The death of Eva Rausing casts a spotlight on Barbados, the island of choice for the Kemenys, Kidds and Rausings, where drugs are plentiful and the days are long, as Jame Mulkerrins reports for London’s Evening Standard.
It is just an eight-hour direct flight from London Gatwick and once you arrive you are never more than 10 minutes’ stroll from a palm-dappled shore. Barbados is known as the Switzerland of the Caribbean for the high number of wealthy home owners, and its residents spend their days swimming, lounging on white sand beaches, lunching and golfing at the famous Sandy Lane Hotel — before playing long into the night. The drink of choice is, of course, rum, and the atmosphere, like the heat, intense, heady.
It is a life that the late Eva Rausing and her husband Hans knew well. The tragic couple split their time between the capital and Barbados where they owned an 11-bedroom beachfront mansion worth £15 million. Set on a private estate near Sandy Lane — said to be the Rausings’ spiritual home — Greensleeves comes with an oriental water garden and koi-filled lily ponds.
But for Hans and Eva, their sun-drenched second home in Barbados may have held a dangerous appeal. For all the island’s well-heeled affluence, it is also reportedly a place of hedonistic debauchery and widely available drugs. One 40-year-old Londoner, a regular visitor to the island at Christmas, its peak season, says: “Cocaine dealers are everywhere, they swarm around you like flies.”
For whatever reason, this dark underbelly to the Caribbean paradise was an aspect of life the Rausings were acutely aware of. A 27-minute drive inland from the couple’s home stands Verdun House, a white-shuttered, pale green colonial style building, fringed with palm trees. From the outside it could be just another opulent second home, but Verdun House is an addiction rehab centre run by the Barbadian Substance Abuse Foundation. It was funded by Eva and Hans.
Poignantly, the website states: “The clients at Verdun House are from any and everywhere. Addiction is no respecter of colour, class, creed or nationality; anyone can become an addict.”
Following a renovation in 2007, a newsletter on Verdun House’s website said: “Our thanks go out to all who have helped in this effort, especially Hans & Eva Rausing without whom none of this would have been possible.” The fee for a 90-day treatment is £4,850.
The pair met, as has been reported widely this week, at a rehab centre in the United States, more than 20 years ago, battling their own demons, and they have given many millions to addiction charities.
But even without the drugs it was perhaps inevitable their worlds would collide. Their social circle, a Venn diagram of moneyed, philanthropic but fast-living friends, has long congregated on the west coast of Barbados — where wealthy Americans and well-bred Brits meet, mingle and party. As one frequent British visitor to the island told the Evening Standard this week: “If you’re merely a millionaire, you wouldn’t feel that wealthy on Barbados. This is truly a billionaire’s playground.”
Hans, 49, heir to the £5.4 billion Tetra Pak fortune, and Eva, 48, were members of this glamorous Bajan set, which also includes the well-known and wealthy Kidd family, into which Be Kemeny, Eva’s sister, married. The Kemeny girls who, like the Kidds, are considered “old money”, are the daughters of Thomas Kemeny, a former PepsiCo executive and his wife Nancy, wealthy Americans who split their time between Barbados, New York and another beachfront house in South Carolina.
The Kemenys, Kidds and Rausings all own houses on the west coast of the island, dubbed the “platinum coast” because it boasts the most expensive real estate in the Caribbean. The last time Be Kemeny saw her sister alive was on this exclusive stretch of silver sand at Christmas.
On the appropriately named Polo Ridge — part of the oldest community — stands the family home of the aristocratic Kidd family, Holders House. Polo is a unifying factor among the rich in Barbados and the colonial-style mansion, set in 300 acres with its own polo field, is where Johnny Kidd, son of the publishing tycoon Lord Beaverbrook, and his wife, Wendy, the daughter of the baronet, spent every holiday bringing up their three children. Jack, 36, a former professional polo player, now lives on the island looking after his father’s estate while Jemma, 36, is a make-up artist married to Arthur Wellesley, Earl of Mornington. Jodie, the youngest at 33, a former supermodel and polo player, is the partner of Argentinian polo player Andrea Vianini.
She was discovered in Barbados at 15 by the photographer Terry O’Neill, and was dropped by M&S over allegations of using and selling cocaine five years ago, although she was never charged. It was at an estate near the Kidds’, the 20-acre beachfront home of the Bamford family, of JCB digger fame, that Jack met his future wife Be, at a party to celebrate the Millennium.
Be has said of the meeting with Jack: “It was inevitable Jack and I would meet and, sure enough, that night I saw him dancing wildly. I went across to talk to his father, Johnny, whom I knew well and, at that point, Jack fell over backwards into a hedge. He was clearly drunk and very merry but his father laughed and said, ‘You will love him when he’s sober’.”
Seven months after Jack and Be met at that new year party, the pair married at London’s Hurlingham Club — which hosts London’s annual Polo in the Park event — but after four children in rapid succession, they divorced in 2006 amid accusations of Jack’s infidelity.
Be sent an admirably frank email to 200 friends and business associates from her husband’s database informing them the marriage was over before smashing Jack’s computer and throwing the pieces into the lake at their home in Windsor. Jack quickly moved on, and had another child, Jesse, now 21 months old, with model Callie Moore. The couple split up in January this year, with Barbados itself cited as a reason. “Jack wanted me to live in Barbados with him and I did go there four months ago,” Moore has said. “But it didn’t work out. I really don’t like the lifestyle in Barbados or the people. Jack and I lead completely different lifestyles — he likes going out every night and that is just not for me.”
While Barbados is, many visitors say, the most sanitised island in the Caribbean, with genteel afternoon tea on hotels lawns and the practice of “fogging” to rid the grounds of mosquitoes, “there is also definitely a dark underbelly to the island,” says a New York writer who spent last Christmas and New Year’s Eve — or Old Year’s Night, as the celebration is known there — in Barbados. “The drug-taking was quite obvious, even in some very expensive and glamorous restaurants, with people disappearing off for long periods during dinner — and it seemed to be completely accepted as the norm,” says the writer.
Unlike, say, the Hamptons — the summer playground of the super-rich of New York where the wealthy stay sequestered behind manicured hedges and electric gates — in Barbados there are no boundaries, either physical or metaphorical, and everyone partakes in the lively nightlife scene, frequenting the many restaurants, bars and nightclubs, which range from the glossy to the deliberately divey. “People don’t feel the need to hide away; everyone goes out in Barbados, and no one bothers anyone,” according to one homeowner on the island. “Because everyone here has so much money, no one cares who anyone is.”
“People do throw quite incredible and wild private parties, on their boats as well as in their homes,” he reports. “But everyone goes out too. You can be at any bar and expect to see billionaires enjoying a beer along with everyone else.”
And, crucially, no matter what their bank balance, the residents of Barbados apparently have complete confidence in their privacy. “There is an inner-circle atmosphere,” says the part-time resident. “I never worry about anyone taking a picture of me or my friends. It’s not like St Bart’s — there is an absence of paparazzi here, and everyone has known each other for so long, it feels very safe and secure.”