The BVI's most famous high profile part-time resident is undoubtedly Richard Branson. At various times he has been described as a gifted entrepreneur, a visionary, business leader and a man blessed with good fortune. Then again he has been portrayed as anti-establishment, opportunist, pirate, playboy, adventure seeker, self promoter and daredevil. One thing is for certain, he is nearly always in the public eye.
Branson's business education started with a magazine, Student, which he started with a friend in 1968. By stealth, skill and good fortune he managed to get famous actors, social commentators and pop singers to contribute to the magazine. Advertisers followed and a successful magazine blossomed. All the contacts made would serve Branson well in his future endeavors.
It was during those early Student days that Branson realized the burgeoning music industry was not offering its main market, students, any kind of deal on records. So he organized a mail order record business at discounted prices. The first advertisement appeared in Student and a flood of enquiries ensued. Virgin Records was born. The Virgin Music Group - record labels, music publishing and recording studios was sold 22 years later for a reported billion dollars - yes, that's a thousand million.
It's a funny thing but it's not always the means that creates the end but sometimes the end that creates the means. So it was with Branson's acquisition of Necker Island in 1979. Richard and his wife to be, Joan, were in New York when someone asked him if he had named Virgin Music after the Virgin Islands. The answer was "no" but the idea peaked his interest and so the young lovers decided to fly down to the Virgin Islands to check them out. The imaginative rock and roll tycoon persuaded a realtor to lay on a villa, helicopter service and an island tour to look at all the available islands in the archipelago (with the view to setting up an island retreat for rich and famous pop stars along with a recording studio). They fell in love with Necker Island but when asked what their budget was the estate agent was shocked to learn it was only $200,000 (the asking price was three mil.). But never one to give in, he finally bought Necker, his own Virgin Island, for 180,000 pounds sterling.
In order to stop land speculation in the BVI, the government rules that development must take place on newly purchased foreign owned land within a certain time frame or it reverts to the government. Branson had provided himself with a huge incentive to make money.
The BVI was also inadvertently instrumental in the formation of Virgin Atlantic. Whilst Richard and Joan were on a subsequent holiday in the BVI they were stranded at Beef Island Airport due to a scheduled flight to Puerto Rico being cancelled. Branson made a few calls and finally chartered a plane for $2,000.00. He then borrowed a blackboard and advertised "Virgin Airways: $39.00 single to Puerto Rico." The plane soon filled with relieved passengers. Virgin Airways later metamorphosed into Virgin Atlantic, now one of the world's major airlines.
As Branson's success escalated so did the amenities and facilities on Necker Island. Today the island retreat is the culmination of years of careful planning. The underlying theme is Asiatic with Balinese influences predominating. Indonesian style pagodas are clearly visible on the northern promontory from several miles distance.
Necker Island has always been shrouded in an aura of mystery: guests who shell out $46,000 for a night on the island are obviously super wealthy and they desire privacy, so in order to lift the veil of secrecy the new management invited me over to see the island and report on the island's refreshing and hospitable nature. However-visits to the island are by invitation only.
When I arrived at the Necker Island dock after a fast inflatable ride from the Bitter End Yacht Club we tied up next to one of their ferry boats, Virgin Record. Yep, we/re in Branson territory, I thought to myself. As I climbed the path to the main building I was immediately struck by the ambience of peace and serenity. The hub of Necker Island is the Great House, a large open and airy building with a "Lookout" at its apex. The building is at once a lounge, a games room (with full size billiard table), a bar, dining area and has a computer nook off in one corner. A walkway wends its way around the perimeter. From a cathedral ceiling of South American hardwood hangs a unique chandelier made from, what looks like, ostrich eggs. In fact there are many esoteric carvings and sculptures on the property - from a full size crocodile in the beach pool to a stone Buddha surveying the Great Room. Every side offers a panoramic view, often with glistening turquoise and a frothy white, breaking sea crashing over the reef. An infinity pool lies adjacent to the Great House and a short walk down a prettily landscaped path brings you to a modern gym and small spa.
Guest rooms are built around the central Great House while others are incorporated in traditionally built; three story thatch-roofed pagodas. The master bedroom incorporates a magnificent four poster bed, antique bath tub on the veranda and a small plunge pool.
There is no shortage of activities for guests. After a spell of windsurfing or kite boarding in the lagoon, a pool with swim-up bar is just right for relaxing. Tennis is available or you can practice basketball if so inclined. "Many guests just prefer to relax," says Gordo Overing, Necker's new manager. "Sometimes we get a party crowd but often the pressure that comes with continuous media scrutiny of the rich and famous requires that we provide luxury in tranquility. Our young and vibrant staff aims to please."
Necker Island has a cachet as the ultimate island getaway where Hollywood stars, rock and rollers, nobility, as well as other high-rollers can be pampered in privacy.
Who's been there? Princess Diana stayed there, and so has Mick Jagger, Peter Gabriel, Steven Spielberg, Kate Moss, Hugh Grant, Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey and Paula Abdul. . . among others.