If there’s one man who deserves a bit of a break it’s Alan Bates. Having spent the past two holiday-less decades fighting the biggest miscarriage of justice in British history, the former sub-postmaster – of Mr Bates vs the Post Office renown – and his wife Suzanne have certainly earned a week in the sun.
And if there’s one man who can offer the trip of a lifetime it’s Sir Richard Branson. Upon hearing Alan’s remarkable tale, and presumably being gripped to the ITV dramatisation like the rest of us, the Virgin boss extended an invitation for the couple to visit his private Caribbean island. It’s little wonder Alan fought back tears upon hearing the news. With a week’s stay on Necker Island costing more than $1 million (for up to 48 guests) it’s a place very few ever get to experience.
Alan and Suzanne will be in good company, following in the footsteps of Princess Diana, Beyoncé, President Obama and, er, me. I had the good fortune of spending last week on Necker, wallowing in its understated luxury and the sheer playfulness of a paradise quite unlike any other.
So as Alan considers swapping the verdant valleys and cosy pubs of North Wales for the beach bars and lush hillsides of the British Virgin Islands, here’s what Mr Bates can expect if he meets Mr Branson.
Arrive in style
Like all great places, it takes a bit of time and effort to get to Necker. Alan and Suzanne will likely go via Antigua – flying there on Virgin Atlantic, of course. There will be a few hours to kill there (I suggest they pass the time at the airside Big Banana bar; there’s little else to do) before the one-hour hop north-west in a much smaller plane to Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands.
From there it’s a 90-second drive from the airport to the dock and a 30-minute ride on one of the island’s two fancy speedboats (named after Richard’s children, Holly and Sam) where the first bottle of Necker-branded champagne – or “Necker Water” as it’s more commonly known – is swiftly popped open and the fun officially begins.
Upon arrival, more Necker Water will be served up at the Great House, the hilltop beating heart of the island that famously burned down after a lightning strike in 2011. Most guests stay here, but there are also idyllic Balinese-style villas with private pools dotted across the 74-acre island.
Meet the locals
There are all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures on Necker, many introduced by wildlife-loving Richard, who was keen to turn the cacti-studded island into a haven for endangered species. Chief among them are seven types of lemur from Madagascar, including the ringtails that interrupt every game of tennis by somersaulting across the court towards the umpire’s chair. Feeding this friendly but mischievous mob is a real Necker highlight.
The island is also home to free-roaming tortoises (including giant ones native to the Seychelles with lifespans of more than 150 years) – some have been known to nibble on red-painted toenails mistaking them for strawberries, so Suzanne may want to avoid a pre-trip pedicure.
The most impressive species to be found on Necker, however, is surely the lesser-spotted bearded billionaire. Since purchasing the island in the 1970s, Richard has made it his home and spends much of his time there. Being the fun and social chap he is, he takes great delight in joining guests for meals and challenging them to a game of chess or pickleball.
A few of my group spent a blissful afternoon wallowing in the (very hot) hot tub down by the beach when a familiar face suddenly appeared. “Room for one more?” asked Richard. Given that the tub could easily accommodate a whole football team (including substitutes) there was plenty of space and the next hour passed with much laughter as we discussed everything from polar bears to curry before Richard dared me to brave the nearby ice bath.
Do not disturb
While Necker does indeed elevate the very concept of luxury – and rightly so for such a price tag – Alan and Suzanne may be surprised to discover just how low-key it is. Yes, your every whim is catered to and there’s always someone around should you need something but there’s no fawning, no fuss, no formality.
Necker is designed to be a home away from home – and that’s exactly how it feels. The relaxed vibe means staff are friendly and guests are free to help themselves, including going behind the bar for another bottle of Necker Water.
This refreshingly relaxed approach extends to dining, with everything from beachside wood-oven pizzas to tongue-tingling Asian dinners served family-style rather than à la carte. But no meal makes more of an impact than the famous sushi kayak lunch, a popular Necker tradition in which a canoe is beautifully laden with delicate Japanese delicacies and pushed through the palm-fringed waters of the main pool complete with Buddha statues, waterfalls and bridges. Now, you don’t get that in North Wales.
All white on the night
There’s no need to overpack for a trip to Necker. T-shirt and shorts at dinner? Not a problem. But there is one occasion that has a dress code. Alan and Suzanne must remember to bring an all-white outfit for White Night up at the Great House – another much-loved Necker tradition that involves partying into the early hours to the sounds of a live DJ.
Thomas, the island’s charismatic mixologist, ensures the drinks flow and not only whips up a mean margarita but also hands out hangover-busting SOS shots of hydrating electrolytes.
The action inevitably ends with dancing on the 40ft-long table under the glowing ostrich egg chandeliers – just like Kate Moss has been known to do.
And if Alan doesn’t have a white tuxedo, there’s no need to panic. I jokingly turned up wearing the Necker Island bathrobe from my room which went down a treat.
Moments of solitude
Despite being a place that’s all about bringing good people together for good times, it’s easy to snatch quiet moments on Necker to simply sit and reflect.
I’d recommend the couple make their way up to the roof of the Great House at sunset where the snug crow’s nest hot tub offers solitude and sweeping views of Necker’s resident flamingos taking flight and circling the island.
It’s tempting to spend every possible minute on Necker but Alan and Suzanne would be foolish to miss the opportunity of exploring further afield. The low-lying coral island of Anegada is the northernmost spot in the archipelago, famed for its shipwrecks and underwater caves. Closer to home is Virgin Gorda (“Fat Virgin”, so-named by Christopher Columbus), the third largest in the chain and regarded by many as the most picturesque. A visit to the Baths – a collection of colossal boulders and secret rock pools – is not to be missed, while the main settlement of Spanish Town is a great place for people watching.
Necker Island is available to book on an exclusive-use basis from £117,992 per night for up to 48 guests. Individual rooms are available on selected dates starting from £4,762, based on two sharing (virginlimitededition.com).