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Inside Richard Branson’s exclusive Necker Island: celebs, hydrofoil boards, lemurs

A house with a beach in the background.
You can try on the life of billionaire Richard Branson at his private Necker Island resort.

Sir Richard Branson leaps in Necker Island’s infinity pools fully dressed and boogies on the bars.

“Every table in Necker is made for dancing on,” says the energetic British billionaire, who bought the uninhabited Caribbean isle for $180,000 in 1979 and transformed it into a private playground and party palace for the rich and famous.

The Virgin Group founder has hosted everyone from presidents to pop stars, including Barack and Michelle Obama, Nelson Mandela, Harry Styles, and Oprah Winfrey. On several occasions, he welcomed Princess Diana and Princes William and Harry to his palm-fringed paradise. After a 1990 visit, she penned a poignant thank-you note that hangs in the Great House: “I wish I was able to express what it really means to my family being given this opportunity to disappear to your island.”

Necker Island is a 74-acre paradise in the British Virgin Islands that’s hosted everyone from royals to Oscar winners.
Necker Island is a 74-acre paradise in the British Virgin Islands that’s hosted everyone from royals to Oscar winners.

Both Kate Moss and Kate Winslet have frolicked on the white sandy beaches, and the latter helped Branson’s elderly mother Eve down a staircase after a catastrophic fire in 2011 torched the main compound. Disaster struck again in 2017 when Hurricane Irma devastated the island.

Last fall, Kevin Costner was photographed clasping Jewel’s waist in the rebuilt Great House, sparking rumors of a made-in-Necker romance.

The island is partially powered by solar panels and wind turbines (above).
The island is partially powered by solar panels and wind turbines (above).
Culinary offerings include boatloads (literally) of sushi. Jonathan Cosh of Visual Eye
Culinary offerings include boatloads (literally) of sushi. Jonathan Cosh of Visual Eye

Located in the British Virgin Islands, the 74-acre tropical hideaway is the pinnacle of breezy luxury. For the majority of the year, it’s available only for whole-island buyouts, accommodating up to 48 adults and six children in 24 rooms for $140,000 per night. Visitors stay in the 12-guest-room Great House or one of 12 Balinese-style villas, each boasting a large terrace, panoramic sea view, and a shared freshwater pool. All are sumptuously appointed with relaxed chic furnishings, and the Bali Beach, Bali Hi and Bali Cliff houses have their own plunge pools.

During select periods, the resort is available for individual bookings, and visitors can rent one or more rooms. Stays are all-inclusive and include a 130-person staff tending to every need; electric buggies used to zip around the island; boat transfers; activities; meals; alcohol; and a party with a DJ. During a January visit, every lunch and dinner had a wow factor, from the sushi-filled kayak floating in the pool to the wood-fired pizzas made on-site at Turtle Beach and served on a long table.

Richard Branson (above) purchased the island in 1979 for $180,000. Getty Images
Richard Branson (above) purchased the island in 1979 for $180,000. Getty Images
The resort’s 24 rooms are split between the Great House (above) and Balinese-style villas. adam slama
The resort’s 24 rooms are split between the Great House (above) and Balinese-style villas. adam slama

The 73-year-old entrepreneur lives on the island with his wife, Joan, and is often spotted riding the waves or swatting balls. One recent morning, he took a 6:15 a.m. boat to nearby Virgin Gorda and cycled the steep hills. (He crashed on the descent in 2016, suffering a cracked cheek and torn ligaments.) Back on Necker, he kitesurfed, played tennis with the resident pro and hit the gym. “At my age, I’m lucky to be able to do this,” he tells Alexa. “I find you get the time back.”

The fun-loving tycoon has stocked the beach with all the latest water toys. Guided by certified instructors, guests can take out a Subwing (a towable winged device used for underwater acrobatics), an eFoil (an electric hydrofoil board that “flies” above water) or a Seabob (a hand-held diving scooter). Or they can snorkel the coral gardens (home to a dazzling array of tropical creatures), kitesurf, wakeboard, sail, stand-up paddleboard, kayak, and the list goes on. Scuba is outsourced to a local dive operation, which will organize wreck, reef and night excursions.

The private island’s charms include gorgeous beaches, swimming pools, high-tech water toys and roaming rare animals.
The private island’s charms include gorgeous beaches, swimming pools, high-tech water toys and roaming rare animals.

On dry land, visitors can enjoy al fresco yoga, tennis, pickleball, padel and indoor and outdoor gyms, or hit the Samudra Spa for signature treatments.

Guests can also hike the 3-mile perimeter of the island or interior trails. The spectacular vista is accented by three 60-foot wind turbines and some 1,230 solar panels, which generate energy stored on a battery system. The island is powered up to 90% of the time by renewables and a reverse osmosis plant turns seawater into usable water. Already sustainable, Branson’s mission is to make the property net zero by 2030.

An ardent wildlife conservationist, he is importing threatened species to the island. A colony of pink flamingos congregate at the salt pond with scarlet ibises, while giant tortoises named Brutus, Umpire and Westy mingle with the native iguanas and geckos. A conspiracy of lemurs scampers around, perching on guests’ shoulders for photos.

Like out of a fairytale, the naughty wet-nosed primates watch tennis matches, screeching with excitement during volleys. You could even say they hold court. Individual stays from $5,650/night.