Earlier this month, Sir Richard Branson invited me to his private retreat and kindly granted me the privilege of an interview for InspireMeToday.com and for my blog at the Huffington Post. Many of you wrote and asked me to share some details, so here’s the “inside story”.
I hope you are inspired to dream what’s possible in your life.
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In early November, my husband Darryl and I sailed to the North Sound of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, on a 47′ catamaran. Mooring our yacht at the Bitter End Yacht Club, we hired a tender to transport us along with our son, Max (who is also our webmaster and videographer) and our associate Nick, to Necker Island, a short 10 minute boat ride away.
As we bounced from wave to wave, we were grateful to be in the larger tender rather than our small dinghy as we were already feeling the ocean spray off of the waves from the unprotected waters.
I’ve been sailing these waters for nearly 20 years and sailed all around Necker, but I’d never stepped foot on this island. You see, this island is not only the private home and retreat for Richard, his family and guests, but is also open to the public by reservation only.
Rates for this small 74-acre island start from US$51,000 per night for up to 28 guests and include accommodation, all meals and drinks as well as a team of 60 fabulous staff. And, I hear that it’s worth every penny of it too!
As we arrived on the dock we were met by a member of Richard’s staff who escorted us to a golf cart and drove us up a windy road to the top of the island, to what is known as the great house.
We walked up a beautiful set of stone steps to be met with one of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen. The house, perched atop this hill had captivating 360 degree views of the surrounding Caribbean Sea.
Richard’s wife, Joan, was seated in a beautiful chair on the outside deck, chatting on the phone. She gave us cheery smile and a nod as we entered the great house. I made a mental note to meet this incredible woman before we left. (Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to meet her this time.)
Just walking into the great house is an experience I will never forget. This house, Richard’s current home, is a glorious Balinese structure, open to the ocean on all sides, roofed in Brazilian cedar, and decorated casually with mahogany furniture and Buddhist statues. The views were simply breathtaking!
Our barefoot host rose from his hammock to greet us and help us get settled. His “office”, was an alcove off the great room, complete with hammock, a chair holding the laptop and small table holding a cold drink. This is truly a man after my own heart.
Max, Nick and Darryl scouted for the best location for the interview while Richard and I chatted. The exact experience had been on my vision board for more than a year and now it was happening in this very moment.
Richard shared that he purchased Necker when he was only 26 years old, and when he had no idea how he was going to pay for it. (In fact, his offer was so low that he thought it would be rejected, but he ended up purchasing Necker for £180,000 (about $300,000 US) or less than 5% of the asking price of £5,000,000.)
Surrounded by stunning views of the Caribbean Sea on all four sides, we found our comfy spot on two adjacent couches in the great room, underneath a huge ostrich egg chandelier and set up for the hour-long video interview. Sir Richard Branson has such a gregarious, larger than life personality that it was quite refreshing to hear him admit that HE was a bit nervous. I assured him that I had many more butterflies than he did. ☺
I was so engrossed by the magic of this interview that the hour passed quickly. Richard ended the interview by inviting us to join him for lunch.
On our stroll from the high-perched great house to our lunch spot, Richard pointed out his new home, currently under construction. He shared that with the popularity of Necker Island, there were always people in the great house. Therefore, he and Joan were constructing something smaller and more private for their family.
Our walk took us down the hill from the great house, past a flock of pink flamingos resting along the shore of an interior pond- one of only 28 nesting sites worldwide.
Next we passed four 36 year-old giant tortoises. Richard explained that they live to be nearly 150 years old! Max has had turtles since he was a young boy, which are now the about the size of a dinner plate, so he was especially impressed with the size of these creatures.
A few minutes later we arrived at our lunch destination- the beach pool’s suspended dining pavilion. We walked across a small stone bridge onto what appeared to be a floating platform surrounded by the swimming pool. This platform held a huge hand-carved, dark wood table from Bali in the shape of a crocodile. More than 25 guests could easily fit around the curved sides of this most unique table, eloquently set for just the five of us. This entire pool dining area was also located on one of the most beautiful private beaches I’ve ever seen. I felt as if I’d just stepped into a movie set, but instead, we were just going to have a casual lunch with Richard Branson. Very cool!
During the exquisitely presented lunch of chicken Caesar salad, caprese, and veggies, we were joined by a parrot and an egret. Richard mentioned that the parrot is often called “Be quiet and go away”, and shared with us that the egret lost her baby a few weeks ago and is still looking for him. Sure enough, she showed up and poked around the rocks, looking in the crevices, and exploring the surroundings, as if she were looking for something. It was sad to watch!
After a luxurious lunch, great conversation and the most mouth-watering dessert I’ve ever enjoyed (apple crumble with custard sauce) Richard bid us farewell and headed back to “the office”. His hammock was waiting for him. As he returned to afternoon business, he graciously invited us to explore the island since there were no guests there that day.
His staff gave us great directions and we set off on an hour-long hike around the island. Oddly, this is a very arid island, even though some parts are very lush. There is an abundance of unexpected cactus throughout the island. It was a warm afternoon with temperatures reaching the high 80’s, but we were filled with exuberance and not even the afternoon heat (nor my dress) would stop us from enjoying our hike.
We walked the path to the top of the mountain and paused to be grateful for this amazing opportunity. All four of us couldn’t stop smiling. We even shot a video of us doing our happy dance on rock outcropping on the top of the island. I’d wanted to do this interview for so long and now that it was over and was such a success, the rush of adrenaline had me almost giddy.
We walked back down the other side, passed the boat dock, private beach huts and arrived full circle back at the poolside dining area, stopping for photo opportunities along the way.
The time had come for us to return to the boat and to leave this paradise that we enjoyed for the day. We left feeling very grateful for the opportunity to spend time with Richard and have the opportunity to interview him for our site.
I know I’ll be back to Necker Island again. I’m not sure how or when that will happen, but I’m certain that it will. Until then, the memories of this visit will remain with me.
Richard describes his island:
“Necker Island is a small rocky landmass at the north-eastern extremity of a chain of islands, lapped by the sky-blue Caribbean Sea, which all together comprise the British Virgin Islands.
Almost completely encircled by coral reefs, it is relatively isolated and seldom visited, even by the numerous charter boats that cruise around the area.
The island is marked by scenic contrast. Beautiful sandy beaches punctuate jutting headlands and cactus-studded ridges top panoramic hillsides. Beneath the clear, pristine waters, the reefs are alive with fantastically varied colours and shapes.
Necker seems to have been permanently uninhabited, as pre-Columbian artifacts found on neighbouring islands have never been discovered here. Only a few goats were to be seen when I bought the island.
I wanted to build a home there that could be used by my family and friends for holidays, while keeping the island as unspoiled as possible.
We began construction on the house in 1982. Our chosen site was ‘Devil’s Hill’, which has fantastic views of the island and its surroundings. It took six months to blast the top off! Everything had to be brought in by boat – diggers, trucks, manpower, water – and I began to see why the survival team only lasted 14 days!
I wanted the house designed in an airy Balinese style and I also wanted the house to become the apex of Devil’s Hill, as if it grew out of the rock.
In the early stages of construction one of the first steps was to carry out an environmental study to determine the extent and type of development the island could support without destroying the natural ecosystem.
Where possible, we use natural materials from the island in construction – the main walls of the house are built from stone removed from the top of the hill, and much of the timber is locally grown. However, with a project of this scale, a great deal of the fabric of the house had to be imported – the roof was first assembled in Brazil, taken apart again, shipped over and then rebuilt. The flooring throughout came from Yorkshire and the majority of the furniture and fabrics were handmade in Bali and transported halfway around the world.