Exotic Private Islands A Growing Celebrity Trend

Friday 22nd, July 2011 / 09:56 Published by

First there was the private jet. Then came the superyacht. Now, if you’re anybody, you have to have your own private island. And by anybody we mean the likes of Giorgio Armani, who recently beat Bill Gates, Roman Abramovich and Madonna to buy the island of Skorpios in the Ionian Sea, once owned by Aristotle Onassis. It set him back a cool €150 million.

Plenty of private islands are there to be had, but it’s all a question of price. The 110-acre Rang Yai Island near Phuket is currently on the market for £100 million; the 2,000-acre Ronde Island in the Caribbean for £62 million. Of course, demand is fuelled by supply. Last year, 150 islands from Croatia to Brazil were bought by rich Italians. The higher the budget, the more exotic the location (just €250,000 buys you a bolthole in Northern Europe, the Canadian lakes or Croatia).

Famous island owners include Johnny Depp, who bought Little Hall’s Pond Cay in the Bahamas in 2004 for a bargain $3.6 million; Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, who allegedly bought a 4km island in 2007 in ‘The World’, Dubai’s offshore man-made archipelago, for $10 million; and Richard Branson, who bought Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands for $200,000 in 1979. Others include Mel Gibson (Fiji), Julia Roberts (Bahamas) and Nicolas Cage (also Bahamas, where your own sandy fortress will set you back £7 million).

Seeking privacy from the hoi polloi is hardly new. The principle behind Mustique was for the super-wealthy not to have their holiday polluted by anyone not exactly like themselves. Lord Glenconner bought the island in the 1950s and it attracted Royals such as Princess Margaret (who was given a plot of land by Lord Glenconner as a wedding present) and celebrities, including Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Pierce Brosnan. Of course it did: private islands where you can’t buy property without passing a vigorous vetting process are essentially gated communities, exclusive ghettos of which ordinary mortals will never get so much as a sneaky peek.

Which is a worry that hints at the less glamorous side of island life: not all locals are necessarily appreciative of the philanthropic, green efforts of the new owners, or their extreme need for privacy, and unstable, changing local governments make buying an island a high-risk proposition in many cases. The more remote, the more difficult, and sometimes dangerous. As Bentheim says: ‘Everything is gorgeous on these private islands – until they machete you to death.’

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