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Hitching a lift to the zillionaires' playground

Our columnist has been to heaven - it’s called Canouan. The island is lush and features rolling hills, peaks and the bluest sea he has ever seen

Published 20 February 2011
News Review
918th article



Michael and Geraldine sample the delights of the Canouan Resort (Jennifer Wulke)

I've been to heaven. It's called Canouan. I didn't even have to die to make the journey. My friend Dermot Desmond had a spare plane going to the Grenadines (doesn't everyone?) and said Geraldine and I could grab a lift. To keep the pilot company, I suppose.

As I am due in Los Angeles for my American Cinematheque tribute in March, I suggested Mr D might like to drop me off there afterwards. A return email commented that my suggestion was "a bit Irish". A nice way of saying, "You're a liberty-taking old git, Winner. Forget it."

Thus we landed at Canouan's tiny airport - two thatched doors for arrivals and departures - waited because the one person on immigration was dealing with a departure and then drove through what the Caribbean used to be. Little shacks, a village with personality - not overbuilt with apartment blocks, Little Chef restaurants, traffic-jammed highways, porticoed nouveau riche residences that make Dallas look classy.

We arrived at the Canouan Resort, a hotel that Mr D is demolishing. He also pulled down Sandy Lane in Barbados to put up something better. If What's My Line? were still on television, Dermot could appear as a "hotel knocker-down". Katie Boyle would be flabbergasted.

To replace the Canouan Resort - very lovely and visited by Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Craig and Keira Knightley - Dermot will build four boutique hotels of stunning quality. The first, he assured me, would open by the end of 2012.

He was vastly over-optimistic about the readiness of Sandy Lane but this time I think it'll happen because Dermot is partnered by an Italian construction and design group. Its chief executive, Achille Pastor-Ris - a highly professional, tough boss - is on site. He's abetted by Elena Korach, a beautiful Italian architect whose work on the island is highly impressive.

Achille looks like an overweight tennis player - white clothing, sweater nonchalantly on his shoulders with the arms tied loosely round his neck. It was he who opened the resort, then managed by the Raffles group. He witnessed that group leave and sought a hotelier to run the show.

"I'm the one that trapped Dermot Desmond," he proudly announced, as if he'd captured the world's rarest elephant. The first new hotel looked, from plans and a model, absolutely fantastic. Elegant colonial design, 28 large suites, the beach immediately outside, two penthouses. They'll knock down 60 villas and replace them with 22. Redevelopment in reverse.

The island is lush - rolling hills, peaks, bluest sea I've ever seen, marvellous sandy beaches and a fantastic golf course, which will be owned by Donald Trump for a few more weeks and will then be improved. There will be new marinas, thankfully not for cruise ships, so 3,000 tourists won't regularly descend. The whole thing will be exclusive and unspoilt. Villa plots are for sale. If I weren't £9m in debt I'd buy one.

I can't think of anywhere better or going to be better or imaginably better. Canouan Resort stops taking guests from May this year, but two of its restaurants stay open for villa owners and other passing zillionaires. The food I ate was amazingly good. Grilled prawns from nearby Guyana - the best ever. Beef satay, sashimi of yellowfin tuna, outstanding spaghetti bolognese ... I could go on. If I can afford it, I'll be back. If I can't, it's Christmas in Southend. Oh well, roll with the punches.

John Cleese gave a 40th birthday party for Jennifer Wade. In his speech he described himself as her boyfriend.

"John," I said in my words of wit and wisdom, "what planet are you on? Boyfriend? Have you looked in the mirror lately?" The event was at Mosimann's in Belgravia. For 75 people the catering was incredibly fine. Risotto ai funghi, Dorset crab, beef, lemon tart.

Anton Mosimann is a chef of amazing quality. He and his two sons run the place immaculately. Cleese was so overcome he said of Jennifer, "I might even take her off the shelf." That means they'll be married. Bet your life on it. Jennifer makes John happier than I've seen him in years. So here's hoping it's fourth time lucky in the Cleese wedding stakes.



  • The distinguished, tall restaurateur Jeremy King of the Wolseley offered this with my fried whitebait: Hymie goes to Moishe's funeral. It's a new rabbi who never knew Moishe. He says, "Moishe was a wonderful man."

    "He was horrible," shouts Hymie from the back row.

    "Moishe was a great family man," says the rabbi.

    "Rubbish," barks Hymie. "His family hated him."

    "Moishe gave tirelessly to charity," intones the rabbi.

    "Never gave a penny to anyone," says Hymie.

    The rabbi stops. "I'm not going on until one of you tells me something good about Moishe," he announces.

    Hymie yells, "His brother was worse."



  • For those dying to see me in the flesh, I suggest you visit the BFI's National Film Theatre on the South Bank. On Wednesday at 6.20pm it will show my film The Jokers, starring Oliver Reed and Michael Crawford. At about 7.50pm I appear and talk. What better way to spend an evening?



    Michael's missives

    When you were at Tinello, did the staff cut off your jacket sleeves to keep them out of the tagliolini? Or have your arms grown? Or did you borrow someone else's jacket?
    Stuart Laws, Dorset

    To judge from your low-down position in the photo it appears you might have been legless at Tinello.
    Nick Jones, Drome, France

    In Barbados we visited Groots, one of your recommended eateries. The bar and ambience were great, but oh, the batter on the fish! Heavier than you, Michael.
    Dick and Barbara Horstall, West

    Yorkshire You say you always get a £60 parking ticket when visiting Murano. Why not try one of those black cars with the word "taxi" on top? A lot cheaper - think what it would do for your overdraft.
    Charles Gordos, Wolverhampton

    We're still reeling from Boxing Day lunch at our favourite pub in Norfolk. The food was good but the staff were surly and unwelcoming. We haven't returned. If staff can't stand the pace, surely they should get out of the kitchen?
    Linda Miller and Derek Greentree, Norfolk

    Hymie is at the races. A man asks him, "Would you like the winner of the next race?" Hymie says, "No, thanks. My garden isn't big enough."
    Jacqui Tuite, via Twitter

    Are Egyptian estate agents guilty of pyramid selling?
    Kim Gunston, Hampshire

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk