Bill Wyman's Saint-Paul-de-Vence

The former bassist of the Rolling Stones has recorded with his own band, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, since 1997, and his photography has been exhibited around the world

Image: Richard Grassie

Ifirst went to France in 1971, as a tax exile when I was with the Rolling Stones. Then, between 1974 and 1976, I built a house on a hill close to Vence, but we sold that about eight years ago and bought this 17th-century farmhouse in the valley of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. The medieval village of Saint-Paul is a treasure trove of art galleries and antique shops. Suzanne and I were married there and had our wedding reception at La Colombe d’Or. She and the children still stop to light candles at the church when they walk through because it is a very special place for us.

Suzanne and our daughters [Katie, 18, Jessy, 16, and Matilda, 14] take the plane over, but I take the Eurostar to Lille and then the TGV down to Nice. I stopped flying in 1990 because my whole life with the Stones was flying and I was bored to death with it. I leave at a sensible time and can still be at home in time for dinner with the family.

I don’t bother to take a guitar with me, but there is a grand piano and an old acoustic guitar in the house just in case I am inspired to write a song. I always travel with two Nikon cameras – a D40 that is great for nature shots, and a D90, which is my regular camera that goes with me everywhere. I have been taking pictures since 1965; my archive has a lot of Stones-on-tour shots and portraits of musicians, but I also love taking photos of landscapes and wildlife. We have about three acres in France, alive with butterflies, insects, badgers and birds, so I like to spend Saturday morning strolling around the garden with my camera.

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We usually have lunch at home on the terrace. If we are in Saint-Paul itself, we might stop for a drink and a game of boules at Le Café de la Place in the village. Then it is a lazy afternoon in front of the television watching sport. I have supported Crystal Palace since I was a little boy, but I also love watching cricket.

We often eat dinner at La Colombe d’Or. I have known the Roux family for 40 years, so they find a table for us even when they are packed out. It is a very special place because anybody who is anybody has dined there over the years – they still have paintings by people such as Picasso, Braque and Miró on the walls. We have lots of friends that we meet up with in the area too – such as Leslie Bricusse, Michael Caine, Roger Moore, Michael Winner, Joan Collins, Johnny Gold and Terry O’Neill – so we might get together for an impromptu dinner at one of our houses. Roger and Michael [Caine] love naughty jokes, so we tell a lot of those that we have been saving up.

Sunday is even lazier. Many of my artist friends lived close to Saint-Paul-de-Vence – César [Baldaccini], Arman [Armand Pierre Fernandez], André Verdet, Jani Renard and G Mancini. We might go out to lunch with them – one of my favourite places to visit is Arman’s house; he is dead now, but we are great friends with his widow, Corice. And close by is the Maeght Foundation, the modern art museum. I also love to visit the Chapel of the Rosary at Vence, which has an interior designed by Matisse and a number of Matisse originals. I knew nothing about art until I went to France and met all these artists, but the rest of the Stones were never that interested. I suppose if Woody [Ronny Wood] had been around then, he might have been.

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When we get home, we unwind in front of the television. I am usually in bed by midnight, but the girls stay up later playing music in the pool house, so I have to keep telling them to turn it down because it’s too bloody loud – just like my dad used to say when I first played the Stones’ records for him.

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