Hollywood star John Travolta has paid a secret visit to a Scottish castle amid growing speculation that he is preparing to mount a bid to buy it.
Castle Lee, near Braidwood in South Lanarkshire, is the ancient seat of the Lockhart family and has its roots in the 13th century.
Scots rally driver Colin McRae is also rumoured to have shown an interest in the beautiful 700-year-old castle, which is expected to fetch in excess of £8 million.
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But last night multi-millionaire Travolta was favourite to buy the estate after it emerged that he visited Castle Lee two weeks ago. The film star, 49, is believed to want to turn the site into a centre for Scientology, a system of beliefs followed by the actor. It aims to free the Thetan (free-thinking being), which is passed through incarnations into every mortal body.
Sources close to the castle confirmed that the actor, who commands up to $20 million per movie, flew to the area by helicopter in early October and spent several hours viewing the site.
A source told The Scotsman: “He was only here for a day. He came by helicopter, but it was all very low-key.”
Several locals said Travolta had been seen in the area. A Carluke man, who asked not to be named, said: “He was definitely here, quite a few people saw him. Everyone’s talking about it – it’s a small place and people get to hear about something like that.”
Internet bidding for the castle started on Thursday and lasts for seven days.
Castle Lee was put on the market by Stephen Peter, son of American health and telecommunications millionaire Leslie Peter, who bought the castle in 1988 on a visit to research his Scottish ancestry. He died two years ago aged 69.
In a move intended to avoid prying eyes, the sale is being conducted through secret mailshots to super-rich Americans and via a password-protected website.
Prospective buyers submit their details to the agents in California who check their credentials to screen out time-wasters. E-mails advertising the castle have been sent to the rich and famous across the US, including Travolta, Madonna, Michael Jackson and the Microsoft computer billionaire Bill Gates.
Glasgow-born property consultant Nassim Tahzib, who is based in Florida, is handling the sale of the castle via the exclusive website.
He refused to reveal the identity of several potential buyers and would only say: “There has been phenomenal interest in Lee Castle, and a number of people – several of them famous – have submitted bids.
Travolta – star of Grease, Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction visited Scotland in August last year with his wife, actress Kelly Preston, 39, and children Jett, 11, and Ella Bleu, three. It is thought he visited Castle Lee during his five-day visit.
During his trip, he hired an entire ten-bedroom floor at Gleneagles, at a cost of £52,000, for his family and 17 staff. He registered at the hotel as JT Smith.
Travolta said at the time that he wanted to improve his golfing skills and that he might build a replica of Gleneagles’ pitch-and-putt course.
If Travolta did buy Castle Lee, it would not be popular with locals, as many would like to see it in Scottish hands.
The sprawling two-storey castle has 12 turrets, 14 bedrooms, a ballroom, a Gothic great hall and a swimming pool. It also has a chapel, where Leslie Peter arranged to have his heart buried in a casket after his death.
The castle was to be let out for £1 million a year, but his family were unable to find a tenant they deemed suitable and had his will overturned to allow them to sell.
Leslie Peter, who was well-known in Hollywood and at the White House, spent millions of pounds rebuilding the castle, but a year after the restoration a fire ripped through a wing of the historic building. Fire crews helped prevent extensive damage, using water from the indoor swimming pool.
The 26,000 sq ft castle has been lavishly decorated and filled with countless antiques, pieces of furniture and works of art – a large mural depicting the Battle of Bannockburn is the main feature of the ballroom.
A plaque on the floor of the family chapel, inscribed with the Latin words Numquam Despera, ‘never give up’, marks the spot where Leslie Peter’s heart is buried.
Robert the Bruce is said to have signed a charter under an ancient oak known as the Pease Tree in front of the castle. Oliver Cromwell is said to have rested his troops at the same spot.
Stephen Peter, 47, who lives in Florida and runs an import and export business dealing in Scottish goods, admitted he is reluctant to part with the castle.
“We are not selling up because we need the money, nor do we want to try to cash in on the heritage my father has left us,” he said. “It is simply a matter of economics.
“We do not want to wander from my father’s wish that this place is a private family home. We don’t want to turn it into a commercial venture.
“But we also cannot afford to keep such a large and marvellous place as a private dwelling house. My heart says no to a sale but my wallet says yes.
“It is with great personal regret that I have decided to sell, but I do hope we can keep one of the three lodges on the estate so that we retain a little of our home here in Scotland.’
It has been suggested the castle could be turned into a commercial venture to rival Skibo Castle, but Mr Peter hopes it will remain a private home for someone who appreciates the grandeur and scenery that the castle has to offer.
Asked last night about how much he hoped the castle would fetch, he said: “It’s hard to place a value on it, as there is no comparable price.
“You could probably come up with a hard price for the property, its fittings and the land, but how do you place a value on the history or the heritage?
“The castle comes complete, the new owner won’t have to spend the next 25 years trying to set up. They can walk in here, open their suitcases and just start enjoying it.”
Travolta’s agent, Fred Westheimer, said last night: “We have no information to give out on this subject.”