It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, and a good wife, must be in want of a Caribbean Island. Apologies to Jane Austin but these words could have been written for Colin Tennant.
He was born into an aristocratic, landed family with enormous wealth. His education followed the well trodden route of the privileged, Eton, Irish Guards, and Oxford, ensuring the most advantageous start in life and affording him the luxury of doing whatever he liked.
What he liked doing was travelling, partying, and being in ‘Society’.
His wealth placed him firmly in the top echelon in society and with his good looks, natural charm and wit, he easily fitted into the ‘in’ set of the 1940s and 50s led by Princess Margaret around whom all danced attendance.
Not least of these was Colin Tennant who was frequently seen in her company. He took her to stay at Glen, the family estate in Scotland and she spent her birthday with him at Balmoral. So it is not surprising that the press of the day speculated that there might be a possible marriage between the two.
However it was not to be and it is not clear whether Colin Tennant desired this liaison or not for at one point he stated that she would have been an impossible wife – a sentiment that many would have echoed at the time – yet on another occasion remarked rather regretfully that, “I don’t expect that she would have had me.” Whichever was the case, Princess Margaret was to feature prominently in his life and at times to influence the course of it.
Colin Tennant later married Lady Anne Coke in 1956. Lady Anne was the daughter of Thomas Coke, the 5th Earl of Leicester and had been one of Queen Elizabeth’s Maids of Honour at the 1953 Coronation and of course was a friend of Princess Margaret.
To further connect their families, it was at Colin and Anne’s wedding that Princess Margaret met Tony Armstrong-Jones, who was hired to take the wedding pictures and of course they subsequently married.
Colin Tennant was in line to inherit a £100 million fortune so the world of work really did not appear on his agenda – in fact it seemed at times that his sole purpose in life was to work his way through that vast fortune, as quickly as possible.
So when the opportunity to purchase a Caribbean island was presented, he had little hesitation in buying the Island of Mustique in the Grenadines for £45,000 in 1958, financed by the sale of family land in Trinidad the previous year.
Lagoon Bay on Mustique
What initially attracted him to Mustique was its 1400 acres of natural beauty, the white sandy beaches surrounded by crystal clear aquamarine seas and gentle trade winds cooling the island.
However paradise often has a sting in its tail which in Mustique’s case was the unwelcome natural population of Giant Mosquitos after which the island is named! The island was in a terrible run down state; roads were unkempt, only 11 acres were under cultivation and to top it off, fierce feral cattle roamed freely at night destroying what little crops and pastures there was.
Also another matter to take into consideration was the practicality of getting to Mustique. In the 1950s, Mustique was a long and expensive journey from England. There was only one BOAC flight a week to Barbados and this had to be followed by a journey by seaplane, as there was no airport in St. Vincent, and finally a trip on a local schooner. In addition to all this, Colin Tennant had to convince people that the Caribbean was now the place to holiday.
No wonder his wife, Anne was sceptical about his ability to develop the island but he had the confidence only a man with his background and stature, and a £100 million inheritance could have. Her doubts were met with, “You mark my words, I will make Mustique succeed and become a household word.”
His grand scheme was to create an island paradise as a holiday destination for the most discerning people on earth who were only really comfortable mixing with similar sybarites, so that they could party in any way they chose away from the restraints of British morality and the ever intrusive press. This would take a lot of planning, work and money.
The Early Days on Mustique
The development of the island didn’t really begin until the early 1960s when in 1963 Colin inherited £1 million when his father sold one of the family businesses, C. Tennant & Sons to Consolidated Goldfields.
This gave Colin the money to invest in the island’s infrastructure and later in 1967 he resigned from Consolidated Goldfields after having been rejected for the position of Chairman.
Work was never high on his agenda so now with time and money on his hands he was free to set about creating his island paradise.
Firstly he built a new village for the original inhabitants and set about restoring the productive land by planting coconut and fruit trees and vegetables and developing the fisheries.
The Cotton House
Next he converted the old cotton warehouse into a small hotel, aptly named, The Cotton House, which is still a main feature, and the nerve centre of the island today.
He was ably assisted and advised by two architects who established the design concept for the whole of the island and which has given it its unique style. They were Arne Hasselqvist, a resourceful construction engineer from Sweden and the renowned British theatre set designer, Oliver Mussel who had developed a reputation for the stylish but flamboyant and original houses he had designed on Barbados. The combination of Colin’s originality and Messel’s flair was a dream team.
Colin Tennant photographed by Patrick Lichfield in 1985
Colin devised the idea that the island should be split into one hundred and twenty development plots and sold to shareholders – hence The Mustique Company was formed in 1969. By restricting the number of plots he felt he could preserve the island’s character and secure its exclusivity – a major factor in the success and uniqueness of Mustique to this day.
To complete the community, a school, doctor’s surgery, police and customs house and post office followed.
So how did Colin Tennant attract his shareholders and convince the rich and famous to invest in his dream? Once again his friendship with Princess Margaret would prove to be invaluable in attracting the good and the great.
In the 1950s Colin Tennant had been a useful foil to distract the newspapers’ attention away from Princess Margaret and her ill-fated desire to marry the handsome but unacceptable (as far as the British establishment were concerned), Group Captain Peter Townsend. One could speculate that her love for the Captain was an obstacle to her marrying Colin Tennant at that time.
But as fate dictated, it was Anthony Armstrong Jones who she finally married in 1960 and it was to the island of Mustique that the couple paid a visit in passing whilst honeymooning on the Royal Yacht Britannia. It was on this visit that Colin Tennant rather generously gifted to the couple 10 acres of prime Mustique land as a wedding present.
Little was thought of this present for the next seven years until the Royal marriage ended in divorce and it was to her old friend Colin Tennant and the island of Mustique that Princess Margaret took refuge away from the glare of the media.
Princess Margaret’s Villa, Les Jolies Eaux, as it is today on Mustique. She gave it to her son Viscount Linley in 1996. He subsequently placed it on the market and it is now available for weekly rental
Once there she asked him if he had been serious about the gift of land and rather imperiously inquired if it included a house as well! What could he say other than, “Yes”.
Twenty five thousand pounds later, a ten bedroomed, pale green painted, ‘Georgian’ villa named Les Jolie Eaux was to become Princess Margaret’s Caribbean home.
However the prestige and social standing that this afforded the island was worth every penny and the subsequent publicity meant that this was a place to go and be seen.
She went there twice a year in February and again in the late autumn and in her wake came the rich, the chic and the famous. The plots were bought by rock stars, Mick Jagger, Bryan Ferry, David Bowie; celebrities, John Cleese, David Frost, Nigel Dempster and socialites, all brought together by an overriding desire to be part of something unique.
The parties that ensued were legendary with Colin Tennant at the centre of it all. His vision was achieved and all was bliss – for a while!
Tennant’s hospitality and lavish fancy dress parties became celebrated events. At his 50th birthday, The Golden Ball in 1976, Princess Margaret crowned him ‘King’ of Mustique – a title he was to take too literally and eventually led to his ‘exile’ from the island.
However, in the meantime the extravagances and outrageous behaviour continued. During this birthday celebration Bianca Jagger was carried into the party on a litter by nude fishermen painted gold top to toe with strategically placed gold painted coconut shells in respect of the presence of Princess Margaret! Gold fishermen carried gold torches to light up the beaches; there was music emanating from every bush and dune. With only 25 houses on the island the guests were cut off from reality and normal social restrictions – outrageous behaviour ensued.
King of Mustique
A decade later at his 60th birthday, the week long celebrations commenced with him flying out his guests including of course, Princess Margaret, and a sprinkling of glamorous celebrities of the 1980s such as Jerry Hall and Raquel Welch. They were then treated to a 100 mile boat trip to the neighbouring island of St. Lucia, culminating in the famous Peacock Ball.
Colin had built a stunning Indian Villa complete with an Indian marble temple and fountains. For the party, the house was lit by the Rolling Stones’ lighting group to create a blaze of light, the trees were painted pink, a small cruise ship floated back and forth bedecked with lights all evening and the guests were dressed in costumes, Colin had had made especially for them in India. Colin presided over this in majestic form and Princess Margaret was heard to comment that she had never been happier in her life!
He once observed, “I’ve always found that people envy you less if they get things for free,’ which must be one of the most obvious, and yet insightful statements I have ever heard!
It is right up there with the famous exchange between F.Scott-Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemmingway, which went thus: F.Scott-Fitzgerald to Hemmingway, “You know, the rich are very different from you and me”, to which Hemmingway replied, “Yes, they have more money!”
Even for the seriously rich the day of reckoning must come and although Mustique had become all that he envisaged with the great and the wealthy buying into his creation, the reality that turnover is vanity but profit is sanity had to be addressed.
Business was never Tennant’s strong point, but of course he never had to have a business brain, he had 100 million pounds to play with but finally his reign came to an end when more serious minded business people wanted to protect their investment in Mustique.
Colin Tennant eventually sold his interest in Mustique for one million pounds, co-incidentally the total of his original investment back in the early 1960s. His own home he sold to Christina Onassis’s third husband, the former KGB agent, Sergei Kauzov.
“You should never sell to the rich,” Tennant once remarked. “They always make sure they get the best value. The owners and bankers made all the money, not me. I got a lot of publicity, but it got me nowhere. Even my barman ended up a millionaire.”
He moved to St. Lucia with the intention of doing it all over again but that is another story…..
The jury is out on the real Colin Tennant, 3rd Baron Glenconner. Opinions differ from those who, despite his eccentricities thought he was an essentially honest and charming man in whose company one was often reduced to helpless laughter, whilst those who knew him better came to realise they could never trust him.
Possibly it depended in what mood one caught him; a journalist recalling a visit to interview Tennant wrote: “The man who greeted me was charm itself. Tall, thin, clad in white shalwar kameez, a battered straw hat and all-terrain sandals, Lord Glenconner resembled a character out of Evelyn Waugh via Hello magazine!” He bid the journalist sit down, and they talked – for the next five days.
Whoever the real Colin Tennant was will always divide opinion, he had certainly alienated Lord Snowdon who referred to him as that s**t. As to the rest of us, who only read about his antics in the gossip columns, we may conclude that he was just a wealthy aristocrat with little concern for any but his own social class and the more Royal the better.
It cannot be denied that Mustique is his enduring legacy, or that he gave the place it’s DNA, for which successive generations should be immensely grateful, because no normal businessman in his right mind would attempt what Colin Tennant achieved because he was prepared to put his not inconsiderable money, when his not inconsiderable mouth was.
It may not have been the ultimate financial success he envisaged but the Island of Mustique would not be the jewel in the Caribbean without his vision. As a permanent reminder of his part in its existence there is a statue of him at the island’s only airstrip, which seems a suitable place for it, greeting today’s residents as they fly in from the four corners of the earth.
Today Mustique is very different, and some say that it has changed out of all recognition, some for the better, and some for the worse. It’s neither, it is just that everything works due to the efficiency of the committee made up of house owners, for the benefit of the owners and those who rent their houses or visit the island. What it will never recapture is the spontaneity of life under the reign of Colin Tennant.
It was time for him to leave when the criteria for entry to this exclusive club became neither class nor style, but simply wealth! There are now 17 different nationalities who own the 75 houses on the island and the old families are now definitely outnumbered by the new international rich.
What has transpired from writing this article on Mustique and its creation as an aspirational place to visit is that there are endless fascinating stories to be told about Colin Tennant; far too many for a relatively short article on this specific period in his life. But there is no need for us to write about this mercurial character as there is a brilliant biography written by Nicholas Courtney who was General Manager of Mustique in the late 1970s for four years and a lifelong friend of Colin Tennant.
He tells anecdotes which only someone on the inside would know about and the true insight into the relationships between the key players of that era; Princess Margaret, the Earl of Snowdon and Roddy Llewellyn.
The book is called ‘Lord of the Isle: The Extravagant Life and Times of Colin Tennant, by Nicholas Courtney, published by Benefactum Publishing.
One reviewer sums up this biography, “Not only is this tale amazingly well researched, but it is then converted into a really well written page turner that this slow reader was unable to put aside for the five days it took to finish. My goodness how I enjoyed it.”
So take this book with you on holiday, and even better go to Mustique and read it there.
What to do on Mustique:-
There are not many rules on Mustique, and no protocol or expectations.
Guests can simply do as they wish in the privacy of their own villa, or join in the legendary house party atmosphere at The Cotton House, when fellow guests get together to enjoy anything from a gastronomic dinner, a cocktail party, to a beach barbeque, or Jump Up at Basil’s. On Mustique, anything goes.
It is worth exploring the island at your own speed, where a whole host of experiences await; from swimming and scuba diving in the jewel coloured waters, to sailing and snorkelling with the turtles at nearby Tobago Cays.
You choose from riding horses along the beaches or honing your tennis skills at the renowned Mustique Tennis Club, or indulge in a world-class spa treatment.
Mustique is a popular family destination. The islands intimacy and security allows teenagers to roam safely at their will and mingle with new found friends, whilst there are numerous activities and an excellent childcare service for younger children, ensuring parents have the opportunity to relax and unwind.
Many visitors are so charmed by island life, the unequivocal hospitality and friendliness of the staff and the sense of wellbeing this holiday island gives them that they fall under its spell, only to return every year.
It is difficult to imagine a more agreeable place to escape the pressures of 21st Century life, where we are all constantly ‘connected’ via the internet and emails, and I just get the feeling that this is a place where I might be able to forget business, and actually find the time to catch upon my reading, tennis, swimming in the crystal clear waters, and imbibing Rum Punches at Basil’s Bar, to the sound of a steel band.
Where to stay on Mustique:-
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION
Villas, in a variety of architectural styles, are scattered over the island, some at the water’s edge, some perched on a hilltop. All are fully staffed (minimum of a cook, maid and gardener) and the website includes a short film of most of the properties (UK reservations 020 7201 6831; mustique-island.com).
A five-room hotel perched on a hillside and built in the Seventies as a private villa. It has a hip, laid-back atmosphere and is popular with visiting musicians. The bar is open to midnight in high season (001 784 488 8414; fireflymustique.com; doubles from $950/£593 per night all inclusive).
The island’s social hub, with 17 rooms and suites, all with verandas, some with private plunge pools, in the main house and scattered through the grounds. There’s a spa, restaurant and beach café; afternoon tea is laid out by the lily pond, cocktails are served in the Great Room Bar and there’s a drinks party every Tuesday evening (456 4777; double B & B from $630/£393 per night in “shoulder” season).
Most visitors to Mustique take a house, with a choice of 74 villas for rent. There is something for everyone, from a beach cottage to an opulent mansion on a hill. And the best? Taste is subjective, but Sapphire, on the windward coast is lovely, and has the advantage of its own beach, while for the big time there is always Shogun, with nine bedrooms spread over the main house plus two cottages, complete with cinema, speed boat and mini-golf course.
For celebrity groupies, there is only a remote possibility that houses owned by Mick Jagger, Bryan Adams or Tommy Hilfiger’s will be available, but nearby is Clonsilla, the first house built on Mustique and, along with its neighbour, Phibblestown, is still owned by the Guinness family. Clonsilla sleeps 10 in great comfort, with a staff of six. There is a large fresh water pool and a private cove with wonderful swimming.
Don’t stay at Firefly unless you’re fit enough to tackle the steep steps to the garden and the spiral staircases that lead to most rooms.
Speeding. Note there is a speed limit of 20mph on the island.
Missing your afternoon flight to the island from Barbados or St Lucia. Mustique’s airport doesn’t have runway lights so it closes before sunset and there are no exceptions.
Arriving on your own private jet. Jet aircraft are not permitted to land in Mustique.
Fly from the UK via Barbados or St Lucia. Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 2770), for example, flies from Gatwick to Barbados daily, from £614.80 return. SVG Air (001 784 457 5124) flies from Barbados to Mustique twice daily, from $410/£256 return plus fuel surcharge.
Alternatively, Mustique can advise on scheduled shared charter flights, private charter flights and shared private charter flights operated by Grenadine Airways.
Carrier (0161 491 7620) offers seven nights b & b at the Cotton House from £2,005 per person, based on two sharing and departing on December 6, including two complimentary nights, a complimentary upgrade to a superior room, return economy flight with British Airways from Gatwick to Barbados, onward flight to Mustique and transfers.
The Best Restaurants
There is the waterside restaurant at Basil’s Bar, otherwise, dining is at Cotton House, Firefly or in your villa. Basil’s Bar (488 8350) is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks; Basil himself is often around and happy to chat; live entertainment in the evenings.
If you want to find out more about renting one of the beautiful villas, then please contact: Pippa Ona, at:
T: +44 (0) 207 201 6831 E: firstname.lastname@example.org W: The Mustique Company
Pippa Ona, Director
25 Eccleston Place,
London, SW1W 9NF
Researched and Edited by Chrissy Jarman, Features Editor of The Vintage Magazine