wistful about British attitudes towards cultural heritage compared to those of the French.
“Britain is still a monarchy, so in the collective unconscious it’s not history, it’s the present,” he said.
His opinion about the Christo installation? It gets people talking, it highlights the monument, and it’s only ephemeral anyway!
Bern quashed any idea of alternatives to restoring Notre Dame’s spire to its original Gothic self. France is a signatory to the 1963 Treaty of Venice, first and foremost, which stipulates that damaged monuments must be returned to their last known form. Also on the spire, he said the finest oak was being sought out across France.
“It’s pretty symbolic,” he said. “All the regions where there are lovely oak forests can glory in it. It causes a national élan in favour of the reconstruction.” And the timeline? “I’m sure we’ll be ready for 2024” when France will host the Olympics.
On other subjects, he pulled no punches regarding wind farms, condemning them as counter-productive given the materials needed to build them, and divisive because they are a scourge for the generally rural people who live in their noisy shadow.
And Bern dished a bit — but ever so diplomatically — on the state of Prince Albert’s marriage, as his wife Caroline has been absent for quite some time. He said he is sensitive to the challenges of being a royal, pivoting quickly to the desertion of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.