"WE ARE EXTREMELY PRIVATE," warned carl henderson, the general manager of Frégate Island Private, a new resort in the Seychelles.In previous jobs, Hendersonhelped launch Bali's Amankila and managed the palace of the king of Jordan. "If a staff member tells you the name of anyone who's stayed here," he said sternly, "I'll be disappointed."
A day later, Henderson would have been chagrined to discover, a chatty masseuse dished about past guests during a facial and pedicure on the terrace of my clifftop villa overlooking the Indian Ocean. While smoothing on aromatherapeutic oils, she revealed that a guest had once flashed a helicopterful of arrivals. "Let's give 'em a show," the chic matron had shouted from the massage table as the chopper buzzed in.
Obviously the masseuse trusted me enough that when I casually asked whether she'd worked on any celebs, she giggled and answered with a sigh, "Bond... James Bond." She then gleefully told of Pierce Brosnan, who, after filming The World Is Not Enough, booked three of Frégate's $1,400-a-night villas for his extended family, and was able to hide from the paparazzi for weeks.
A coconut-palm-covered outcroppingoff the east coast of Africa devoted to one 16-villa resort, Frégate appeals to press-shy celebrities, corporate titans seeking solitude, and millionaires harboring Robinson Crusoe fantasies. The small number of rooms ensures that a visitor will share the 740-acre island with no more than 39 other sybarites.
PRIVATE ISLANDS ARE NOT A NEW CONCEPT. THEY'VE EXISTED IN THE MALDIVES SINCE THE SIXTIES, in the form of a few ramshackle cottages plunked down on a dollop of sand. In the United States, blue-blood lodges in the middle of lakes have been around as long as anyone can remember. But a luxury resort on an island with talcum beaches and clear blue water--think Grand Hotel on the Blue Lagoon--was the 1980 brainchild of American cable television entrepreneurturnedcastaway Richard Evanson. In fact, Evanson's home in Fiji was the setting for Brooke Shields's desert isle coming-of-age flick. After the film crew departed in 1980, Evanson opened his idyllic getaway to paying guests as Turtle Island, a private resort.
"It was that Fantasy Island dream," says Evanson, who presides over 14 thatched-roof bungalows. Twelve hundred dollars a night covers everything at Turtle Island: horseback riding, sunset sails, lobster-and-champagne lunches on deserted beaches. Similar developments soonpopped up across the Fijian archipelago, in the Caribbean, around Southeast Asia, off Africa, along the Great Barrier Reef--anywhere with year-round sun, fabulous beaches, and islands big enough to hold just one resort.
The king of this burgeoning business is Farhad Vladi, a Hamburg-based broker who has sold almost 700 islands in 28 years. Vladi got the Crusoe bug in college and became fixated on buying his own sandcastle. When he discovered he couldn't afford one, he instead helped find a buyer for a private island in the Seychelles. Using his $30,000 commission, Vladi started a business, dealing in everything from tiny pine-covered refuges in Canada (for as little as $40,000) to $2 million paradises in French Polynesia.
"The first so-called resort island I sold was extremely primitive," recalls Vladi, who also acts as a travel agent of sorts, booking rooms at private-island resorts worldwide. "Today you have places like Frégate where you don't walk on sand but on marble, and instead of coconut milk you drink fine French wine." These posh hideaways have proliferated in the past two or three years, Vladi says, because of technological advances likeE-mail and cell phones. "Busy people used to feel they couldn't afford to spend holidays away from civilization. Now a guest can be lying in a hammock under a coconut tree on a lonely island somewhere off Belize, and he's got faxes of the morning papers in Germany. It's a new world."