Home Explanation Mustique – the royal holiday playground

Mustique – the royal holiday playground

by Hayley Todd

Mustique is a small private island of 1,400 acres in the West Indies, and it is famed for its celebrity and royal holidaymakers, including Princess Margaret and Prince William and Kate, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

This island is three miles long and one mile wide, and lies in the archipelago of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It has attracted visitors for generations. Guests are drawn to its hospitality, friendliness, safety, security, discretion and its quintessential feel of paradise.

The island of Mustique is located near to St Vincent, and was developed in the 1950s to become a luxury paradise (Mustique Island)

The tropical retreat is completely private, with a strict no-fly zone and its own police force to keep the star-studded guests away from the prying eyes of the press. The island’s website states: “Every island visitor is registered with our security team before arriving on island by land, air or sea, whether staff, local islander or guest to ensure the security team know who is on island at any one time”.

Stunning views of the western shore of Mustique (Jason Pratt / Flickr)

Mustique is popular with celebrities and royals (Musitque Company)

Mustique is one of the most beautiful islands in the world. It is filled with natural beauty, white sandy beaches, dramatic hills, pristine palm fringed beaches and crystal clear turquoise waters. The island is covered in green forest, fragrant bougainvillea, frangipani flowers and palm trees. Most of the roads are barely paved, bumpy and covered in a canopy of lush greenery. There are no traffic lights, visible power cables or signs of tourism. Mustique is also a haven for wildlife.

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The Mustique Company

Mustique’s story as an island paradise is the result of one man’s vision. In 1958 The Hon. Colin Tennant (later The 3rd Baron Glenconner) discovered the island on a boat trip as he holidayed in the Caribbean. He fell in love with its beauty, charm and the idea of a romantic, bohemian life in the West Indies, then purchasing it for £45,000. It had no roads, jetties, or running water and was covered in scrub, jungle and millions of mosquitoes (hence the name ‘Mustique’). He decided to turn the island into a desirable holiday destination. The Mustique Company was formed to create a private island hideaway for the rich, famous and elite.

Colin Tennant and wife Anne at a fancy dress party on Mustique in the 1970s (Mustique Island)

In 1964, The Mustique Company built Lovell village. This is where most of the island locals, around 500 people, still live today. It has a church, school, restaurant, medical clinic, three shops, a food market and police station.

In 1969, construction began on the island’s airport, many new villas were built and the Cotton House opened as a hotel. Over the years roads were built, electricity and communications became reliable. A desalination plant was built to provide clean, fresh water.

The Food Market on Mustique looks picture postcard pretty (anoldent / Wikimedia Commons)

Handily, Mustique lies beneath the hurricane belt, so there is minimal risk it will suffer damage from Mother Nature, unlike some of its neighbouring Caribbean islands.

Playground of the rich and famous

Over the last 50 years, Mustique has become one of the most sought after holiday destinations in the world.  Plots of land were snapped up by celebs and the fabulously wealthy, wanting to be part of the unique experience. During the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s the island’s reputation spread worldwide, and an international set of VIPs flocked to the island to create their own piece of paradise.

Throughout the 90’s, the island attracted a new wave of successful entrepreneurs wanting to escape from the public eye. They came to sunbathe, build sandcastles on the beaches with their families, sip rum punch, and sleep off a season of hard work; there was also the opportunity for social and business relationships to be forged on the beach, tennis court or at dinner. By 2000, the island’s social scene and architecture regularly featured in fashion and design magazines around the world.

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Mustique’s A-List holidaymakers and residents over the years have included Tommy Hilfiger, Paul McCartney, Jon Bon Jovi, Denzel Washington, Tom Ford, Shania Twain, John Travolta, Bryan Adams, Sir Mick Jagger, Jude Law and Johnny Depp. Noel Gallagher, of Oasis, wrote many of the songs on the ‘Be Here Now’ album, whilst on holiday in 1996. Cheryl Cole married her second husband on the island, too.

Tommy Hilfiger’s island home on Mustique (Claude Fletcher/ Flickr)

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The elite, rich and famous guests have all helped create the mystique of Mustique. On the island you are likely to bump into a magazine cover model, fashion designer, Grammy winner and glamorous globetrotter at every turn. David Bowie built an Indonesian-inspired villa called Mandalay on the island in 1989. Bowie spent a great deal of time at his unique home, but attributed his inability to work there to the outstanding scenery. He said: “The house is such a tranquil place that I have absolutely no motivation to write things when I’m there.”

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Life on Mustique

Mustique has its own private airline, Air Adelphi, which along with scheduled flights to and from the island, offers guests the opportunity for private charters for an unforgettable arrivals experience. Mustique is approximately a 30 minute flight from St. Lucia on a propeller plane, and in the summer season, a 45 minute flight from Barbados.

An aerial view of the small private runway on Mustique (Kaiser / Flickr)

In recent years, the Mustique Company has turned its attention to sustainability and conservation, where luxury goes hand in hand with conservation, to protect the island for future generations. The company is run by the island’s homeowners, and fiercely protects its land. It will not allow the small single runway to be modernised and converted, which would allow private jets to land – neither is there a deep dock for those mega-yachts.

The island is home to around 100 villas – 80 of which are available to rent – and two hotels, The Cotton House and Firefly. The Cotton House was the first building project to be completed on the island under the Mustique Company. Located in Endeavour Bay, it is set in 13 acres of tropical gardens.

Zinnia villa on Mustique (Mustique Island)

Sienna villa on Mustique (Mustique Island)

The hotel has 15 luxurious suites and cottages, all with private patios and plunge pools. For those who want to splash out, The Residence is the hotel’s presidential suite. This has a private swimming pool, sitting room, dining room, along with two spacious en-suite bedrooms and a master bedroom with an outdoor shower room.

Mustique may be small but has plenty to keep guests entertained. There is no golf course, no helicopter landing pad, no casino, or night club; but visitors can swim in the hidden coves and beaches, sail, go paddle-boarding, surfing, body boarding or scuba diving. Deep-sea diving, fishing, kite-surfing and snorkelling with turtles are all on offer. Guests can horse-ride, play tennis at the Mustique Tennis Club, enjoy a picnic, or indulge in the world class spa.

For a spot of shopping, they can visit The Pink House or The Purple House to pick up souvenirs.

The Pink and Purple House on Mustique (Jay OHare / Flickr)

The nightlife on Mustique is famous! The fast and loose out-all-night mentality is alive and well on the island. The nights often start with drinks at the Firefly Hotel, before moving on to Basil’s Bar in Britannia Bay – named because The Queen docked there in HMY Britannia – on the west side of the island, which is the most recognisable landmark of Mustique.

It is a waterfront bar where over the years generations of homeowners and holiday-makers watch the sun go down and soak up the atmosphere, and where some of Mustique’s rowdiest late nights have been held.  Famous for its Wednesday night ‘Jump Up’ and Sunday’s ‘Sunset Jazz Evenings’ along with the annual Mustique Blues Festival, Basil’s Bar is an institution.

Princess Margaret arrives on Mustique

The island’s connection with the British Royal Family dates back to the 1960’s. Colin Tennant gifted his good friend, Princess Margaret, The Queen’s younger sister, a 10-acre plot on the island as a wedding present. It is reported that whilst the Princess was on the island, her security detail kept a very close eye on her from a boat that patrolled the coast and from a nearby hilltop.

His wife, Anne, was a maid of honour at The Queen’s Coronation and served as a lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret. Her book Lady in Waiting details her relationship with the Royal and much about Mustique’s history.

Princess Margaret loved her time on Mustique (Victoria Howard/photo at Shugborough Hall)

The British theatre designer, Oliver Messel – who was her husband’s uncle – designed Princess Margaret her dream villa. A Neo-Georgian style open plan villa, with 5 bedrooms, a drawing room and two swimming pools. She named it Les Jolies Eaux, meaning ‘the beautiful waters.’

The villa was completed in 1972. Les Jolies Eaux was filled with furniture and home accessories gifted to Margaret from various Ideal Home Show Exhibitions.

Princess Margaret was the glamorous royal rebel of the day, who loved to stand out from the crowd. The Queen’s sister had an almost royal rock-star status; Margaret frequently socialised with the A listers of the day such as Elizabeth Taylor, The Beatles and Peter Sellers. She caused a sensation when she was 17 by smoking publicly, had a long-term affair with Peter Townsend and eventually married society photographer, Antony Armstrong-Jones. Margaret’s marriage to Antony was the first royal wedding to be televised.  Her marriage was tumultuous with rumours of infidelities on both sides.

Margaret’s regular visits to Mustique helped to bolster the numbers of the rich and famous on the island. She was known for her love of glamorous partying. There were reports of cocktails starting at sunset and lasting until dawn and parties with celebrities. A former employee of the Mustique Company, said: “Macaroni Beach on the east of the island was her place. And everyone knew: what happened on Macaroni Beach stayed on Macaroni Beach.”

Princess Margaret made many visits to her island retreat during her troubled marriage. It is believed that Lord Glenconner introduced her to landscape gardener, Rhoddy Llewellyn. By 1973 they were romantically involved. In 1976 Her Royal Highness, 44, was photographed on the island with the gardener-turned-pop star, 27, both in swimsuits. This caused a rather a to-do with the press…

Shortly after, Princess Margaret became the first senior member of the Royal Family to be divorced in centuries. In 1981, whilst on the island, Llewelyn told Margaret he had fallen in love with Tatiana Soskin, who he married not long afterwards.

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For over 20 years Mustique was a source of joy for Margaret. She escaped cold British winters, royal protocol and the press by fleeing to her private paradise. Margaret usually visited Mustique at least twice a year. She loved hosting family and friends. The Queen and Prince Phillip also fell for the islands charms, visiting in 1966, 1977 (taking a holiday at the end of the Silver Jubilee Tour of the West Indies) and 1985.

Her island escape signified peace, quiet and the privacy she could never obtain at home. She once said Mustique, ‘is the only place I can relax.’ She last visited the island in 1989. Unfortunately during her stay she suffered a mild stroke.

The Princess gifted the property to her son, David, Viscount Linley, later that year. He subsequently sold the villa for a reported £2.4 million. Les Jolies Eaux can now be rented by holidaymakers, costing up to £49,000 per week at peak times.

Mustique: William and Kate’s favourite destination

Mustique has long been the holiday location of choice for the Middleton family, who – for a while – celebrated Carole’s January birthday on the island, allowing them to briefly escape the worst of the British winter.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are also regular visitors to the island, following in Princess Margaret’s footsteps as Mustique lovers. It is said to be their favourite spot in the Caribbean. The royal couple – like most other A-list visitors – love the privacy that Mustique offers. Whilst on the island, they are not followed by the paparazzi and can come and go like any other holidaymaker – although a few snaps have made their way into the tabloids over the last few years. They can spend quality time together with their children without any worry of press interference.

It is thought the couple first visited the island in 2008 and again in 2009. They returned in 2012 along with Kate’s sister Pippa and brother, James. The Duke and Duchess are rumoured to have returned in 2013 for a so-called ‘baby-moon’ before the birth of Prince George.

William and Catherine took George to Mustique for his first holiday abroad. In 2015, reports claim the family returned to the island to celebrate Carole Middleton’s 60th birthday.

A photograph of Prince George, released to celebrate his 6th birthday. Taken on holiday. The Duchess of Cambridge

In 2018, the couple and their three children spent their first summer holiday as a family of five on Mustique. Prince George celebrated his 5th birthday on the island. William and Kate were reportedly seen enjoying a night out at the 50th anniversary of the iconic beach side Basil’s Bar, mixing with fellow guests, including Mick Jagger and his daughter, Jade. The royal couple are friends with the owner of the legendary bar founder, Basil Charles, who was a guest of honour at their wedding in 2011, and were spotted dancing at the party.

Multiple reports and royal insiders suggest that the Cambridge family, along with Kate’s parents, visited the island again later in 2019 for the second summer in a row, for their two-week break in the sun. This is where we got photos of Prince George for his 6th birthday; July is a regular time for the family to visit.

Sources report the Cambridge family spend their days at the secluded Antilles villa in the Endeavour Hills. Andrew Dunn, a property developer and close friend of Prince William’s, owns the property. It is a stunning contemporary colonial-style house built in 2016, also available to rent, costing from £17,500 for one week up to £36,000 at peak times.

Antilles has a 60ft infinity pool, four luxury bedrooms and a study, three with private gardens and ‘indoor-outdoor’ shower rooms. Last but not least, there is a specially designed children’s bedroom with two sets of bunk beds.

The villa comes with air conditioning, jacuzzi, drinks bar, open dining pavilion and its own jeep! In addition, Antilles has  the services of live-in staff, including a chef, housekeeper, butler and gardener. The property has stunning views of the ocean and the neighbouring islands of St Vincent and Bequia. You can see more photos, and a video of the property here.

In previous years, the Cambridges have stayed at the three-bedroom Aurora villa, and the Hibiscus. Hibiscus is owned by the Middleton’s friends, John and Belle Robinson, owners of the Jigsaw fashion chain. In fact, Kate regularly visited Mustique long before she met Prince William.

The Middletons enjoyed regular summer holidays on Mustique, sometimes visiting twice a year. Marcia Moody, author and columnist, said: “The Caribbean island had become a favourite with the Middletons thanks to its old-fashioned charm – and the fact that it is totally private.”

Weekly villa rentals are around the £30,000-£35,000 mark, or over £5,000 per day at peak times.

Today, Mustique has a reputation as the ultimate private holiday destination. Homeowners and holiday-makers return regularly year after year. They come to visit old friends, experience the glamorous & legendary parties, gastronomic dinners and cocktail parties. Guests embrace the pure escapism, peace and solitude it offers. Mustique is an island like no other.

With thanks to Mustique Island for the photos.

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