It’s the 50th “birthday” of Mustique, the discreet island resort

Basil's, Mustique's iconic wooden bar, is still packed with happy partygoers Photo Telegraph

“McRee, McCree, you’ll have us all drowned!” Mrs Maingot screamed at the captain of the Transport every time a wave hit the side of the boat. It was March 1958 and Colin Tennant, later the third Baron Glenconner, was on his way to Mustique in a local schooner with a view to buying the island.

The Transport sailed around Mustique as close as McRee dared, while Tennant scanned its seven hills and seven white beaches through an old pair of binoculars. It was on the way back to neighbouring St Vincent that he decided he would indeed buy Mustique and buy it, he did, for a little short of £45,000.

Tennant returned a month later to view his purchase. He set sail from St Vincent full of trepidation as to what he had bought and landed at Walkers Bay with provisions for a week. He then made his way to the Great House, where two sides of a sheep were hanging on the veranda for his lunch.
In the afternoon he was shown around his island with mounting gloom. The whole place was very run down and a history of sharecropping had left the locals disaffected. The roads were terrible, the fencing and stockades had long since perished, and only around 11 of a total 1,385 acres were under cultivation.
Worse were the fierce, feral cattle that roamed the island at night, damaging what little crops and pasture there were. Tennant wondered whether he had made the most terrible mistake and his plans of turning this barren, mosquito-ridden island into a fashionable resort were a far off and expensive dream.
The odds were certainly against him. It was a long and expensive journey to get there, with only a weekly BOAC flight to Barbados, no airport in St Vincent (hence the seaplane) and thence a local schooner. Add to that, catchment was the only source of water and, of course, there was no electricity.
When Tennant’s wife, Anne, first visited the island later in the year she told him he was mad, and he would never make a go of any development. He famously replied: “You mark my words, I will make Mustique succeed and become a household name.”

And so he did. The first decade was spent putting the heart back into the land and the people. When the Great House burned down, he built another which was used for family holidays (during the oil crisis it was cheaper to go to Mustique than heat Glen, his estate in the Scottish Borders) and to entertain friends. When the time was right, in 1969, Colin formed the Mustique Company with two others and announced to the world that he was open to business.

His wedding present to Princess Margaret, first of a promontory on the south of Mustique, then a house, brought Mustique to the notice of the world – when she first inspected her new patch of land, the princess moved Colin’s boundary stakes when he wasn’t looking; he then moved them to their original positions. Back and forth they went until a compromise was reached.

In the pioneer years of the early Seventies, it was all very primitive and certainly belied its glamorous image. But raucous Mustique parties were legion.

Tennant left in the late-Eighties, having wearied of the island – he complained that those on Mustique no longer knew how to enjoy themselves – and today it is a very different animal. Everything is very efficient and is run by a committee made up of house owners.

Gone are the days when guests were excluded just because Tennant didn’t like them; he once ostracised some Northerners who complained about the “crocodiles” (harmless geckos) running over the walls. But though many visitors today have never heard of Colin Tennant, without him, it’s certain that Mustique would never have happened, or developed, in the way it did.
By Nicholas Courtney

1 Comment

  1. We are not getting our fair share from this Mustique arrangement. Our political, legal and financial arrangement with MUSTIQUE needs to be revisited and renegotiated. In my view, there are a great deal of unanswered questions surrounding Mustique.
    I am of the view that Mustique is Vincentians REAL PROPERTY.
    Ricardo Francis, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in Waiting and in the Making

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