A singer named Shawn Mendes recently announced to millions of his fans: ‘The truth is, it’s so hard to be human.’ Gee whiz, poor Mendes, and I thought I had drawn the short straw in life. Depressed as I was about how hard it is to be human, friends such as Prince Pavlos of Greece and Arki Busson came to my rescue. They picked me up from my hovel at 720 Park Avenue and whisked me to a private airport in White Plains, where Bob Miller, Prince Pavlos’s father-in-law, had a magnificent Gulfstream G650 waiting to transport the three of us to a place where it’s less hard to be human: Harbour Island, a lump on top of a 100-mile-long reef overgrown with vegetation, which is an escape to a simpler way of life. Yippee!
America was always a country on the move, starting with the Pilgrims, the homesteaders pushing west, the gold rush, Huck and Jim drifting down the Mississippi, and so on. Then the virus wreaked its havoc and everyone, including the traveling Americans, stayed put. Not your intrepid high life correspondent, however.
I hadn’t visited the Bahamas in 50 or so years, but last time I was there I got into a fight with Margaux Hemingway’s boyfriend outside the casino in Nassau. I already had my doubts about the place, a tropical Blighty with an American accent, some parts Yankee-owned. The then mega-rich Huntington Hartford had purchased Paradise Island, and the poor little Greek boy was stepping out with his wife, making me a hated figure to some of his dependents (and there were many). Never mind, that was long ago and time puts a halo on many things. Better yet, Harbour Island turned out to be as far removed from the glitz of Nassau as Margaux’s gigolo was from me.
Back in 1880, Harbour Island had a population of 2,000 and three sugar mills. But after the mills were abandoned, the green acres of cane were replaced by bush once more. Today the place has an air of ancient and established peace, a curious combination of present and past, with men and women loitering and idling in the shade of ancient gnarled trees. It felt like sleepwalking during the 1950s. Some years ago, smart men who foresee things rather than follow trends discovered the place, built houses that blended in with the surroundings, and did not compete with each other over who had the most toys; people such as Bob Miller and Arki Busson.
Bob is a member of Pugs but he has other attributes too: he comes from a very old American family — I saw some pictures of his officer ancestors in Civil War uniforms (in blue, or so it seemed, rather than gray) — but he’s a self-made man. He invented something most of us could have thought of but never did, duty-free shops in airports, and as a result owns beautiful dwellings the world over, plus a little shoot called Gunnerside in Yorkshire. (The one and only time Geldof was nice to anyone was when he visited it and sent a few kind words to Bob.)
My host Arki needs no introduction. His house and multiple cottages — and tents on the bay that rival those of Cleopatra — front the ocean. I was billeted in the Elle Macpherson suite (she’s the mother of two of his children; Uma Thurman is the mother of his little girl). I was a friend of his parents 10 years before he was born, which dates me a bit because Arki is in his mid-fifties. The day we flew down in record time, Arki made a killing in some deal and promptly fell asleep under a tent.
The first thing that I noticed was the sweet nature of the locals, who were all smiles and goodwill. (None of the menacing looks that you sometimes get in Jamaica.) Driving around in a golf cart with Arki was a bit like traveling around India circa 1947 with Gandhi and Jinnah on board. Everyone, but everyone, gave a cheery hello. ‘How come everyone knows you?’ I asked.
Easy: he and Bob Miller contributed vast sums to feed and employ the islanders who were suffering under lockdown, hospitality being the island’s main source of income. In a romantic novel the Queen would lift the knighthood from that fraud and bum Philip Green and knight both men, but the last time I rang the palace I was told she was busy.
It is said that island living tends to dull one’s senses. I looked for that but didn’t find it to be the case, at least among those I rubbed shoulders with down there. They compose their own songs and apologize to no one. Their island is a palimpsest, still adjusting to the modern world.
And speaking of the past, I flew back to Nassau on a tiny twin Piper piloted by a young native with seats whose stuffing was visible, an airplane Papa Hemingway would have refused to fly on. Throughout a perfect trip, ending with a perfect landing, the pilot was — I think — playing a game on his cell phone.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s February 2021 US edition.