Where the rich and the famous relax
|Source: Manila Bulletin
|Author: Martin Bensley
Even the locals in Antigua island will pretend not to know them
ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (DPA) - Ask the way to guitar legend Eric Clapton's
dream villa on the Caribbean island of Antigua and you are likely to
get blank looks.
Not that people don't know how to get there, it's just that they won't tell you.
Antiguans are known for their discretion and the rock star and a host of other
celebrities love them for it.
One of them is handsome, cleft-chinned British actor Timothy Dalton who
played superspy James Bond 007 in two films.
On a hot February afternoon Dalton stops his rented car by the side of the
road and steps out to admire the view at Darkwood Beach, a pretty
palm-fringed strip of white sand.
As Dalton gazes out toward the volcanic island of Montserrat, no one comes
up to ask him for an autograph, indeed scarcely anyone notices he is there at
all. As usual, the beach is deserted.
"Being left alone is what celebrities love about this island," said the Antigua
Tourism Board's Annette Michael. "Most locals don't really care if they rub
shoulders with the rich and famous, they just don't make a distinction between
them and ordinary guests."
Clapton's impressive stone villa perches in splendid isolation on a rocky
outcrop not far from English Harbor, a restored Georgian naval dockyard that
is one of the island's showpiece tourist attractions.
When on the island the famous guitarist likes to go out for a meal at his
favorite Italian restaurant Alberto's just a short drive away or simply "lime" -
West Indian slang for relaxing.
"Eric Clapton likes Antigua because he can come and go without being
recognized - there's no hassle" said Annette Michael.
Clapton has repaid his gratitude to Antigua by setting up a drug rehabilitation
clinic for showbiz stars. While they pay the full going rate for therapy, local
sufferers are treated for next to nothing. To help raise more money for the
center Clapton recently sold a batch of his old guitars.
The rock musician has been known to stage impromptu gigs at local
nightclubs with the likes of Keith Richard and Elton John but word about the
jam sessions only leaks out after they have happened.
Over at Harmony Hall, a former sugar mill that has been converted into a
gallery for Caribbean art, it's lunchtime on the rustic terrace overlooking
A stone's throw away is the Mill Reef Club, one of the most exclusive holiday
apartment complexes in the Caribbean where business moguls, politicians
and stressed-out senior US State Department officials go to recharge their
The club is entirely self-contained, with its own power station, golf course and
stores. It is also extremely snobbish. Rumor has it that black US actor Eddie
Murphy was snubbed when he inquired about leasing a villa here.
In a vitriolic book on Antigua by native author Jamaica Kincaid the Mill Reef
club and its residents came in for sharp criticism.
"Like pigs they keep to their own pens," wrote the former journalist with the
magazine New Yorker.
At Harmony Hall, the exquisite Italian cuisine goes down well with Mill Reef
residents who often bring along their friends, people like Paul Getty or media
mogul and ex-Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi.
"Often we don't recognize these famous people and somebody says
afterwards 'you know that was Berlusconi at the table the other day'," said
Marilisa Parisi who runs the restaurant with her husband Riccardo.
Antigua's sleepy sister island of Barbuda - 20 minutes away by plane - is
another refuge of the media-hounded.
Flat as a billiard table and surrounded by magnificent swathes of beach with
soft pink sand Barbuda doesn't offer the usual Caribbean cliches of
brightly-painted huts and rum shops.
What it does have is an atmosphere of tranquillity that captivated the late
Princess Diana of Britain every time she came and continues to draw actors
like Dustin Hoffmann and Sylvester Stallone.
Diana used to stay at the luxury K Club, a hotel styled right down to the door
knobs by Italian fashion designer Mariuccia Mandelli, alias Krizia.
"Krizia discovered this corner of Paradise some years ago and selected it as
her personal Eden for many seasons, then decided she wanted to share her
pleasure with others," or so the hotel blurb goes.
Such generosity has its price and a room at the club costs around 1,200 US
dollars a night. A small army of security men ensure that guests are not
Most Barbudians are not allowed into the hotel grounds either, a form of
discrimination which merely provokes a shrug on this easy- going island of
just 1,500 people.
Paparazzi who turn up looking for "prey" get equally short thrift at the K Club.
One photographer who scaled the perimeter fence to take snapshots of the
princess sunbathing outside her beach cottage was frog-marched off the
premises at gunpoint.