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Where the rich and the famous relax
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: Martin Bensley
Date: 1999-03-22
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

Nonsuch Bay.

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.

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