Owning an island is one of those things you do when you’re so rich that money doesn’t matter anymore. The sheer cost it takes to transform an isolated bit of land surrounded completely by water into something habitable is outrageous, so only the highest of the high rollers can pull it off. Richard Branson is one such man, but Necker Island – his private retreat in the British Virgin Islands – has been the subject of some pretty intense events lately. Pack your snorkels, friends, because we’re going for a deep dive.
Branson first discovered that some of the British Virgin Islands were up for sale in 1979. They were owned by Lord Cobham, who was desperate for cash. So Branson ponied up £180,000 for an uninhabited 74 acre island. He was just 28 when he bought Necker Island, and under the gun – the British government had a law that if you bought an island, you had to build a resort on it in 5 years or you lost it.
Three years and ten million dollars later, Branson had his resort. Thankfully, Virgin Records made a bunch of money for him – he commented once that every time the label had a hit, he’d spend a little money on the resort. Necker Island boasts two pools, tennis courts, a private chef, wireless Internet and tons of water sports equipment. Oh, and Branson has an outdoor toilet positioned where he can gaze out over the whole island.
August of 2011 brought media attention to the island in a bizarre way. A bolt of lightning from Hurricane Irene arced out of the sky and struck Branson’s house, setting it aflame. Staying there was his 90 year old mother, who almost died in the blaze until she was rescued by… Kate Winslet. Winslet actually met current husband Ned Rocknroll (who is Branson’s nephew) on Necker as well, so it’s a good place for a love connection.
Or a love disconnection, as perpetually jilted singer Taylor Swift just discovered. Swift, who has been dumped more times than a garbage truck, just split with Harry Styles of boy band One Direction after Branson invited Styles to come party on Necker. Photos of the lad in a hot tub with a lady that sure wasn’t Swift had Taylor flying off in a huff, presumably to write some songs. Thankfully lots of things rhyme with “Harry.”
The amazing thing about Necker is that it’s not Branson’s only island. He also owns Moskito Island in the British Virgin Islands and Makepeace Island off the coast of Australia. Moskito brought him some bad press when he announced his intentions to relocate ring-tailed lemurs from zoos to the island.
Branson’s not the only super-rich jerk to own an island, though – it’s almost a rite of passage once you have eight or nine figures under your belt.
One of the most bizarre collections of private islands is “The World,” an artificially-created archipelago of islands that look like a scaled-down map of the world. The mini-Greece was bought for Pamela Anderson by ex-husband Tommy Lee for $15.5 million. Other famous private island owners include Segway inventor Dean Kamen, who bought North Dumpling Island off the coast of Connecticut and turned it into a carbon-neutral “kingdom” with its own flag, and Mel Gibson, who bought Mago Island northwest of Fiji despite what the native people living there thought about it.
If you want to sample a little bit of private island insanity for yourself, you can rent rooms on Necker Island during “celebration weeks.” The price is… a little steep, though. We’re talking $3,800 a day. Renting the whole island clocks in at a very modest $53,000 a day. If you’re willing to cough that up, you can relax in luxury. At least until lightning strikes again.