BASIL CHARLES: The penniless barman who became a royal confidante

(  He was the legendary proprietor of Basil’s Bar, where for years celebrities and royalty have partied out of sight of the paparazzi on the exclusive island of Mustique. Here, for the first time, Basil Charles — now 70 — tells his story…

When I first met Princess Margaret on Mustique, back in the early Seventies, her marriage to Lord Snowdon was all but over. They were leading separate lives, but putting up a pretence that didn’t fool anyone.

She never spoke to me about their relationship, but she didn’t need to. Everyone knew what was going on. It was as if she took refuge on the island, surrounded by an intimate circle of friends she could trust.

She always struck me as relaxed and joyful. Far away from the interference of Buckingham Palace, Mustique was the one place she could truly be herself, and she spent some of her happiest days there.

In the Cotton House Hotel we would gather around her in a protective sort of way. If someone came in with whom she was not familiar and who might be tempted to introduce himself or even ask her to dance, one of us would escort her to the floor and dance with her ourselves. She was a beautiful dancer who moved with grace and elegance.

t was always hard for Princess Margaret. She was her father’s favourite and yet always had to play second fiddle to her older sister. She was expected to live a perfect existence and never let the side down.

In Mustique, she was treated with respect but without the stuffy social strictures she faced back home. She used to get up quite late and then loved to picnic on the beach, which I would organise.

There was no television and so she would do jigsaw puzzles, play the piano or read, swapping books with her guests. She knew everything that was happening in Mustique, and she was always the centre of attention, although so many other super-rich and famous people would be arriving daily on small planes, or in their luxurious yachts. It gave Mustique a mystique unlike anywhere else.

Over the years, I have found myself mixing with everyone from Mick Jagger and David Bowie to Lord Lichfield (the photographer) and three generations of royals. It is a world so different to that which I had grown up in — in a house that didn’t even have running water.

I was just 24 and working behind the bar at the Cotton House Hotel when I met Colin Tennant, the future Lord Glenconner, in 1971.

He’d bought the Caribbean island — part of the island chain of St Vincent and the Grenadines, reached via nearby Barbados or Saint Lucia — in 1958 for £45,000. We became great friends, this Old Etonian and me, and used to have breakfast, lunch and dinner together at the hotel. It was sometimes a volatile relationship. He had a famously explosive temper and there were times when I stood up to him — with violent results.

Once, I was serving a guest at the beach bar, where I also worked for him. A rustic shack overlooking the small sandy beach that is Britannia Bay — named after the Queen’s visit in the Royal Yacht in 1966 — it would soon become known as Basil’s Bar, when I took it over.

It was just before Colin’s 50th birthday celebrations. He came in and asked for a drink and I told him he would have to wait. Colin was so angry that he threw a glass of water over me — so I threw one back at him and then jumped over the bar and punched him.

Virginia Royston and barman Basil, who were together from 1975 until 1982 after meeting in Mustique

We didn’t talk to each other for a couple of days, despite Princess Margaret trying to intervene.

Eventually, Colin asked me to come to his office, where he greeted me with an outstretched hand and said: ‘I don’t want to talk about the past. Let’s forget what happened.

‘I want you to help me with the bar and with my birthday party.’

Our backgrounds could not have been more different. I was from a poor family on St Vincent and my mother died when I was nine. I quit school at 14 to support my grandmother who brought me up.

My parents were never married and my father, who was a fisherman, played little part in my childhood.

Colin and Princess Margaret had an amazing relationship. She respected him and he respected her — he would do anything to make her happy.

When she got engaged to society photographer Tony Armstrong-Jones (who later became Lord Snowdon) in 1960, Colin asked her if she would like ‘something in a small box from Aspreys, or a piece of Mustique’ as a wedding present.

She chose the land and even made a detour to inspect it during her honeymoon on the Royal Yacht Britannia. That was the only time Snowdon, who died last month, ever set foot in ‘Mustake’ as he called it.

I never met him, but I knew he always resented the wedding present because he saw it as a gift to the Princess rather than to them both. He frequently referred to Colin as ‘that s***’.

Colin gave the Princess 12 acres on the south-west coast with spectacular views, just above Gelliceaux Bay where she later built Les Jolies Eaux (‘Beautiful Waters’), the only home she ever owned, and which meant more to her than a hundred palaces.

He used to get very anxious before the Princess visited. Colin wanted it to be perfect, so to calm himself he used to sip vodka throughout the day. By the evening he had drunk quite a lot.

I think in a different life Princess Margaret would have been a great actress. She loved to sing and dance and let her hair down — and when she was in the mood she could talk about anything. Where she loved to talk the most was in the sea. She would swim for hours, a slow breast stroke, chatting to whoever was around at the time.

There was never anything sexual or even flirtatious between Princess Margaret and me. We were friends and I made her laugh.

Somehow, I became part of her circle. There is a famous photograph that Patrick Lichfield took of us all at Gelliceaux Bay in 1972.

After a picnic one day we grouped ourselves around her under various parasols; she was seated in the middle wearing a bathing dress and looking happy. She was happy.

Patrick told me shortly before he died that this one photograph made him more money than any other he had taken in his whole career.

It was two years later, in March 1974, that we heard for the first time that a certain Roddy Llewellyn had been invited to stay at Les Jolies Eaux.

Roddy was 26, 17 years Princess Margaret’s junior. He was a cute-looking boy, but I never saw the relationship as long-term. He was part of the escape for her.

The Princess first met Roddy after he was recommended as a suitable ‘spare man’ for a weekend house party at Glen, Colin and his wife Anne’s estate near Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders.

Anne, who had never met Roddy before, issued an invitation. She told him that his flight north would be taken care of and that he should report to the Cafe Royal, just off Edinburgh’s Princes Street, at 1pm sharp, where Margaret and her children would be having lunch after coming south from Balmoral.

Colin always said the attraction between Margaret and Roddy was immediate, that she ‘devoured’ him at the lunch. In return, Roddy told Anne that he thought Margaret had the most beautiful eyes.

‘Tell her,’ Anne advised. And he did, later that weekend at Glen, where they played the piano together, lit each other’s cigarettes and made love for the first time.

sland life: Princess Margaret at Lord Glenconner’s 50th. Basil said she was treated with respect but without stuffy social structures in Mustique

It was only on Mustique that Margaret and Roddy could truly relax away from the Press. But, ironically, it was here in what became my bar that a grainy picture of them in their bathing costumes was taken in March 1976.

There were others there, but they were cropped out, providing the first intimate photo of the couple. It appeared in the News Of The World, igniting the scandal of the Queen’s sister and her much younger lover.

It was the final straw for the Princess’s marriage.

Margaret and Roddy never flaunted their relationship; they were discreet. I remember watching them, hand in hand on the beach, as if they were the only people in the world.

Later that year, Princess Margaret returned to the island for Colin’s 50th birthday on December 1.

Colin was a showman who believed that if you are giving a party you have to enjoy it the most, or no one else will. But I was the one who organised them.

His birthday celebrations lasted almost a week, culminating in a gold-themed extravaganza on the white sands of Macaroni Beach, where young locals formed a guard of honour wearing gold-painted codpieces made from coconut shells, their bodies glistening with oil for dramatic effect.

The trees and grass were sprayed gold and guests walked through arches of gold palms.

Flaming torches lined the route to the beach, which itself was flooded in light with the help of a generator.

Mick and Bianca Jagger, who in those days used to rent a house on the island, both wore gold and added an extra element of glamour. But it was Princess Margaret who, as guest of honour, stole the show in a gold-sequined turban and kaftan, with her skin darkened.

She looked out of this world — but then she always did.

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