Published 14 February 1999 Style Magazine 292nd article
He's all cart: Michael Winner at Parrot Cay with Michel Neutelings, the general manager, and the chef Franck Aubert
It was like something out of a Fellini movie. There were these luxury beach huts facing white sand and the most turquoise blue sea you could imagine. Then staff erected a series of open-sided tents. placed long tables in them, and more servants filed down from the hotel carrying food on silver trays. Ensconced in this little area, which common folk like me could only gaze at from the wooden walkway that led to the beach, was Donatella Versace, her daughter, bodyguards in assorted colours, and selected friends, relatives and who knows what.
Thus was the scene at Parrot Cay in the Turks & Caicos Islands, where the sun beat down from a blue sky onto the recently planted palm trees and other flora, as Robert Earl, of Planet Hollywood fame, struggled to perfect his hotel in time for my arrival. Possibly he also took into account the other guests, none of whom Signora Versace deigned to move among. She stayed in her manor, we crawled over the hotel. Although Vanessa nearly got to see her close-up in the gym, stopped only by a large, black bodyguard, who said: "Why are you carrying a camera?"
I had to be content with the sighting of a blonde lady accompanied by burly minders, walking in the distance from sea to hut-suites. Still, there was the very jolly and excellent New York playwright Wendy Wasserstein, currently working on the screenplay of the musical Chicago, and a beautiful American blonde, Amber Valletta, whom I was assured was the most famous model in the world. I'd never heard of her, but the last model I knew anything about was Jean Shrimpton. So call me stupid, I don't care.
In this part of the Caribbean, Cay means island, and Parrot was changed from Pirate, possibly to stop guests at this highly posh resort thinking they were heading for Disneyland. It's an elegant place, set on a 1,000-acre private island some 20 minutes by pleasing boat ride from the main island of Providenciales, which you get to from England via Miami. The 56-room hotel is co-owned with Earl by Christina and V S Ong, who also have the superb Metropolitan and Halkin hotels in London.
We arrived to be picked up by golf buggies at the small pier, taken to an excellent colonial-style suite with a large balcony, and thence poolside, with the sand and sea only a few yards away.
I'd like to tell you what I had for lunch, but as I started dictating into my tape recorder, which has taken over all natural functions of memory, Mr Earl snapped (very unlike him, he's usually super-cheerful): "We're not going to have to listen to you talking into that at every meal, are we?" Never one to offend, I turned it off and it never saw the sunlight again, poor thing. I did manage to sneak a few handwritten notes when Robert wasn't looking. They recall the food was very good. In particular, a strawberry sorbet that was majorly historic, some lovely Thai beef curry, a delicious papillote of lobster tail with spiced balsamic rice, and a memorable supreme of duckling with poached pear in spiced red wine and honey.
As the place was new, I was given a mercifully short document from Alison Marshall Public Relations of New York, whomever she may be. It provided me with the names of the French chef, Franck Aubert, who got a Michelin star in St Maxime, and the general manager, Michel Neutelings. I was very impressed with him. He pitched in and did things. He'd been at the K Club in Barbuda, much visited by Princess Di. My press release told me: "His interests include scuba diving, boating and reading." That's rather like listening to Miss World contestants telling you they want to help the poor. I've always wanted to read a press release saying someone terribly significant is "interested in picking his nose, ironmongery and farting". But then I'm extremely childish and I don't suppose I ever will.
I can definitely recommend Parrot Cay. The plan is to build many houses on what is now virgin land, so get there before all that. There's a nearby place you go to by boat called Iguana Island, which has 4,000 iguanas on it, and that's all. It's fascinating, just like a midget version of Jurassic Park. My only problem at Parrot Cay was when I walked into the lovely, warm sea. And walked. And walked. About quarter of a mile later the water was still only up to my waist. Vanessa was able to swim under those conditions. But my athletic skills are not yet that well developed. Nor will they ever be.
I recently invited two business colleagues to lunch at Novelli in Notting Hill, west London. The meal was excellent and in pleasant surroundings. But it was spoilt somewhat when three apparently well-educated young ladies sat at the table next to us with their babies in tow, and within five minutes of sitting down proceeded to breast-feed them. I think it's time for a new sign to make its appearance in restaurants: "No breast-feeding at the table."
Seamus Donnelly, London SW4
Seeing Michael Winner's recent "topless" photo in News Review (January 17) filled me with envy. His breasts are much bigger than mine. Do you think that if I ate as much as him, they might expand?
Margaret Atkinson, Bradford
Up from the country for my daughter's birthday, we booked at the Ivy for a celebratory lunch. The food was delicious, the ambience buzzing, the waiters funny and attentive. However, the occasion was marred by the behaviour of Michael Winner. He sat in the corner of an unobtrusive banquette, chatting quietly with Vanessa. After his meal, he rose and, with a few cheery words to some waiters, slipped out. What a disappointment! What happened to all the table moving, the napkin waving and the rolling head of the luckless chef? Winner's lack of theatrics ruined what was otherwise a perfectly enjoyable experience.
Wendy Verrinder, Bradford-upon-Avon