Where Did the Super-Rich Escape to During the Pandemic? Mustique, Of Course.
When they could get to the glamorous Caribbean island, Mustique’s very wealthy, very famous residents and visitors saw out the pandemic with champagne and caviar—in total privacy.
A lot of champagne and caviar still made it to Mustique during the pandemic. So did the legendary Caribbean island’s very rich and very famous residents and visitors, all seeking to enjoy the ultimate luxury Mustique offers: total privacy.
Tatiana Copeland, owner of Toucan Hill, a four-bedroom Moroccan-inspired palace which rents for $25,000-$40,000 a week depending on the time of year, told The Daily Beast that she was inundated with wealthy renters, all wishing to set up temporary home on the island—part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines—for as long as possible.
Mustique’s most famous high-living visitor, Princess Margaret, may have long departed this earth—but celebrities and the super-rich still descend on Mustique, and can even rent out her home, Les Jolie Eaux, from $28,000 to $47,500 per week. The royal flag is now flown by Prince William, Kate, and their children who most recently holidayed on Mustique in the summer of 2019, staying at Villa Antilles (weekly rental: $25,000 to $35,000).
There were reported sightings during the pandemic of well-known Mustique regulars like Daniel Craig, Mick Jagger, and Tommy Hilfiger. Kelly Ripa documented her pandemic stay there on Instagram. Before coronavirus took its global hold, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his partner-now-wife Carrie Symonds spent New Year in 2019 on the island, in a trip whose funding became the subject of a just-completed parliamentary inquiry. (In before times, Mustique’s New Year’s celebrations famously lasted all night, and will likely return to that once again when safety allows.)
“During the pandemic there were a lot of planes flying in with some pretty special cargo—oysters or what not,” said Copeland, whose husband, Gerret Copeland, is the son of Lammot du Pont Copeland, the 11th president of the DuPont Company. “The pandemic didn’t stop that. That continued happening. I know for a fact that included champagne and caviar coming in from Martinique, and you can get wonderful shipments from Miami of anything you want. It might have even become even more important to treat yourself. You’re a little bit cut off from people, so if you want to pamper yourself why not go all in?”
“A lot of famous, rich, and powerful people came over and quarantined,” added Copeland. “The super-rich got there very quietly and stayed for weeks on end and felt very safe. Mustique is very private anyway, and became even more private during the pandemic. And the people who run the island were very careful about it. Suppose you are rich or famous, and wanting to get away from what is happening in the U.S. or England. You arrive in Mustique, and you want to make sure the people around you are being very careful. The people that run the island were very strict in their protocols and safety measures. They were brilliant.”
The island’s COVID response was overseen by its doctor, Dr. Michael Bunbury. Mandatory COVID tests were introduced, and are still undertaken, at Mustique’s airport for all arrivals. “If your test comes back positive, then you will need to go into quarantine and you will be treated by Dr Bunbury,” Mustique’s website reads.
The island, visitors are told, has “dedicated accommodation for quarantine and self-isolation; an additional nurse from St. Vincent provided by the Ministry of Health; a Bosch PCR Covid testing machine (‘98% accuracy’) within 2 and a half hours; health-testing chemicals with cartridges to detect COVID and other viruses infections; and COVID antibody testing kits.”
All aspects of island life are overseen by the Mustique Company, founded in 1968 by Margaret’s good friend, Colin Tennant, the 3rd Lord Glenconner, who bought the 1400-acre wilderness of Mustique in 1958 for £45,000 ($120,000). The company runs Mustique as Tennant did—as a fiefdom of soigné glamor, whose rules, social mores, and ways of life are rigorously patrolled and enforced to keep its rich residents happy, Mustique’s coffers full, and outsiders out. The company is not only protective of the privacy of Mustique’s residents and famous visitors (like the Beckhams, Bill Gates, Tom Ford, Bryan Adams, and, before his death, David Bowie), but also its image.
The Mustique Company and its managing director Roger Pritchard would not respond to any questions sent by The Daily Beast about life on Mustique during and after the pandemic, fearing that it might give the image that its very wealthy population—residents and visitors—were having too good a time while the rest of the (less-moneyed, less-privileged) world was suffering.
The company controls everything on Mustique, including who visits this rugged island that is 3 miles long and 1 mile wide. Rare to non-existent these days is the paparazzo that manages to wash ashore on one of its bucolic beaches. Harsh lessons—such as pictures of Margaret in Mustique with then-paramour, landscape gardener Roddy Llewellyn, splashed all over the tabloids in 1976—have been learned.
According to those who live on Mustique, the island was effectively shut down between April and July 2020; the temporary closure of international borders and air travel providing a temporary obstacle to the very rich seeking escape. With flights to the island back up and running, Mustique told arriving or departing visitors that they would “be required to wear medical grade masks (these masks will not be provided). Once on island, masks are not required.”
Some of the island’s more than 100 homeowners, unlike Copeland, came and stayed on the island themselves—sunning themselves, swimming and picnicking at its popular beaches: Macaroni, Gelliceaux, and Lagoon Bay.
Travelers to the island are given a detailed breakdown of what is required health-wise, traveling to and from Mustique via St. Lucia, Barbados, and St. Vincent. As the Mustique Company’s website says, the island has its own fleet of 18-seater Twin Otter aircraft that run daily from St Lucia International airport. Flights can also be arranged, on request, from Barbados. A few people come by yacht but mostly to visit people already renting on the island, said Copeland.
Copeland told The Daily Beast: “I think what shocked me more than anything was how busy the island was. I had the most rentals in my history of owning Toucan Hill. I was expecting the opposite. What happened was people stayed for longer on the island. I had people staying for a month or two. It was unbelievable, extraordinarily busy, and not what I was expecting.
“I think people found Mustique to be very safe. There were very few COVID cases. The island took a lot of precautions. On arrival you had to be screened, then have a week of quarantine, after which you were free to socialize. The island had very quick tests, quicker than what I had at home in the U.S.”
The Mustique Company and Dr. Bunbury did not return requests for comment or clarification, but Mustique’s website said it required anyone coming to the island “to have a negative PCR test certificate and the result must be sent to the Company for pre-arrival approval to land. Please note that all guests must spend a minimum of 5 nights on Mustique before traveling again nationally or internationally. On the island, you will need to be tested on arrival.”
“If any member of your party displays symptoms, please contact the clinic to arrange testing,” Mustique asks of its visitors. “In the event of a suspected case, anyone with Covid symptoms will be under the medical care of the island doctor who will supervise your care and instruct the appropriate self-isolation for you and other guests with whom you have been in close proximity. Your departure from the island may as a consequence be delayed due to quarantine restrictions. In extreme cases, plans are in place for guests can be medevaced to a hospital in Barbados or Martinique as needed.”
The restrictions did not totally extinguish Mustique’s visitors’ penchant for partying. “People did socialize,” said Copeland. “A lot of people saw it as a safe haven for them and their families. Can you think of a more perfect place? These are people who have a lot of telecommunications and can basically work from anywhere. These are businesspeople of some wealth generally able to work more and more distantly.
“The longest rental I had was for about three months. Normally people stay for two weeks. That was the big change. That went from two weeks to three months. They didn’t want to go home. People were coming from New York and England, places that were badly hit by COVID. They felt a lot safer on Mustique.”
The staff, many from St. Vincent, who look after the mega-rich’s homes (and their guests), mostly stayed on the island during the pandemic, said Copeland—apart from occasional, or emergency, visits home. She had heard “a couple of staff” had become infected, and “I’m sure it was handled discreetly if any guests were found to be the same, and encouraged nicely to go back home.”
“I have to take my hat off to the people who run the island,” Copeland said. “They bent over backwards to be careful, they really did, and they had a wonderful doctor who could monitor it.” (Dr. Bunbury and the Mustique Company did not return requests for comment on any aspect of the island’s COVID response.)
As well as celebrities, the very rich from England, America, Russia, and Asia came to stay, said Basil Charles, former owner of the legendary Basil’s Bar (now owned by the Mustique Company).
Although the island had very strict rules and regulations, “human beings being what they are, I’m sure they said, ‘We’re outside, it’s the beach whatever,’ that they stayed in their own group and did their thing,” Copeland told The Daily Beast.
“The rest was up to you, and your own conscience. People knew they had been tested, and they knew the house next door had been tested, so people did mingle socially. I heard people had a good time, and you can read from that what you will, but I would read from it that people were having a very good time. People were secluded in their own homes, without feeling housebound, with staff in homes that were nicely run.”
“It was quite strange and good all in one. You didn’t have the level of fear the rest of the world had.”
Mustique, as its website puts it, is “steeped in history and surrounded by intrigue.” Its transformation into a unique super-rich destination began apace in 1968 with the formation of the Mustique Company, when plots of land “were quickly bought by an eclectic group of socialites, rock stars and private individuals who flocked to the island from far and wide to create their fantasy dream houses and to be part of something unique,” as the island’s website puts it. Tennant was determined “to develop a private island hideaway for the rich and famous,” and the Mustique Company remains resolutely aligned with that same intention today.
Charles, who has lived on Mustique for over 50 years—including the entirety of the pandemic—told The Daily Beast that when the island was fully closed down for around two months (before airports reopened and people could fly in), the residents and renters who stayed became “quite accustomed to each other. One couple came from Colorado came for ten days, and left five months later. People came and stayed a long time generally. It was kind of good because it was so peaceful. It was great. There were no boats in the bay. You could swim in it.
“It was quite strange and good all in one. You didn’t have the level of fear the rest of the world had. You knew who was there, and nobody was allowed to just come. People who came here were tested, and so everybody knew people were OK. A positive test in a house would close that house down into quarantine. There was no hard partying. It was not encouraged. People had dinner parties, and played a lot of tennis. People were good at keeping to all the rules and regulations. They wanted to be safe, and make sure everyone else was safe. The reason people came here was because they didn’t want to be around other people. It felt very safe for me, and still feels very safe now.”
That echoed what Pritchard had told this reporter for a Town and Country article in 2019 focused on Princess Margaret’s longtime love affair with Mustique, the island had changed since hers (and Tennant’s) more colorful, hedonistic era. “It’s more family-friendly. When Princess Margaret came, she partied hard. Modern celebrities and royals come not to get away and party, but to have a good time. It’s family entertainment they want more than hedonistic entertainment.”
In pre-pandemic times renters would stay for a week, said Copeland, but during the pandemic they were asked to quarantine for a week, so a weekly rental “would have decimated anyone’s interest. That had a major impact on the people—and they are a lot of people—who would usually stay for a week or 10 days.”
Toucan Hill was so popular, Copeland had to “reluctantly” let people down about not being able to stay longer than they wished—because her next guests were ready to move in. “Several people told me they wanted to stay another month or two. I made a few people unhappy. But they house-hopped, and found another place to stay on the island. It sounds incredible, and obviously you have to have a certain amount of money to do that. But that’s what they did.”
With Basil’s and the Beach Café bars closed for a period of time last year, people were isolated within their own homes with staff on hand. (Those venues, as well as the Firefly bar, have since reopened, as have the island’s spa, gym, tennis, horse-riding and diving activities.) When there were no international flights. Copeland talked to friends in England who wanted to come to Mustique but couldn’t.
“I see Mustique as a place where I go to be very social, so with these places closed that would be difficult,” said Copeland. “But I think what happened was that each house became a gathering place. If you wanted to invite friends over, you entertained them in your house. And you could entertain well, if you knew your status and their status, because the testing was so good. A lot of houses were seeing each other very frequently.”
“You might have expected party animals,” said Copeland, “but mostly the people who stayed on Mustique were families with children who worked like crazy all day on their computers and were more than happy to relax at night. I heard of a few parties, but not—shall we say—of the kind that usually happen during Mustique’s busy social calendar. It seems like people found paradise, sighed a big ‘Aahh,’ and relaxed. I think people were somewhat concerned too that if they went out too much they might meet somebody was infected. There was a certain degree of caution there, more so than in normal times.”
Emilie Polastron, the general manager of Mustique’s luxury 17-room Cotton House Hotel, told The Daily Beast: “We are getting back to normal now. But I don’t want to jinx anything by saying that! The hotel is getting busier. The island was basically shut from April to July last year.
“I stayed on the island the whole time. The island didn’t feel busy during that time. A group of people decided to stay, and others left. After last July, things began to open again, especially as commercial flights started up. The island had brilliant safety protocols. People were tested when they arrived, they had to quarantine. Because this is an island, it is known exactly who is here. It feels very safe. Right now, everything is pretty much back to normal. The villas are fully booked, the hotel is pretty well booked.”
The Cotton House, designed in 1968 by Oliver Messel, traditionally hosts the Mustique Company’s gathering of extremely glamorous island guests on Tuesday evenings in its famous Great Room.
“That is not back to normal,” said Polastron. “That mostly takes place inside, so we’ve had to be more careful about having them. It depends on who’s quarantined, and who’s around. We are arranging cocktails around the arrivals of people. But we hope to get back to normal with the Tuesday evening events as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Basil’s reopened at the end of May 2020, although its famous Wednesday and Sunday music nights—the Jump Up and Sunset Session—have yet to resume. Charles has been to St. Vincent, but nowhere else for nearly 18 months, “weird” for someone so well traveled. Meanwhile, Mustique has remained “quite quiet” until now; Charles and other residents expect it to get busy, and feel more “normal,” from this week onwards.
The money Copeland made from rentals at Toucan Hill has been recycled back into the house for improvements and repairs. Mustique didn’t “go in the direction of the Hamptons,” she said, meaning she didn’t charge more money for rent. Indeed, the renters wanting to stay longer than normal negotiated lower-than-normal weekly rent fees, but Toucan Hill was so much more occupied than usual, she made more money than in a typical year.
While Toucan Hill was at its most busy, some houses “took a big hit,” said Copeland. Toucan Hill is typically busy from December to April, said Copeland. Then comes a lull. Then things pick up again from mid-July into the main stretch of the summer. October and November visitors are infrequent, said Copeland, because people don’t think it’s a good time to come to the Caribbean, “but it’s absolutely perfect. In fact it’s absolutely one of my favorite times to come down there.”
Copeland herself has quarantined at her home in Delaware since the beginning of the pandemic (with 15 acres and a pool). As well as managing Toucan Hill, she “has never been busier,” having also bought sight-unseen—“something I would never have done before!”—an olive grove with 3,000 trees in Napa, California. She will visit it for the first time next month. Copeland will return to Mustique for the first time in nearly two years in October. “Right now, people who are my repeat guests are all coming back, staying for one month,” Copeland said. “They are staying slightly longer than usual. That trend has continued.”
What would Princess Margaret have made of Mustique during the pandemic, this reporter asked Basil Charles. He laughed hard. “I don’t know. I think it’s hard to say,” he said, ever the discreet diplomat and holder of the super-rich’s many secrets.
He still lives on the island, loves it, and owns its wine shop. “I have a simple house, and I have been living like I have been living for the last 50 years,” Charles said. For 40 years running the bar, he watched the wealthy and famous at uproarious play. “Having those people come to my place—it’s been great. It’s good for my business and it is still good for business!” Charles chuckled softly. “You know, Mustique is a great place to live if you don’t have to be as rich as everyone else to live here—which I don’t.”