Frenchman Christian Perdrier was appointed CEO of Alnwick Castle and Garden in October 2009, with a five-year plan to take the town and the attractions forward.
But the former Disneyland Paris chief has decided to leave, having done the work he feels is necessary to keep the Garden a top tourist attraction.
Mr Perdrier said: “I gave the Duchess and Rory [Wilson, the Duke’s agent] my resignation letter last Tuesday. They were shocked. I will be staying on until mid-July to see through the work I have started.
“We have done a lot over the past 14 or 15 months to put a structure in place at the Garden to take the business forward. We have appointed a new director of fund-raising and I expect to have a new director of sales and marketing on board by April.
“The final piece of the jigsaw is a director of operations who I hope to have in place by May.
“When I looked at the organisation after appointing these three positions, I realised we did not need a CEO.
“We have seen some tough times and these will continue for the next two or three years, so we have to look at our cost base.
“We have had restricted opening this winter and I have had to cut staff, so I wouldn’t be professional if I didn’t apply to myself what I have applied to others. The organisation has to evolve according to its needs.”
But even last October in an interview with the Gazette, after he had been in the job for just over a year, Christian said he was committed to completing his five-year project.
So what has changed?
“My wife Jocelyne is realising a project of her own. She wants to set up a business in the south of France providing services for elderly people who want to stay in their own homes,” he said.
“People are living longer and over the next 20 years the results of the post-war baby boom means there will be such a need for services because the state will not be able to take on the burden, particularly in France.
“I have worked all over the world and I have always dragged my wife with me. This is the first time I am letting my wife dictate to me where we go. Life is a series of roundabouts and you have to make sure you take the right exits. I am 60 this year and I have reached a big roundabout in my life.
“We went to France for Christmas and discussed the idea with family and friends and they all supported us. I cannot pretend we haven’t missed everyone in France. My mother is 92 and who knows what may happen in the next few years?
“There is certainly no crisis or problem here at the Garden, I’m just obeying my wife! The weather during the last two winters in Alnwick has been awful and that helped us to make our decision.
“Alnwick can still move forward according to my vision of a combined resort, combining the Garden, Castle and the town. But I now think it needs someone from the town, not the Garden or Castle, to take over the baton.”
The Duchess of Northumberland said: “I’d like to acknowledge everything Christian’s achieved during his season with us and I wish him the very best for the future.”
In the last 15 months, Mr Perdrier has created a number of schemes to help improve links between the town and its attractions and to forge relations with businesses. He has introduced a joint ticket scheme with the Bailiffgate Museum, a greener scheme of using recyclable materials for crockery to turn it into compost, and created a package of link-ups to entice visitors to the attractions to visit the town centre.
He also introduced a scheme of reduced winter opening hours which resulted in a number of staff casualties. The news of Mr Perdrier’s departure has come as a shock to the town.
Alnwick county and town councillor Gordon Castle said: “This has come as quite a surprise. It is earlier than most of us expected. I thought it was a long-term plan.”
Tom Pattinson, a volunteer at the Garden and chairman of trustees at the Bailiffgate Museum, said: “First and foremost, I have become to know him quite well as a volunteer and as part of the Bailiffgate Museum and from the outset he was keen to involve as many people in Alnwick as possible in what he was doing. With the number of people coming to visit the Garden he wanted to see some spin-off into the town.
“He has been excellent for us in involving the joint ticket for the museum. That has made a great difference to ourselves and the business.
“We are very grateful for what he has done to help us. I think this is a decision he has made because it is right for him to move on. He feels he has done as much as he can for the moment. He came at a time when he was required and he as done what he had to do. The Garden will go on from here.”
Geoff Watson, manager of Alnwick Community Development Trust, said: “I am disappointed that he is leaving. I think he was starting to have an effect on the way the town viewed itself and how we were going to move forward.”