For rent: celebrity style and stardom

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Imagine living like a rock star for a fortnight in Mick Jagger’s decadently swish oceanfront Mustique villa. Or perhaps you would prefer actress Jane Seymour’s fairy-tale, 14th-century English manor house outside Bath – or director Francis Ford Coppola’s stylish pad in the heart of Paris? Then there’s always actor Bruce Willis’ paradise hideaway on the Turks and Caicos islands or former model Jodie Kidd’s shabby-chic plantation home on Barbados to tempt you.

All of these deluxe celebrity-owned holiday properties are available to rent – temporarily of course – when the shiny people themselves are not using them. Yes, mere civilians can play at being rich and famous for a few weeks of the year as long as they are prepared to fork out Hollywood-style rental fees.

Jagger’s Japanese-style Mustique retreat, for example, complete with extensive koi pond and private Jeep, can be booked for about $16,000 a week. Seymour’s 10-bedroom house, which has its own orangery, croquet lawn and Victorian plunge pool used to cost from $23,000 a week, but that price is set to rise significantly after a refurbishment involving the installation of plasma TV screens, wireless internet connections and Mulberry furnishings. An even more eye-watering sum of $141,000 could secure you seven days at Richard Branson’s own 74-acre private Caribbean hideaway, Necker Island, complete with helipad, freshwater swimming pool and full flotilla of gleaming sailing yachts.

Clearly these properties, which guarantee luxury, privacy and seclusion, are not for the financially faint-hearted. But why don’t their celebrity owners, who by definition are not short of money, simply allow them to sit empty while they are off touring or filming or whatever other celebrity activities it is they indulge in?

Warren de Long, a director of Blandings, the UK luxury rentals estate agency that handles St Catherine’s Court, Seymour’s property, observes: “They let their homes because they have more than one property and they can’t live in all of them all of the time. It helps them generate a bit of income to cover running costs and the cost of the staff, but they usually only let them for a couple of weeks a year.”

One can only wonder at who rents these places and why. Are they are fans? Do they think some of the celebrity star-dust will rub off on them? Obviously there is no chance of bumping into the owners (given that the places wouldn’t be up for rent if there were), so what’s the appeal?

Alfredo Mercat, president of US villa rental outfit Overseas Connection, which handles the lettings for Jagger’s Mustique property plus several other celebrity-owned villas, says: “It’s a new trend, both among celebrities themselves and because there is growing demand. It’s simply a great feeling and buzz to stay in the home of your idol. People love the fact that, with Mick’s villa Stargroves, it is his actual bathroom or his bedroom.”

Other properties have an extra pull because of their Hollywood heritage. Goldeneye, for instance, is the Jamaica estate owned by Ian Fleming where he wrote 14 of his James Bond thrillers. The resort costs $40,600 a week to rent in its entirety and is bulging with 007 paraphernalia, from first editions in Fleming’s library to the author’s actual red bullet-wood desk. Guests can even loaf about on James Bond Beach, the location for some of the scenes in the original Bond film Dr No.

“Ian Fleming gave me my first job in the entertainment industry, in 1961 as a location scout for Dr No,” says current Goldeneye owner Chris Blackwell, the music mogul founder of Island Records who bought the 15-acre estate in 1977. “The property is steeped in history and this is a big attraction. Bond enthusiasts get a huge thrill from following in Fleming’s footsteps and sitting at his original desk.”

Several agents claim, however, that most tenants are not specifically booking these properties because they want to slosh about in Jagger’s pool or drift prettily across Seymour’s closely clipped lawns.

“Sometimes we get people from the US who are fans of Dr Quinn [the long-running drama series in which Seymour starred]. But we don’t get stalkers,” says de Long. “Mostly people book St Catherine’s Court because they are enthusiastic about staying in a beautiful [historic] house near Bath. It just adds that it belongs to her and is filled with her things and of course it helps the property to be known because of her connection.”

Seymour lives in the house whenever she’s in the country, which is roughly twice a year. It is filled with her photographs, paintings and family belongings and she has said: “It’s a very personal home. It is not a hotel and will never be a hotel.” Bearing this in mind, it seems incredible that these celebrity landlords don’t seem to mind the idea of we ordinary folk rifling through their things.

Most owners do have an closet or closed room where they can hide anything too personal for public exposure. And some, particularly Jagger, are extremely fussy about who stays in their houses. Those interested staying at Stargroves are subjected to a rigorous vetting process, including a detailed description of the party, the number of people, their names, ages and occupations. Jagger personally scrutinises each application then sends a fax back to Overseas Connection with a bald “yes” or “no” and no further explanation. Fellow rock stars are always ruled out, apparently, for fear that they will do what rock stars do and trash the place.

What anyone is getting with renting one of these celebrity homes, of course, in addition to the superstar frisson, is the sort of gorgeous, high-end accommodation that those blessed with fame and good fortune can afford. Almost all are fully staffed with butlers and chauffeurs, while top cuisine, floodlit tennis courts and private beaches tend to be standard. In fact, for the holidaymaker with deep pockets, they offer not only more privacy, space and luxury than most smart hotels, but also better value for money.

“They compare favourably with a similar-length stay in a suite in a five-star hotel,” says Mercat. “And when you think you get staff and a car and food too, you see you have real value. But really it’s a totally different experience. They offer so much more.”

KEANU’S COMING TO STAY

Celebrities are increasingly becoming landlords but they also make rather good tenants too, happy to shell out large amounts of cash for renting properties that guarantee them the privacy and luxury.

Keanu Reeves, who famously lives in hotels rather than buying property, hired out the five-star Double Island, an entire tropical island off the coast of Cairns in Western Australia, while shooting ‘The Matrix’. The rate today, for 10 guests staying seven nights, is $56,200 – so it obviously made a rather large dent in his, or his film producer’s, wallet.

Victoria and David Beckham are similarly lavish. Chalet Atlantique, the Courchevel ski chalet where they staged their excruciating photocall after the Rebecca Loos scandal in 2004, came with its own private cinema, steam room and sauna, and a $46,000 per week price tag.

The property was booked through Descent International, the Rolls-Royce of chalet companies, whose client list is glitzy in the extreme and whose most expensive listing is the 16-berth Chalet Brames in Meribel, costing a chunky $97,000 per week – exclusive of flights and transfers.

The Caribbean is a big draw for major stars too. Everyone from Kate Moss to Naomi Campbell and Robbie Williams have stayed at the exclusive Jake’s collection of boutique cottages on Jamaica, part of Island Outpost (owners, too, of Goldeneye, which similarly attracts its fair share of celebrity rentees, from Pierce Brosnan, naturally, to Harrison Ford and new hot couple Scarlett Johansson and Josh Hartnett). They all happily pay from a relatively bargain $2,765 per week for their stay at Jake’s to $7,700 per week for a deluxe villa at Island Outpost’s Strawberry Hill, the classic five-star mountain spa retreat overlooking Kingston.

Descent International, tel: +44 (0)20-7384 3854; www.descent.co.uk

Island Outpost, tel: +1 876-960 81 34; www.islandoutpost.com

Blandings, tel: +44 (0)20-7947 3290; www.blandings.co.uk

Overseas Connection, tel: +1 631-725 9308; www.villasoftheworld.com

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