What Richard Branson’s Caribbean island, Necker meant to him

From London’s Evening Standard . . .

Staying on Necker Island always promised to be a star-studded experience. Sex andThe City star Kim Cattrall (plus admirably younger boyfriend) were sitting around the table when I arrived – by speedboat – at dinner time.

But so were friends of the Branson family, a Russian couple, a Virgin employee recovering from an operation, the resident tennis couch and an astronomer – presumably the envy of his colleagues – who had been in situ for a week waiting for the night clouds to clear so he could fine-tune a £20,000 telescope that had been newly installed on the roof of the Great House.

On the top of Necker, the Great House was built on a grand scale but it wasn’t imposing. It was a hangout space par excellence, open plan, open air, with daybeds and sofas at every corner, a bar on one side (“If one of the staff isn’t around, feel free to play behind the bar”) and a top-of-the range Mac computer that provided a constant playlist and a rolling collection of photographs of the Branson family at play. It wasn’t pristine – there were magazines and books lying around, the staff wandered through in T-shirts and shorts – but it did feel homely in a Balinese millionaire context – and you knew – just knew – that some truly epic parties had taken place there. And on the beach. And by the swimming pools.

Princess Diana stayed there. So did Harrison Ford and Robert De Niro Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, got married there, just as Branson and his wife had done in 1989 and Holly, his daughter was planning to do later this year.

Necker, which Branson bought in 1976, had morphed from mosquito-infested atoll to family home and exclusive celebrity getaway destination.

The two concepts meshed together surprisingly well, partly because the Bransons seem to be a genuinely hospitable family – gregarious and outgoing in an upper middle-class way, with an ability to muck in. Increasingly, Branson, who sold his house in Holland Park in 2006, used Necker as his home base, which meant that – although it is sometimes rented out in its entirety – it has become the world’s most glamourous bed and breakfast.

But it was also minutely planned. I was told that Branson doesn’t really like dogs but felt that it was important that Necker had one so that guests would feel relaxed. Each year, a new attraction was planned as Necker got a lot of repeat business. The general manager told me that he was awaiting a delivery of pink flamingos.

Each day lunch and dinner was held in a different spot – either on the beach with food or at one of the dining areas by the Great House. The food – admirably healthy, surprisingly delicious, was provided by a German chef who can out to chat after meals. A yoga teacher arrived each morning by speedboat to take classes (Necker’s staff were more regular attendees than the guests and almost annoyingly good).

As well as the Great House, which slept 14, there were other guest houses around the island, all reached by rough paths but actually fairly simple – with open air showers and scented with mosquito coils at night. Environmentally, there was an admirable lack of air-conditioning. I did explore the island – staff and golf buggies were on hand should you need it. The sand was fudgy and soft, the tennis coach was at my disposal but like most guests I found myself gravitating towards the Great House, where there was always a bottle of champagne behind the bar and where my fellow guests fought for the chance to play bartender.

Finally, the astronomer, got the clear skies he needed and we all headed to the roof to see the Moon, Mars and Venus against the Caribbean sky.

But usually in the evenings, after dinner, all the guests found themselves in the Great House, doing a crossword that someone’s husband faithfully faxed through. It might not have been very rock’n’roll but it was extremely relaxing.

On his blog this morning, Branson wrote: “The main house is destroyed and the fire is not yet completely out. My office was based in the house and I have lost thousands of photographs and my notebooks which is very sad. But all family and friends are well – which in the end is all that really matters. It’s very much the Dunkirk spirit here. We have a wonderful staff here and we want them to stay in work. We’ll all stay here – there’s a lot of damage but we’ll create something even more special out of the ruins.”

For the original report go to http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23980556-what-richard-bransons-caribbean-island-necker-meant-to-him.do

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