Mystique of the billionaires' island

 

Princess Margaret and Mick Jagger don't have a lot in common but together they put Mustique on the map. Both built lavish houses on the tiny Caribbean island and their parties and friends gave it its wild, jet set image.

Located 45 minutes by private plane from Barbados, the mere name Mustique conjures up pictures of heady goings on under a hot sun, with the caftan-clad rich and famous able to behave as they please away from the lenses of the paparazzi. Kate Moss and Claudia Schiffer holiday here, so does Calvin Klein, David Geffen and tycoon Ed Bronfman. Residents include Swiss bankers, a Chanel heiress, the parmesan king of Italy and a string of multi-millionaires who deal in anything from designer clothes to girlie magazines.

Privately owned and wholly controlled by the Mustique Company, the island has perfect white beaches studded with huge pink shells and fringed by imported palm trees. You won't find cruise ships in the harbour, only occasional yachtsmen drifting by on their way through the turquoise waters of the Grenadines.

Mustique is so spectacularly expensive that only the very wealthy can afford to land there, never mind live there. The 1,400 acre island has only one hotel, the 20-bedroom Cotton House, ($500 to $1,250 per person per night), two supplies stores (chocolate biscuits, $12 a packet, cornflakes $16) a four-bedroom guest house where a week's stay at Christmas costs around $15,000, and one bar, Basil's, where beer nuts cost $6 a handful.

There are around 90 homes on the island and most of the villa owners have shares in the Mustique Company. The company, run by Tyrone-born Brian Alexander, who came to Mustique in the 1960s to work with the then owner, Colin Tennant, Lord Glenconner, controls all aspects of life on the island, including its airport, picture postcard school, clinic, and shops.

With property prices climbing steadily only the super wealthy can afford to run a holiday home here. Villa prices range from between $2 million and $20 million and running costs are steep. The houses are used by their owners for about six weeks a years but most are staffed with butlers, cooks and maids all year round. Most owners recoup some of the cost by renting out their homes. Rental rates for four to nine-bedroom villas range from $15,000 to $30,000 per week and can be arranged through the Mustique Company.

According to one resident, you are only considered rich on Mustique when you have half a billion to your name. Anything less is, well, just comfortable.

Princess Margaret just wasn't rich enough, it seems. She sold her house, Les Jolies Eaux, last year. It was snapped up, for several million, by an Irish American couple, Jim and Bruce Murray and has now been revamped beyond recognition.

Elsewhere on Mustique, old properties are being bought and levelled by the new and fabulously wealthy like Tommy Hilfiger and his wife Susie who have built their holiday home in the style of Versailles.

Out of season, the builders move on to the island, along with teams of decorators intent on creating ever more splendid houses. Artisans are flown in from all over the world to paint, pave, gild, embroider and fit the most gorgeous details.

One London architect who shared our plane had been summonsed by a client for a three-day consultation to "sort out the bathrooms". His instructions included a dress code for the island - polo shirts and shorts are okay for daytime wear but after six, long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt with sleeves rolled back to mid-forearm - are de rigeur.

At any time there are a handful of houses for sale on the island but often these are snapped up by residents seeking a better site on which to build.

One of the best-sited houses on the island has now come on the market, but it too is likely to be demolished to make way for a villa of fantastic proportions.

Being marketed internationally, Gelliceaux House stands on four acres of headland with gorgeous views of the sea all around. More importantly it is one of the very few houses on the island to have direct access to the beach.

The long low house, which has featured in Architectural Digest, is a masterpiece of understatement, but that is exactly why it's in danger. Mustique is now for people who want their money to show and the trend is for bigger and bigger houses.

Recently completed homes are either in an old sugar plantation Gone with the Wind style or aggressively contemporary with endless open-plan living areas and blade-thin infinity swimming-pools.

Gelliceaux's French owner, Pierre Marais, a former general in the French army, is one of the old breed, an elegant man in his mid 60s with a sleek black ponytail and an impeccable wardrobe of caftans.

He is selling up with some regret, having thrown some spectacular parties over the last 15 years in his 200 ft livingroom where arrangements of low black leather sofas suggest nothing so much as a good orgy.

However, he is not moving too far, having built a tiny bamboo house for himself on the margins of the property. His one-bedroom bamboo house was recently valued at $2 million. Gelliceaux House, with four bedrooms, four acres, a staff house and delightful terraced gardens is for sale at a cool $6 million.

Who will buy it? "Mustique is for people who have made a lot of money and who now want total privacy," says Brian Alexander. "It appeals to people with a strong streak of idividuality, so there are lots of entrepreneurs here." It may also appeal to a buyer who's keen to pass on his wealth intact to the next generation. There is no inheritance tax on Mustique. "Some people come here to die," said one resident.

A handful of Irish buyers may be interested. The Irish are busy colonising nearby Barbados where millions of punts are being sunk into properties close to the famous Sandy Lane Hotel owned by Dermot Desmond, John Magnier and J P McManus.

However, Mustique may be just a few million too far for the cautious Irish who, when buying abroad like to stick together, preferably in communities of luxury houses set around golf courses.

Irish connections abound on the island, where one of very first villas was built by Honor Guinness and Chips Channon. The house, called Clonsilla, is still owned by the Channon family.

At Les Jolies Eaux, Princess Margaret's former home, the owners have a handsome stock of coffee table books on Irish houses, including one devoted to Abbeville, home of CJ Haughey. The owners, it seems, made a good deal of their money in Ireland in the high tech business.

Mustique's tradition as a vacation spot for jetsetters began when it was bought from the British Commonwealth in 1958 by Colin Tennant. He developed the island's acres of dense scrub into a small community built on fishing and cotton production and later sold off sites for villas which, in the early years, were designed by the late theatrical designer Oliver Messel. Tennant gave 10 acres to Princess Margaret as a wedding present in 1959. He created the Mustique Company in 1968 but sold it on in the 1970s.

For more details contact:

The Mustique Company 00 784 458 4621

mustique@mustique-island.com

or

McKeever Rowan Solicitors, Dublin