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Peak performance

Published 24 December 1995
Style Magazine
129th article



Happy in Soufriere: Vanessa Perry and Lord Glenconner at Bang Between the Pitons in St Lucia (Amold Crust)

When Colin Tennant (aka Lord Gelnconner) arrived on mosquito-filled Mustique, a Caribbean island, in 1958, he bought it. Thus it became the millionaire suburb in the sun that it still is. Glitterati flocked, from Princess Margaret to Mick Jagger. Colin was lord of all he surveyed, with a Taj Mahal-type palace for a home. But those who basked in the sun, thanks to his initiative, turned against him when they saw a chance to seize the throne. In 1977 there was a palace coup and Colin Tennant found himself no longer the owner of his paradise, an outcast, rightly bitter. The story is too complex for this delicate page, but fate was to play another hand.

A lawyer asked to Colin's lavish 60th birthday celebrations on the nearby island of St Lucia told another lawyer friend about Colin, and his lordship ended up with the Iranian Prince Pascal Mahvi, who was seeking investments. Colin presented him with the idea of a grand hotel between the towering Pitons of St Lucia, two richly vegetated mountains that rise above my favourite town, the currently unspoiled (but not for long) Soufriere, where I filmed with Sophia Loren and others in 1978. Thus the Jalousie Plantation Resort and Spa came to be. It's a hotel I like, dramatically set and beautiful to see. Colin fronted it for a while, then some friction sadly developed. So now he runs a small enclave at the side of the hotel, right on the sea, called Bang Between the Pitons, on land that he owns.

Bang Between the Pitons is one of my favourite places in the world. Some lovely old pink, white and blue Caribbean wooden houses have been lovingly transported and re-erected. There is a shop, a bar, a restaurant, a bandstand and various well-formed but small premises bordered by tropical almond trees and the Caribbean sea. I take a private plane from Barbados, where I am as you read this, almost every year to visit Colin and St Lucia. It is something to look forward to during the grey days of an English winter.

Colin serves the food himself, greets the customers, and generally fusses about with well deserved pride, dressed in his flowing white robe and straw hat. There are incredible acera fish cakes, spicy chicken wings, christophene gratinee (historic), jerk food - that is, with hot spices - and a five-piece band playing In the Mood on a stage in front of a flowered cotton curtain. And then there are coconut cream pies and banana eclairs. All served in the hot sun in little booths covered with canvas, literally inches from the water.

Thus, in his 70th year, his lordship comes up to me and says of a rather suburban group: "You see, I'm a hustler. I sold three Mars bar and tuna sandwiches, three banana flambes, and two coconut cream pies. If a waitress had gone, they'd have said, 'We'll have coffee.' " Is this a comedown? I think not. It's manageable, it's his and there are no over-chic nasties to take it away. On top of that, he owns the rainforest all around and will one day, sadly I think, develop it for housing. He lives in a lovely wooden house on the sea near his little enclave.

It is a far cry from when I visited Mustique a few years ago and Colin, who was staying with Paul Channon, had me reside in his Indian palace there. It had been sold to Sergei Kausov, the Russian ex-husband of the late Christina Onassis, but Colin said: "He's not there, so you can squat for a couple of nights. If anyone asks you where you're staying, don't tell them." This is rather difficult on Mustique, which only has one tiny hotel, the Cotton Club, and is otherwise filled with mansions of gossipy rich.

Colin was paying a rare return visit to his former kingdom and, as he hosted a beach party, the likes of Jerry Hall and David Bowie wandered up and asked me where I was staying. "At Colin Tennant's old house," I eventually blurted out. Nobody cared. The Caribbean is the last outpost of much-undeveloped land. In Barbados they don't allow you to build above the tree line on large stretches of the coast. So, as I swim out to the raft, bobbing in the blue waters by the Sandy Lane hotel, I can look back at what could be virgin land. A desert island of old, A magical place. Hidden behind trees are houses and hotels. A pity. But then if they weren't there, where would I stay?



Letters

Being unable to get into my usual New York hotel at short notice recently, I managed to book a room at the Pierre. Instead of using Mr Winner's old-customer gambit, I made clear I had never stayed there before. On arrival I was upgraded to a suite and could not have had better service and friendlier attention from the front desk through to everything else, and in a bit of an old-world atmosphere, too.
A D Shead, Romsey, Hants

Mr Winner has long entertained us with his marvellous descriptions of meals in normally "posh" places. It was equally delightful of him to go back after more than 30 years to a sandwich bar near Olympia (November 26). It reminded me of my early childhood, pre-war, in Paris, where my father often took me and my siblings to "taxi" restaurants, usually near railway stations. He believed children should learn about good food from an early age and in as many different establishments as possible, while behaving impeccably in all of them! In complete contrast, we often spent Christmas at the Villars Palace in Switzerland (now a holiday complex, I believe), where wonderful concoctions met our eyes on December 25. I remember on one occasion the line of waiters coming out of the kitchen, each carrying a platter with a chocolate church that was lit up inside by candles. Yet it was the "taxi" restaurants back in Paris that bring back the cosiest memories! Mr Winner is right to expect the best when he's at a top eaterie with prices to match, but thank goodness he's not above finding the smaller restaurants offering good food and giving them a pat on the back.
Daisy Cain, London W6

I am writing to let readers know about a fabulous restaurant that I visited recently, the Mezzanine, in King Street, Hammersmith, west London. It is fairly new, and certainly deserves to succeed. We had three courses and wine for less than £50 for two, and it was of a standard that I would compare with any top London restaurant. The Mediterranean-style food is delicious; the service is unhurried and charming.
Joy Goodwin, London W14