Landing on a private island in the Caribbean the same week as its billionaire owner flies into space seems a little surreal. Is he avoiding me? Did I do anything to upset him?
Necker without Richard Branson, who bought the island in 1978, is like Ant without Dec, Morecambe without the Wise. This is more than his home, his secret hideout is where he captured his entire personality. Brilliant and crazy, and often both at the same time.
For this little slice of luxury, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) has had a hot time lately. In 2011, the main house was destroyed by fire, and then in 2017, Necker was hit by Hurricane Irma, the worst in memory. Then came coronavirus…
Comfortable conditions: Richard Branson has his own home on Necker, in the British Virgin Islands.
With so many failures, with so much damaged infrastructure in need of repair, Branson had to invest tens of millions in his beloved Necker. It remains its headquarters on planet Earth and has its own home on the island.
But it also aims to attract more paying guests – which is why I was invited to experience its pleasures before reopening as a private island resort. Tax-free assignment.
The 74-acre island can accommodate up to 40 guests in several luxury Balinese-style hotels with plunge pools, 360-degree views, complimentary champagne, and more.
Only those with cash can apply. It costs £ 75,000 per night to book an island for the exclusive use of you and your family. But on certain weeks of the year, geared towards families celebrating special occasions with their friends, the island functions as a hotel with room rates starting at just over £ 3,500 a night.
Not peanuts, but a lot cheaper than going into space. Yes, and from Monday the British Virgin Islands will be on the government’s amber list.
Fly to Antigua, private jet transfers, then a short boat ride and you might find yourself on the beach with a rum punch in hand before you can say Virgin Galactic.
Conversion: The Crocodile Pavilion was rebuilt after the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Hurricane Irma was the most violent in memory and hit the island as seen above.
This is undoubtedly an extraordinarily beautiful place. Aside from three large wind turbines and hundreds of solar panels as a sign of sustainability, this is the Caribbean in perfect miniature.
Soft sand underfoot. Swinging palms at the top. The sun is warm, but not too warm. Oncoming waves. Lush vegetation. Breathtaking blue sea. Box by box were all tagged with ease.
So far, everything is familiar. But it’s the vibrant, eccentric additions not found elsewhere in the Caribbean that make Necker unique.
After breakfast, interrupted by a lost iguana, I walk to the beach when a cockney voice calls out from behind a palm tree. “Hello! “Hello!”
Necker is being refurbished as a private island resort, accommodating up to 40 guests. The photo shows the interiors in the Balinese style.
It turns out to be a white cockatoo named Marley. A charming guy, to say the least. I had just said goodbye to Marley when I nearly tripped over a giant turtle plodding across the lawn. Screams! I thought these magnificent creatures were only found in the Galapagos Islands. Apparently not so.
The judge, as he is called, was imported from the Seychelles, one of the officers explains. He is over 70 years old, weighs 700 pounds and participates in a successful breeding program.
Etc. The judge’s accomplishments as a super stallion are overshadowed by a horny ring-tailed lemur named Mr. 007. An endangered species in their native Madagascar, where they were imported from, lemurs bred like rabbits on the Necker.
But then this is a sexy place. There are at least seven different subspecies, and when they don’t make a pairing hype, they stop the game on the tennis court, following the approaching hand. Bonkers.
All systems work: Necker is “an extraordinarily beautiful place,” writes Max Davidson of the Daily Mail. In the photo – an attractive pool
Luxurious bath in one of the elite houses
How to do it? Flamingo! They disappeared from the Virgin Islands a hundred years ago. Undaunted, Branson flew in from Cuba.
There are hundreds of them on Necker now, and to see them flying at sunset, in perfect formation like pink arrows, with scarlet ibises to accompany them, is too exciting for words.
I was hoping to see the Great Spotted Celebrity, another common species on the Necker. Signed thank you letters from Princess Diana and Barack Obama adorn the walls. The Duchess of York’s book stands next to Branson’s art in the gift shop.
In 2011, Kate Winslet made headlines around the world when she carried Branson’s elderly mother out of a burning house. But I was out of luck. Maybe the rocky man Jack Nicholson appeared on the tennis court? Nope. Too tall. German accent.
How about that good-speaking English lady in a silk dress who asks how to get to the restroom? Nope. A posh writer from London.
The resort staff, who are twice the number of guests, are friendly and cosmopolitan. Jordi, Scots, Swedes, Canadians, Portuguese, Indians, and the British Virgin Islands. Their discretion is naturally assured. If you want to do something more fun in the rooftop hot tub than contemplating the night sky, you won’t go any further.
Prepared by charming French chef Guillaume, Necker dishes are predictably excellent, from fish curries to fresh Caribbean fruits and vegetables to charcoal-grilled lobsters on the beach.
A funny touch follows a funny touch. When I get called for a “surprise” poolside lunch after a morning sailing on a catamaran to neighboring islands, I expect some crazy publicity stunt, like the cocktails served by Brad Pitt in a white tuxedo.
Instead, I get something even better: delicious sushi carried across the pool on a kayak decorated with palm leaves. When breakfasts walk towards the water with chopsticks in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other, Britain suddenly seems far away.
A giant turtle, imported from the Seychelles, roams the island. The billionaire owner also flew a flamingo from Cuba.
This is followed by a superbly chaotic tennis tournament that will hit more hits in an hour than would have been expected in the entire two weeks of Wimbledon. The tennis coach gallantly says that I promise.
My last night is partying in the great Necker tradition. The hair is loose with joy.
Where else would this normally laid-back Oxford grandfather be on the table at 3 a.m. singing along with Sweet Caroline to cheers of approval?
As beautiful women, clad in white from head to toe, jump into the pool fully clothed, a shrill cackle is heard in the darkness. Cockatoo Marley? Do lemurs mate on a tennis court? Or Richard Branson in space laughing at our antics?
Necker is available for exclusive use at £ 76,000 per night for 40 guests. Private rooms can be booked from £ 3,700 per night during certain weeks of the year, including all meals, drinks, water sports and boat transfers (virginlimitededition.com).
Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights between London Heathrow Airport and Antigua with roundtrip fares from £ 379 per person, including free in-flight food, drinks and entertainment (virginatlantic.com, 0344 8747 747). Visitors from overseas must provide proof of their vaccination status and a recent negative PCR test result before entering the country.
Visit bvigateway.bviaa.com for online forms before travel.