By Subhasish Chakraborty
Necker Island had been a little-known destination until Sir Richard Branson stumbled across this speck of paradise way back in 1970s and to put it succinctly in his own words, “I had no idea where they were located or that they were actually called the British Virgin Islands,” the billionaire entrepreneur writes in a blog about Necker Island. “But one Thursday in 1978, I was told that they existed and that I could potentially own one.”
Richard Branson, known the world over as a billionaire business tycoon with an outlandish lifestyle, gave his very best to grab this little speck of paradise. So, when the realtor invited him to come on a visit to Necker Island, Branson the wizard arrived in quick time, meeting the realtor who demanded a whooping $6 million, which was way beyond Branson’s reach then. As the negotiations went on, Branson offered $ 100,000 which was the highest he could afford and which sounded like an utter nonsense to the realtor. Branson was on his way back home in the UK.
However, as fate could have it, one year later, the Necker Island owner unable to find the right buyer was anxious to sell the island quickly. Branson recollects those pre-buying moments thus, “Virgin Records was in a much better position than it was a year before, so I quickly agreed to purchase it at a price of $180,000.”
Gone are those murky days of negotiations, debates and parlays. Today, Richard Branson is one of the world’s most talked about billionaire tycoon and his island retreat is now the world’s most exclusive hideaway for celebrities and business moguls.
With India truly on course towards attaining “Super Power” status and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi evolving into a global leader, times are only getting better for India Inc. What can be more promising than the fact that Indian travel agents are these days receiving calls for islands that can be hired. They are quite prepared to pay up to $322,000 a week for 25 guests.
The bonhomie among India Inc is well reflected. Courtesy Richard Branson, Virgin Hyperloop agreed to construct a super-fast transportation system in India to connect Pune with the new airport in Mumbai in 25 minutes flat.
Necker Island offers not just sea, surf and sand but a sleek peek into the mysterious luxury and opulence of the rich and the famous out for holidaying. From Nelson Mandela to Princess Diana, Necker Island has played host to some of the most glamorous people on Planet Earth.
The moment you touch down on Necker Island, you are overwhelmed by a feeling that you are on a paradise. A bewildering array of wildlife, Flamingos, Scarlet Ibis (a striking tropical bird that is completely red except for its black wingtips) along with massive tortoises are vying for attention.
Sir Branson’s most trusted friend and a perfect guide, Allington “Gumption” Creque, knows Necker Island by the tip of his fingertips. As you go out to explore the hidden secrets of Necker Island, the entire experience is one of ‘providential escape’ from the ordinary.
The in-house wildlife squad experts with years of hands-on experience have meticulously incubated a one-of-its-kind Flamingo breeding programme which is self-explanatory. 54 new baby chicks and 28 parent Flamingos thrive in the congenial Flamingo-friendly environment 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.
Richard Branson’s commitment for wildlife conservation is unmatched 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 Necker Island, and guests feeding Baby Lemurs, with other resident species like Stout Iguanas, Parrots, Macaws, Cockatoo, Geckos and what nots around.
For many visitors to Necker Island, the ethereal sight of a compact team of Scarlet Ibis flying over like angels is forever etched in their memory.
First time visitors to Necker Island are curious to know what the weather conditions are like in this part of the world. And why not? Spending mega bucks for holidaying doesn’t come easy. Well, Necker Island is blessed with highs of around 28°C in January to around 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 organization that offers visitors a chance to contribute in kind towards the local community. It goes without saying that when you put aside some space in your baggage for carrying essential provisions for school children or even medicines that aren’t easily available in Necker Island, you are indeed making a huge impact in the lives of the local community.
Necker Island prides itself for successfully running The Robinson O’Neal Memorial Primary School. Set up in the early 1970s, the school over a period of time has evolved marvellously from a one-room office block to three permanent supplementary structures that today house four classes, a computer lab and kitchen meant for the kids who come to receive primary education.
The most devastating in the Atlantic Ocean in terms of wind speed, the September 2017 Hurricane Irma didn’t leave Necker Island unaffected. Devastation apart, Hurricane Irma cost the exchequer a whopping $ 77.2 billion and the process of re-building wasn’t easy. But when you have a philanthropist like Richard Branson, the turnaround too 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 and spacious bunk rooms large enough to accommodate up to six children. With an attached Jacuzzi and an airier sundeck, the Master Suite offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Great House has been redone opulently and expanded. 11 sumptuously appointed bedrooms give the ultimate comfort and rejuvenation to its visitors. A new addition to the retreat is the Balinese-style house, Leha Lo, which can easily accommodate two adults, with the Bali Hi complex that comes with exclusive plunge to be introduced shortly.
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 a much sought after wedding destination. Given the seclusion and the air of exclusivity. multiple locations to choose from and each one offering unique panoramic attributes, the choice is never easy to make.
The Western part of the island with its sandy stretches can easily accommodate up to 200+ guests. With the great Indian wedding industry now estimated to be around 12 billion pound, the lure to conduct surreal weddings at 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 Necker Island is: notwithstanding the fact that the retreat having hosted some legendary people and being Sir Richard Branson’s exclusive preserve, Necker Island is ready to embrace even the ordinary mortals too!
Richard Branson himself says,“Necker Island is my home and a favourite hideaway. I invite you to explore this idyllic island paradise yourself and be inspired by its beauty. I hope someday to be able to share it with you”.
Traveller’s Fact File
The nearest international airport is Tortola (Beef Island). You can reach Tortola via a 35-minute short hop from San Juan or 80-minute flight from Antigua.
Per night rate:
The rates at Necker Island starts from $77 500 per night which includes airport transfers; guests are offered “Necker Water” (champagne) on arrival.
Private aircraft can land at Beef Island. But no Fixed-wing aircraft is allowed to land on Necker Island.
Necker Island offers anchoring facilities; and one can arrive by luxury yacht.
Though Necker Island has a helipad, flying at night is not allowed as per the aviation rules governing the British Virgin Islands.