Necker Island used to be a little-known destination until Sir Richard Branson stumbled across this speck of paradise way back in the 1970s. “I had no idea where they were located or that they were actually called the British Virgin Islands,” the billionaire entrepreneur wrote in a blog about purchasing Necker Island. “But one Thursday in 1978, I was told that they existed and that I could potentially own one.”
Branson, known the world over as a billionaire business tycoon with an outlandish lifestyle, gave his very best to grab this little piece of paradise. When the realtor invited him to visit Necker Island, Branson arrived in quick time, but the realtor demanded a whooping $6 million, which was way beyond Branson’s reach at the time. As the negotiations went on, Branson offered $100,000 – that was the highest he could afford, which the realtor didn’t accept and, needless to say, Branson was on his way back home to the UK.
However, as fate would have it, one year later, the owner of Necker Island still couldn’t find the right buyer and was anxious to sell the island quickly. Branson recollects those pre-buying moments thus: “Virgin Records was in a much better position than it had been a year before, so I quickly agreed to a purchase price of $180,000.”
Gone are those murky days of negotiations, debates and parleys, today, Branson is one of the world’s most talked about billionaire tycoons and his secluded island retreat is now the world’s most exclusive hideaway for celebs and business moguls.
Necker Island offers not just sea, surf and sand, it offers a sneak peek into the mysterious luxury and opulence of the rich and the famous when they are in holiday mode. From Nelson Mandela to Princess Diana, Necker Island has played host to some of the most influential and glamorous people on the planet. The moment you touchdown on Necker Island, the feeling that you are in a fortunate place is most predominant, beginning with the bewildering array of wildlife, from flamingos to scarlet ibis vying for attention along with tortoises that are massive in size.
Island guide Allington ‘Gumption’ Creque, Branson’s most trusted friend, plays the role of a guide to perfection – he knows Necker Island by the tip of his fingers and as you go about exploring the hidden secrets of the retreat, the entire experience is one of providential escape.
The in-house wildlife squad – experts with years of hands-on wildlife experience have meticulously incubated a one-of-its-kind flamingo breeding programme with 54 new baby chicks and 28 parent flamingos, that thrives in the congenial flamingo-friendly environ specially created by the wildlife wardens. So, today when you step inside this piece of paradise, you are likely to be greeted with the sight of mother flamingos sitting on eggs and waiting with bated breath for the birth of new denizens of Necker Island.
Branson’s commitment for wildlife conservation is legendary and his passion for protecting endangered wildlife species like the Madagascar lemur is well known. So, don’t be taken aback at the sight of baby lemurs, all recent additions to the island, which guests are welcome to feed.
Apart from lemurs, other resident species include stout iguanas, parrots, macaws, cockatoo, geckos and the like. For many visitors to Necker Island, the ethereal sight of a compact team of ibis airborne and flying like angels over the island is forever etched in their memory.
First time visitors to Necker Island will be curious to know what the weather conditions are like in this part of the world. The island is blessed with highs of around 28°C in January to highs of tentatively 35°C in July, so it is pretty balmy all year round.
Necker Island is a proud member of Pack for a Purpose, a non-profit organisation that offers visitors a chance to contribute towards the local community. It goes without saying that when you put aside some space in your baggage and earmark that space for carrying essential provisions for school children or even medicines that aren’t easily available at your destination, you are indeed making a huge impact on the lives of the local community.
In addition to this, the island prides itself in successfully running The Robinson O’Neal Memorial Primary School. The school, set up in the early 1970s, has evolved marvellously from a one-room office block to three permanent supplementary structures that today houses four classes, a computer lab and kitchen for the kids who come to receive primary education.
The September 2017 Hurricane Irma, which many believe to be the most devastating in the Atlantic Ocean in terms of wind speed, left its mark here as well. Devastation apart, Hurricane Irma cost the exchequer a whopping $77.2 billion, and the process of re-building wasn’t easy, however, when you have a philanthropist like Richard Branson, the turnaround is quick.
Necker Island is Branson’s brainchild, his pet project and so the newly refurbished island retreat looks even more stunning than before with king sized bedrooms, all with attached balconies, while the bunkrooms are spacious enough to accommodate up to six children. The master suite comes with an attached Jacuzzi and an airy sundeck that offers breath-taking views of the Caribbean Ocean.
The Great House, which has been redone opulently and expanded, boasts a total of 11 sumptuously appointed bedrooms ensuring the ultimate in terms of comfort and rejuvenation. A new addition to the retreat is the Balinese-style house – Leha Lo that can easily accommodate two adults, while the Bali Hi complex that comes with exclusive plunge will be introduced soon. From now onwards, the Great House, equipped with freshwater infinity pools, secluded hammocks, tennis courts and a bewildering array of water sports options ranging from scuba diving to sailing, will offer the discerning visitors a holiday they will treasure forever.
These days, Necker Island is much sought after as a wedding destination, which is not surprising, given the seclusion and the air of exclusivity. With multiple locations to choose from and each one offering unique panoramic attributes, the choice is never easy. The western part of the island with its sandy stretches can easily accommodate up to 200 plus guests and with the great Indian wedding industry, now a billion-dollar industry, the lure to conduct surreal weddings in Necker Island must be pretty strong.
According to Guarang Shah, one of the UK’s leading wedding planners: “The average Indian couple will spend one-fifth of the money they make in their entire lives on the event and some weddings have been known to cost millions of pounds. The events are getting more and more extravagant, which means couples are opting to travel to exotic destinations for nuptials”.
The best part of travelling to Necker Island is that the retreat, having played host to legendary names and being the exclusive preserve of Sir Richard Branson himself, it is open to ordinary mortals too. To sum up in the words of Branson: “Necker Island is my home and favourite hideaway. I invite you to explore this idyllic island paradise for yourself and to be inspired by its beauty. I hope someday to be able to share it with you”. And share, he does.
The rates at Necker Island start from $77,500 per night. Rates are inclusive of airport transfers and guests are offered ‘Necker Water’ (Champagne) on arrival.
The nearest international airport is Tortola (Beef Island). You can reach Tortola via a 35-minute short hop from San Juan or a 1 hour 20-minute flight from Antigua.
The option to land at Beef Island by private aircraft is possible, but bear in mind that no fixed-wing aircraft is allowed to land on Necker Island. Necker Island is equipped with a helipad, but there is no permission to fly at night as per the aviation rules governing the British Virgin Islands. If you decide to arrive by luxury yacht, Necker Island offers anchoring facilities.
Photography courtesy of Virgin Limited Edition.