David Wilkie was a toddler when he took to the water for the first time in Sri Lanka, where his Scottish parents had been posted. At boarding school his talent developed quickly, although he hated the training involved. “If you’re serious you have to put in four hours a day, it was laborious and I didn’t enjoy it at all,” says David as we chat on the terrace of his splendid villa above Vallauris.
The hard work paid off and, at just 16, he won Bronze at the Commonwealth Games. But it was at the Montreal Olympics in 1976 that David, now 60, became a household name in the UK, winning Gold in the 200m breaststroke.
World-class training in the USA had honed a natural talent into an athlete able to reach the highest pinnacle in sport.
“It was quite ironic at the time. I had won a four-year scholarship to Miami and the Americans had invested perhaps as much as $50,000 in my training. The contribution from Edinburgh Corporation was £25.”
“No, it was a one-off payment.
“My Gold at Montreal had scuppered a USA whitewash in the swimming, and when I returned to Miami there was a strongly held opinion in some quarters that I should be adopted as an American – they had paid my way after all.”
In the mid-Seventies David swept the opposition aside, becoming the only swimmer to have held the British, USA, European, World and Olympic titles simultaneously. In his search for the ultimate streamlining in the pool, David pioneered the wearing of goggles and cap together.
“I had long hair back then – unlike today! – and I thought it would reduce drag to cover it. I pinched my mother’s shower cap, ripped the plastic flowers off the side, and gave it a go. It worked.”
David is not exactly nostalgic for the strictly amateur status of his day. “So much was expected from you with nothing tangible in return.
“I’d love to be a professional swimmer now. It is acceptable to be paid, and a good swimmer can make a good living. On the other hand, the commercialism has become over-dominant, and I don’t like the way countries have become obsessed with medal tallies at the expense of the true essence of the sport.”
Since retiring from the swimming, David has become a successful businessman, his development of a health products company, which he later sold, bringing very satisfying financial rewards.
David and his Swedish wife, Helen, disillusioned with Spain as a summer retreat, visited Cannes in 2004 and quickly decided the South of France was the place for them. In 2005 they bought an exceptional property on the peaceful heights between Vallauris and Cannes.
As one stands on the breeze-kissed terrace, what you look out upon is not so much a view as a great sweeping panorama taking in the baous behind Vence, the Mercantour, the hills of Nice and the coast all the way down to Bordighera. To the south you look down the barrel of Cap d’Antibes to the sparkling sea.
“We’ve found the villa to be perfectly located,” says David. “It’s on a beautiful and quiet hillside, but just 20 minutes from the airport, beaches nearby, Antibes just down the road.”
Helen’s metier is interior designer, and elegant, clean and cool lines are hallmarks of every room. And of course there is a pool, newly installed, and although not of Olympic dimensions is what David calls a “proper” swimming pool – “No funny shapes” – where he can power up and down every day.
Why give up such a fabulous place, I ask David.
“It has been a great family summer house, but now our two children – Adam, 21, has just graduated from UCL and Natasha, 25, is established as a programme buyer with Hollywood & Vine – don’t come down that often, we are just not here for that much of the year.”
For the €2.8 million price the buyer gets the security advantages of a gated domaine, 440m2 of living space, air-conditioning, open plan reception space and five bedrooms with ensuite facilities, most of which, like the main living area, have panoramic views.