For many celebrities, owning an island is often about more than simply showing off wealth and success; these private retreats represent a vital break away from the spotlight, the constant hassle of the paparazzi peering in through windows, and the overwhelming demands of a high-intensity career. For others, island resorts are an opportunity to invest wisely in a potentially more reliable source of income than the fickle world of film and television often provides.
That being said, the fact that famous individuals often have a practical reason for purchasing remote island abodes does nothing to diminish their mystique; purchasable islands are both stunningly beautiful and incredibly scarce (according to one real estate industry veteran, there are only about 2,000 islands that meet the right criteria for private residential development: i.e. they are close enough to land, located in stable regions, and not protected by prohibitive laws).
Some of the most prestigious islands owned by famous public figures include:
Necker Island, located in the British Virgin Islands, belongs to “celebrity businessman” Sir Richard Branson (founder of the Virgin Group of companies). Boasting 74 acres of pristine tropical land, all surrounded by coral reef and crested by shimmering white sandy beaches, Necker Island is more than just a fancy celebrity residence, it's a resort: One of the first (and most expensive) celebrity-owned private islands to be made available for rent as a resort. Its rooms offer up to 24 guests panoramic views out over the gleaming turquoise ocean—so long as they can afford the staggering $47,000 price tag. So far, the island has hosted a glamourous list of top celebrities, including Kate Moss and Steven Spielberg.
Branson also owns the Mosquito Islands (another part of the British Virgin Islands), and Makepeace Island in Australia, which he reportedly plans to turn into a resort for Virgin staff. He even owns a part of the Dubai World Project, a series of man-made islands off the coast of Dubai.
Blackadore Caye, a small island off the coast of Belize which was purchased by Leonardo Di Caprio in 2005 for $1.75 million, is destined to be much more than just a flashy private residence for the A-list actor. Di Caprio, a passionate conservationist, purchased the island in part to protect it; the 104-acre Belizian island straddles the environmentally-sensitive and highly threatened Great Barrier Reef. Leo reportedly hopes to host “eco tours” on the island, drawing attention to the cause of protecting such delicate natural areas, while also pioneering green architecture projects, such as a solar-powered eco-resort (with exclusive private villas, of course).
Dubai: World Archepelago
While celebrities are often in the headlines for buying their own private islands, it's not every day you hear about one simply being given to a famous person as a gift—but that's exactly what happened to famous Formula 1 star Michael Schumacher, who was given a private island in Dubai's World Project as a retirement gift. The World Project, created by development company Nakeel, contains 300 man-made isles brought up from the sea floor, shaped to resemble continents and countries. Michael owns “Antarctica”, which is estimated to be worth around USD 14.5 million and came complete with a palatial home, a beach, and landscaped gardens. (This, of course, makes Schumacher part-time neighbours with Sir Richard Branson, who owns The World Project's “Great Britain.”)
Another island which was bought with a specific purpose and vision, the Hawaiian resort island of Lanai was purchased for an undisclosed sum (rumoured to be well over $500 million) by famous software tycoon Larry Ellison. Though Ellison doesn't technically own all of Lanai, he does own 98 percent of the 141-square-mile island, making this one of the most staggeringly large private island purchases in modern history. After buying the island from Dole Foods’ billionaire owner David Murdock, Ellison is said to have gotten right down to work rather than indulging in some time spent relaxing in his new tropical haven; it's reported that he plans to invest heavily in further developing the already-popular tourist hotspot.
St Bart: Abramovich estate
Though Roman Abramovich is not technically a celebrity himself, his savvy purchase of the beach front property in St. Barts (for $90 million) has seen Abramovich, one of the richest men in the world, attract an A-list crowd to his new 70-acre estate. The New Year's Eve party Abramovich hosted in 2010 drew big names like Fergie, Salma Hayek, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, P. Diddy and Ellen DeGeneres to rub shoulders with the billionaire Russian businessman. With the estate's many tennis courts, swimming pools, and countless luxury amenities, it's little wonder that the world of celebrity has come to Roman Abramovich rather than him having to go to it.
Bonds Cay represents something unusual in the world of celebrity private islands; a unique joint project, this island was purchased for $16 million by a trio of superstar singers: Shakira, Roger Waters, and Alejandro Sanz. The team of eclectic musicians are hoping to transform this 700-acre paradise from a standard luxury resort (it already boasts a string of luxury hotels and condos with gleaming private beaches, art galleries, and an 18-hole golf course) into an artist's retreat where creative people can explore their ideas surrounded by tropical scenery and the quiet lulling sounds of the ocean.
No one is quite sure why funny man Eddie Murphy bought the unspoiled natural haven that is the Bahamian island of Rooster Cay in 2007 for a hefty $15 million; located in the Long Cay region, conveniently close to Nassau (the capital of the Bahamas), Rooster Cay has never been touched by developers. Does Murphy simply want a quiet place to rest and relax under the beaming sun, or does he have big dreams of finally turning this prime piece of real estate into a luxury resort? Only time will tell...
Mel Gibson seems to run into controversy at every turn; even his purchase of the untouched Mago Island in Fiji, no doubt intended to be a peaceful retreat away from the press, raised eyebrows due to claims by locals that the sale wasn't valid because their ancestors were forcibly removed from Mago Island in the 19th century. Fortunately, it looks like the Braveheart star may be able to keep his $15 million dollar, 5,400-acre private paradise after all, thanks to his efforts to employ some of the locals and make them a part of life on his Mago Island residence.
Though Mago Island would no doubt make an incredibly valuable luxury resort property, it's said that Gibson has no desire to develop the island, preferring to have it remain in its natural state while he uses it as a personal escape from the pressures of Hollywood. Given his tense relationship with the press in recent years, it's little wonder that Mel is content to simply “get away from it all.”
Owned by the Onassis family and currently leased to a Russian heiress, Skorpios Island in Greece has been graced by the likes of First Lady Jackie Onassis and Maria Callas. It was here that Aristotle Onassis, the now-deceased purchaser of Skorpios Island, famously wed the former Mrs. Kennedy, bringing the idea—and the romance—of owning one's own private island to the mainstream. Incredibly, Aristotle paid just $13,000 for Skorpios Island when he bought it in 1968; today, the island is rumoured to be worth at least $200 million. The catch? The Onassis patriarch’s will forbids its sale so long as his descendents have the money to pay the maintenance costs.
Actor Nicholas Cage is something of an island resort collector; in addition to his past purchase of a home on celebrity-owned Paradise Island in the Bahamas, Cage purchased all of Leaf Cay (also in the Bahamas) for $8.5 million in 2006. He's in a good neighbourhood: The island, which is situated in the popular Exuma Cays, is close to Johnny Depp’s private island (Little Halls Pond Cay), and Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s island, Goat Cay. Leaf Cay will hopefully prove a worthwhile investment for the A-list actor, whose finances are rumoured to be on shaky ground; the island houses several luxury hotels, an air strip, and a marina, allowing Cage to rent out vacation spots on the little Cay to wealthy tourists.
Little Halls Pond Cay
Little Hills Pond Cay, which Johnny Depp fell in love with while shooting for “Pirates of the Caribbean”, was something of a bargain as far as celebrity islands go, costing just $3.6 million. Though the island is very small—just 45 acres in total—it makes up for its diminutive size with its sheer natural beauty. Boasting a perfect aqua lagoon, swaying palms, and six glittering white sand beaches, Little Hills Pond Cay is a dream come true for the Depp family. Depp does his part to help preserve this fragile island, powering his residence there with solar power and keeping it largely free of development.
Ile Gagnon is something of an anomaly on this list, not being located in steamy tropical climes or under the mellow Mediterranean sun; instead, this small island—the home of Celine Dion and her family—is situated in the singer's chilly native land of Quebec, Canada. Nestled within the Iles river, Ile Gagnon is every bit as scenic as its tropical competitors, especially with Celine's grand French-style Chateau gracing its green expanse. Alas, the Dion family residence is not far enough away from civilization to escape the attention of tourists, and tight security has been employed to keep onlookers at bay. This is perhaps one of the reasons it is rumoured that Celine has placed the small island back on the market, to be snapped up by a lucky bidder who will benefit from her efforts to transform the Canadian island into a fairytale abode.
Located in the Exuma Cays, as mentioned previously, this Bahamian treasure is the home of country power-couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Nobody knows how much the duo paid for Goat Cay, but given the fact that the island has already been fully developed, it had to have set them back at least a few million. Goat Cay retains some of its natural charm as well; the island is said to feature both natural beaches and a selection of winding trails through the tropical forest.
Finally, we have the ultimate island collector: Superstar magician David Copperfield, who paid $50 million to purchase a package of four islands in the Bahamas. While three of these remain undeveloped (and serve to seclude the largest of the group), the 150-acre Musha Cay has been turned into luxury private resort. It's open to anyone—so long as they can afford the rate of $37,500 per day (for up to 12 guests). With a price tag like that, it's no surprise that this resort usually hosts only the wealthiest of the wealthy: Celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and John Travolta have been known to come to Musha Cay to relax and unwind, no doubt appreciating the island's incredibly sheltered privacy.
If the above list of secluded, sheltered pieces of paradise has left you longing for your own island retreat, it's important to keep in mind that while some countries (such as Canada) offer freshwater islands for a relatively affordable price, owning an island can present unexpected hurdles. A lack of electricity, high maintenance costs, and the difficulty of doing simple every day things like grocery shopping has driven even celebrities to give up their island dwellings and return to the mainland. However, with careful planning and research, islands truly can provide a sense of peace and privacy that is peerless and priceless in our busy modern world—A place to relax, to dream, and to be completely free.