MUSTIQUE -- The music was pumping at Basil's Beach Bar, the social hub of tiny, private, uber-chic Mustique, part of the collection of tropical islands that makes up St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
There we were sipping cool cocktails at our table ... and there She was at hers ... a real live star of daytime talk-show fame. In any another locale, we'd have sidled up with requests for photos or at least an autograph, but not on Mustique. That kind of thing simply isn't done there.
On Mustique, that tiny chunk of paradise, everyone is far too cool to admit to noticing celebrities. From rock stars to world-famous clothing designers, celebs are thick on the ground but enjoy the same freedom from harassment as the rest of us nobodys. It's been that way for more than five decades, ever since its founder -- Britain's Lord Glenconner -- decided to create a private island sanctuary for those in need of an escape from the touristy crush of other tropical destinations.
Wisely, his Lordship sliced off a small section to give to his cousin Princess Margaret as a wedding gift. The queen's glamorous party-girl sister made Mustique her favourite island paradise and the place instantly skyrocketed to the top of the in-crowd's must-go destination list.
Today, the Cotton House -- a member of Small Leading Hotels of the World -- is the island's boutique hotel. Built around the coral-stone walls of an 18th-century warehouse, the high-end hideaway has just 17 rooms and suites, all designed to look slightly shabby chic but be fabulously luxurious. All rooms boast ultra-modern technology, most have plunge pools, and the two-bedroom villa has a full-size private swimming pool and 24-hour butler.
Despite it all, the staff cultivates an air so casual, you'll barely notice the five-star service and the million-thread-count sheets. After all, you're supposed to be so used to this level of luxury that it's simply to be expected. Mustique calls for nonchalance -- thorough and unwavering.
If you don't stay at the Cotton House, you'll rent one of the 74 villas on the island, many of which belong to celebrities and come complete with staff to look after your every need so you'll have plenty of time to visit Mustique's nine white sand beaches, tennis club, spa, SCUBA facility and equestrian centre. Oh yes, and Basil's.
Back at that famous Beach Bar, there She was, and it was killing me to think we'd never have a word.
I needn't have worried. As I watched, the dance floor crowd parted and She slid gracefully through, heading straight for our table, her tiny, show-bizzy hands outstretched in greeting. No, She hadn't mistaken us for someone more important, nor was SHE giving into the autograph-hungry looks on our faces. No, She was just doing some very understated, Mustique-style social climbing of her own.
We were, after all, sitting with Basil Charles, the owner of Mustique's most popular, must-be-seen-there-beach-bar. And Basil's star power outshines all others.
Mustique may be a company-owned and run paradise, where all but a few of those living and working there come from somewhere else -- Europe, North America or other Caribbean islands -- but Basil is homegrown. One of the very few native-born Mustiquians, he's been an island icon for more decades than he'd like to discuss.
Gifted with good looks and quiet charm, Basil has the kind of savoir faire that has endeared him to several generations of British aristocrats. The island may now be owned by the Mustique Company but Basil is, nevertheless, its undisputed king.
Basil's real fame began when Princess Margaret chose him as her friend and go-to guy for cool drinks and sandwiches delivered to her beach chair. Other celebrities soon heard about Basil and made their way to his unassuming bar, perched on stilts over the ocean. The Royals continue to love Mustique -- even William and Kate have wandered the silky white beaches, enjoying a cocktail and a fresh fish lunch.
Come by any Wednesday evening -- the hot night at Basil's Beach Bar -- to see for yourself. SHE may be there, with her drop-dead-gorgeous-former-soap-opera-star husband, dancing the night away. If not, some other famous star you're-not supposed-to-recognize will be in her place, rocking and rolling with the live band, or leaning against the bar, trading jokes with the man who pours the rum punch.
Basil himself won't be hard to pick out in the crowd. Tall and just as handsome as he was five decades ago when he opened the bar, Basil often dresses in flowing white shirts and positions himself in front of the band, where he can dance and greet his many friends as they arrive.
Don't be surprised if he's surrounded by faces you're used to seeing on television, the stage, or on the big screen. They'll all be trying -- in the most nonchalant way possible, of course -- to meet Basil of Basil's Beach Bar, the real King of Mustique.
NEED TO KNOW
-- For more information on Mustique, visit mustique-island.com.
-- If you'd like to drop by Basil's Beach Bar for a drink or a beachside meal, visit basilsbar.com.
-- For more about the Cotton House, see cottonhouse.net