Why I’m not going to Necker Island

Ever since Cool Runnings single handedly reshaped Western values, won the hearts and minds of the known universe and won every award going, including, but not limited to an Olivier Award, Turner Prize and Pigasus Award, I have wanted to go to the Caribbean.

Yet much to my shock, around the age of 11, I discovered my parents were poor.  Ok, not poor in the sense we had to start selling our teeth or sell The Big Issue to our neighbours, but the kind that had the government giving a monthly helping hand.  So you would think with this obsession with the Caribbean, it would have been one of the first places I would visit upon getting into luxury travel.  Instead it will likely be one of the last.

Next week we fly out to Mexico, but it was all planned so very different.  Mexico was just an add-on to a Caribbean tour, which started in Necker Island.  As you may have spotted, I am quite the connoisseur of private islands.  If I had not spent all my money on staying on them, I’m sure I’d own one.  So Necker Island, Richard Branson’s private island, has this hold over me that made me feel incomplete. Like a chlamydia induced itch, it was hairy, ugly, kept me awake at night and just wouldn’t go away.  It is the last of the luxury private island resorts left to visit – the missing last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

Normally the island is exclusive use, but they have Celebration Weeks throughout the year, where you can join the other riff-raff and stay there with people who aren’t on your Facebook contact list.  This year they had several opportunities with a 3 night minimum stay.

So I booked it.

Yet at this point, doubts started to creep in.  The kinda doubts anyone would get, when a private island, for $5,000/n, has the sales team emphasising the communal aspect of the trip and questioning if privacy was important.  This definitely needed more research than I have become accustom to.  Previously I spent countless hours researching our trips, like I was an intrepid Columbo.  Now we’re away so much, I have to just get out the Ouija board as a time-saving device.  Completely unrelated, but if anyone knows a priest, I could do with his phone number.

Now for those of you who know me, and those of you that stalk me, I am not known for my social prowess.  I’m not on holiday looking for some new friends or to join your cult, no thank you.  So when someone mentions communal dining, the hair on the back of my neck rises and books itself on the first flight outta there.  At this point, I needed to know for sure that Necker Island was worth the time and money.

The rooms seemed a good starting point.

First of all, Richard, we’ve been using the metric system since you were 15.  What’s all this with square feet?

Bedroom 5 (including bathroom): 570 sq ft. The deck is 200 sq ft.

NEW: Southern Terrace bedroom 10 (including bathroom): 391 sq ft.

NEW: Southern Terrace bedroom 11 (including bathroom): 442 sq ft.

NEW: Leha Lo (including bathroom): 338 sq ft. The deck is 347 sq ft.

Let me translate this into a format we can all understand

Bedroom 5: 53 sq m.  The deck is so small, a maximum weight of 5kg per guest is in place to avoid structural collapse.

Southern Terrace bedroom 10: 36 sq m

Southern Terrace bedroom 11: 41 sq m

Leha Lo: 31 sqm.

I repeat: thirty one square metres.  Guantanamo Bay offers more space than this.  This is after yet another natural disaster destroyed the property and it had to be rebuilt, so I can only surmise that previously the rooms were intended for the island flamingos, not humans.

It suddenly became very clear to me how Sir Richard became a billionaire.  $5,000/n; 31 square metres.  That must be amongst the most expensive real-estate in the world.  Sir Rich bought the island for $120,000.  I ain’t got the smarts he does, but I’m calculating he’s done alright for himself by living on a tax haven that people pay for the privilege to visit.

In comparison, for $6,000/n in Fiji, at the infamous Laucala, you can get a 2,000 sqm room, with direct, private beach access and complimentary things like a submarine.

Pay up

Yet wait!  If you’re prepared to go to $7,500/n, then they have gone overly generous.

Master Suite (including bathroom and deck): 1,480 sq ft (137 sq m)

So now the trip has gone up 50%, yet this is the only acceptable room to stay in.  It’s the only one large enough I can hide in, to avoid Branson hunting me down and forcing me into some diabolical group activity, like drinking Virgin Cola.

At this point, things were looking dire.  It would be almost as expensive as North Island, with none of the benefits.   Even the Ouija had enough at this stage, so set itself on flames and started screaming Latin at me.  I had to go find a review.


Remembering the classy BBC documentary Billionaire’s Paradise: Inside Necker Island, I decided to watch it again.  Of course it couldn’t be as bad as I recalled.  There’s no way it gave the impression of a swingers party for illiterate trust funders.  Oh – my bad.  That’s exactly what it did.  If you own a hotel and want to know how to put people off visiting, you should contact the BBC and get them in.  What a fine job they did.  If the plan was to make it even more exclusive, as no one wants to visit, then I slow clap their genius.  I doubt even the tax authorities would want to visit after this.  Excellent work, Mr. Branson.


I suddenly remembered that Google existed, so I should probably use it to find what other people thought.  Let me give you a tip when it comes to reviews: ignore those from people who did not pay for it.  Everywhere is great if you’re not paying.  So when the source of reviews is limited to someone who used 1,200,000 Virgin Atlantic miles, and another of a journalist that was there on a last minute freebie, I consider it as truthful as a Scientology manual on kindness.  And then I remembered: a charming couple we met in Miavana, who made my travels look amateurish, mentioned they were there.  So we reached out, and their description sounded part like a Sandals, but mostly like a party in a Judd Apatow movie, that was directed by Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild, set in a brothel.  Poor food, service and accommodation was the gist of it.


This will not be the end of it.  One day, likely not too far in the distant future, I know too well that I will end up arguing with myself.  I will revisit this article and exclaim that it’s not so bad after all.  That $5,000/n ain’t even a problem – I could write it off as a legitimate business expense, claiming I was seeing a tax advisor.  Yet for today, I have as little interest in it as a game of Virgin Bingo.


  1. Branson is a big fan of communal dining. I will never return to Ulu Saba which he owns, I hated so much having to hang out after the last game drive of the day until staff decided we had been suitably watered before they would deign to let us come to the communal table. There we’d sit, with the French speakers conversing with their travel partners, the South Africans with theirs. All we wanted to do was eat and go to bed to be able to get up before dawn for the next game drive. We finally started eating in our room as a work around. Ugh.

  2. Tom Wanless

    I have been lucky enough to stay at Necker twice (each time for a week on a Celebration Week) and both trips still go down as the best vacations of my entire life. But I like to mingle, and it is fair to say we met some amazing people there (both guests and staff!), as well as a couple of idiots, but of course they end up providing great amusement for the rest of us. I would say the social aspect is important, with a couple of party nights etc. If you genuinely don’t like meeting new people (and I have my suspicions that you actually do, despite protesting it in every review…. ;-)), then perhaps Necker isn’t for you. But I can assure you the team there will ensure you leave with a smile on your face in ANY case. Also the rooms are absolutely fine size, as you shouldn’t be in them much. The main house has such nice lounging spaces, and besides, you will be too busy outdoors. If you’re in your room for anything other than sleeping, you’re doing it wrong….. 🙂

    • FlyerTalker

      necker continues to add last minute availability each month, making it possible to sometimes find low/no occupancy. (only booking at very last minute.) i was lucky with that a few years ago. totally different from a sold out celebration week. there is also moskito island, some of the people branson sold villas to were going to rent, no idea re details.

      re necker rooms, Temple House will reopen. also, avoid the bali houses by the beach when they reopen.

  3. We have been three times to Necker. Once at the Necker Cup, and twice on celebration weeks. I would not go back to the Necker Cup, but I am booked for another Celebration week next November. If you do not like communal dining or getting to know other random people, then you were right to decline. I personally enjoyed getting to know some “well known” people at dinner, and also not well known people. Necker is a very sociable place where we have made some really nice friends that we talk to regularly. In fact, we all try to book the same weeks together. It’s truly like being at Richard’s house, because you are in fact at his house. Not kidding. No one is going to kiss your butt or run over themselves to make sure you have a drink. If they are busy then it is expected that you will make yourself a drink, just like you would at a friend’s house. The Great House is built just like a personal home, not a hotel. There are multiple stocked bars all over the island so its a help yourself kinda place. Its a unique experience but definitely not going to tick a lot of people’s “luxury boxes.” We are big tennis players and kite boarders so those experiences alone are worth the money. On a side note, I use to travel write but the hobby became too time consuming. If you read my only post on Necker it was only about the Necker Cup, and I have been twice since then with my three children (all paid trips). Seriously, don’t go if you are expecting Michelin star food or very refined service. The bartender is likely a young attorney from London who had some ties to the family and wanted to spend a year having fun. He makes for a far more interesting person to talk to than your usual bartender, but he didn’t go to Burj Al Arab butler school. In short, it’s about the people and the experiences not the room or food.

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