NECHIN, BELGIUM – Authorities in the Belgian municipality of Estaimpuis made their most famous resident, Gerard Depardieu, an honorary citizen on Saturday ahead of a housewarming barbecue the French actor hosted.
“We are pleased that you have made Nechin your home,” municipal official Daniel Senesael said, referring to the village where Depardieu bought a house last year, before praising the film star for staying true to himself.
“Gerard, Estaimpuis loves you,” he said during a ceremony held at a 12th-century chateau.
In front of the red-brick chateau with a moat where the ceremony was held in his honor, Depardieu told journalists that life in Nechin was “perfect” and described himself as a “citizen of the world.” “I have worked around the world but I settled in Nechin,” he said.
Depardieu threw the party for some 200 people, including his new neighbors, in the grounds of the 19th-century, five-bedroom home that he bought last year near the border with France.
“The residents greet me with smiles and ‘I love yous,’ ” Depardieu said. “There’s no need for pretense, or to hide, or to be a star with all the bodyguards. That’s why I invited them.”
Around a quarter of the residents of Nechin are French and are usually wealthy, attracted to the spot by Belgium’s more generous tax laws.
Depardieu, 64, stirred up controversy when he decided to take up residency across the border after the Socialist government sought to impose a 75 percent tax rate on annual incomes that exceed €1 million ($1.3 million).
The veteran actor told France’s Figaro magazine on Friday that the controversy had been “a big misunderstanding” and that he still loved France.
“I am a free man. I feel at home everywhere in Europe,” he said. “This whole story is a big misunderstanding. I love France as much as ever. It’s my country.”
Hailed as one of the greatest actors of his generation, Depardieu starred in films such as “Cyrano de Bergerac” and the “Asterix & Obelix” series and also owns a number of businesses.
In recent years, however, Depardieu has also become known for his off-screen antics.
He landed a fine earlier this year for drunken driving and generated global headlines in 2011 when he tried to urinate in a bottle aboard a plane as it prepared to take off from Paris for Dublin.