When aristocrat Colin Tennant, the 3rd Baron Glenconner, bought an exotic Caribbean island north of Venezuela for £45,000 in 1958, his wife Anne thought he had lost his mind. On this four-square-mile islet that he named Mustique, because it was infested with mosquitoes, barely a few cotton fields were visible. There was neither drinking water nor electricity. But despite this, he set himself a goal: to turn the piece of land into the favorite residence for the wealthy. After building a primitive airport a year after their arrival, as well as their own house, the Tennants laid the foundations for what would end up being one of the most successful real estate businesses of recent decades.
What seemed to the press an impenetrable bohemian paradise immediately caught the attention of Princess Margaret. She fell in love with it in 1960, the year in which Elizabeth II’s younger sister starred in the first televised royal wedding in history. After saying “I do” to photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones (who was given the title of Lord Snowdon), the couple embarked on a six-week trip to the Caribbean on the yacht Britannia. Anne Tennant was not just Margaret’s friend and confidante but also her lady-in-waiting at Westminster Abbey, and she suggested the newlywed couple stop at Mustique. As soon as the ship was anchored, they went for a swim.
During their days on the island, they had no choice but to shower with buckets of water hanging from some trees. And they were not exactly received with an opulent banquet: there was only fish and the occasional can of preserves. Against all odds, the princess was fascinated by the experience. On their last night of that honeymoon, when Colin himself asked her “do you want something in a little box, or would you prefer a piece of land?”, Margaret replied, “Oh, I think a piece of land would be wonderful.” Antony was not amused by the proposal at all. Moreover, it is known that he referred to the island as “Mustake.” He never set foot there again.
Not until years later, at the beginning of 1968, did Margaret call Colin to demand her belated wedding gift: “Were you really serious about the land?” “Yes,” he replied. “And does it come with a house?” she retorted. The baron complied with her wishes. A few months after that call, she returned to Mustique. Accompanied by Colin and Anne, and dressed in simple pajamas, she was shown around Gelliceaux Point, the highest and most inaccessible point on the islet. The construction of Les Jolies Eaux, a neo-Georgian villa with five bedrooms, two swimming pools and austere white furniture, was concluded on the point in 1972. After that, the princess began to visit the mansion twice a year, in the months of October or November and in February. The wayward princess, thousands of miles from London, had finally found that longed-for home where she could feel free.
In the early 1970s, just over a dozen families resided in Mustique. Every afternoon, without exception, the owners took turns hosting the best parties of the time in their homes. They played cards until the wee hours of the morning and danced like there was no tomorrow. Alcohol also ran freely. Those who shared those evenings with Margaret affirm that a good bottle of Famous Grouse, her favorite brand of whiskey, and two packs of tobacco were never missing from the table.
How did the princess behave in an intimate gathering? She “could be very wild and unrestrained. And she could be very difficult. She liked to be spoiled and taken care of. If she felt well cared for, she was fun,” several sources say. They also say that, above all, she “was a royal person.” In fact, even with people she trusted most, no one dared to give her a kiss or a hug. Likewise, she had to be addressed as “her royal highness.” Even on the beach collecting shells, she had to be greeted with a bow. (Only the British were obliged to the latter; the Americans, if they wanted, could skip the protocol.) Everyone agrees that Margaret loved being surrounded by men, the younger the better.
In 1973, while she was still married, the Tennants introduced her to a landscape gardener named Roddy Llewellyn at their Scottish estate. He was 26 years old; she, 43. Previously, the British press had already speculated on the possibility that Margaret had been unfaithful to Lord Snowdon with personalities as varied as Mick Jagger, Peter Sellers, Warren Beatty and the actor John Bindon. But Roddy was different.
The couple did their best to hide their love, but in 1976 the now-defunct News of The World published some exclusive photographs of the two sharing more than a swim on one of the island’s paradisiacal beaches. The scandal was immediate. Antony Armstrong-Jones also had a mistress, Lucy Lindsay-Hogg, the ex-wife of filmmaker Michael Lindsay-Hogg. But unlike Margaret, nobody caught him red-handed. Although everyone knew that their marriage was not as idyllic as they made it look, those snapshots were the trigger for their divorce in 1978, the first by a member of British royalty since Henry VIII did the same in 1533. Margaret, no longer tied down, had free rein to continue her relationship with Roddy. However, she did not count on her young conquest confessing in 1981 that he was seeing Tatiana Soskin, the wife of film producer Paul Soskin. Said confession also occurred in Mustique.
In 1976, the paradisiacal island ceased to be a secret for most mortals for another more hedonistic reason. That year, on the occasion of Colin Tennant’s 50th birthday, the elite destination held the most notorious party to date. Besides spraying faux gold on Macaroni Beach, the Baron hired burly locals from the area, dressed in little more than a coconut shell as a loincloth, to entertain his exclusive diners. The photographs of that night, in which Margaret could be seen having a great time, soon reached the British newspapers. Thus was born the legend of Mustique, the place where the most extravagant would always be well received. The shindig was a marketing ploy orchestrated by Tennant to attract other rich and famous people. It worked. Mick Jagger and David Bowie rushed to build their own mansions on that untamed piece of land. Many others followed in their footsteps.
Even Queen Elizabeth II fell for Mustique’s charms. In 1977 she, along with her husband, settled for a few days at Les Jolies Eaux. She wanted to see with her own eyes that paradise that her sister had told her so much about. According to the testimony of Anne Tennant, the Duke of Edinburgh upon arrival told Colin “I see you have ruined the island.” When he left, his opinion had changed radically: “I really like your island. I loved the time I spent here,” he informed him.
Margaret was happier than ever during the long seasons that she spent in Mustique. There she found her haven of peace, an escape from the frigid streets of London. What she did not imagine was that her dream would unexpectedly be cut short in 1999: she accidentally burned her feet in the bathtub at her island house. At first, she refused to be seen by a doctor and leave Les Jolies Eaux, but given the seriousness of her injuries, Anne herself called Buckingham Palace so that the queen would make her see reason. After a long talk between them, the princess agreed and took a flight to the British capital. Given her deteriorating health, she never got the chance to say goodbye to her beloved villa the way she would have wanted. With her passing in 2002, Mustique was no longer the same.