I was about three when I first came to Harbour Island. My father had built this remarkable house on neighbouring Windermere Island, which is joined to Eleuthera. Everybody else lived in regular Caribbean homes but with my father being a great designer, we had to live in an Egyptian mausoleum. It’s made from the pink sand of the beach; I still own it.
Every year my parents would say, “And now we’re going to historic Harbour Island to look at the lovely cottages.” I have this very vivid memory of going across the bay, seeing the turquoise water and then the island. It’s extraordinary that I’ve ended up living here; now all my pets are buried there and once you’ve got pets buried somewhere – that’s home.
David, my other half, was introduced by a friend to Harbour Island 31 years ago. It was off the beaten track, but a few hip people were beginning to come; Chris Blackwell, for example, had just taken over Pink Sands hotel. David fell completely in love with it. He was managing a hotel called The Ocean View, which is still around [and on which more later]. I’d been running round the world modelling and was on Windermere on my own, recharging. Someone came to visit and said, ‘Do you remember David Flint Wood? He’s up on Harbour Island managing a hotel.’ I thought, ‘I’ll go diving for the day and just see if he’s there.’ Four months later I was pregnant, and Harbour Island has been our home for 20 years.
It’s a very unusual island because it has always been integrated, unlike Nassau or other Bahamian islands that feel either predominantly white or predominantly black. There’s still a certain set of old-fashioned manners. There are a lot more cars here now, which kills me, but charmingly, all the tourists continue to drive around in golf carts. None of the locals call it Harbour Island; they call it Briland. And I’m afraid – I’m going to have this on record – the nouveau crowd tends to call it Harbour, which only reveals that they’ve not been here for long!
There are so many good places to eat here, starting with Arthur’s Bakery for a breakfast of warm banana bread and all the delicious things that do have sugar and gluten in them. Or you can go out for brunch; one of the best is at The Landing, a hotel I helped renovate 17 years ago after a hurricane destroyed much of it. It still has the dark polished-wood floors, white walls and gauzy fabric draped over four-poster beds – simple, mostly monochrome rooms. I gave the bar and restaurant an Ernest Hemingway-meets-Grace Kelly feel; if you’re there in the evening, have a drink called the Ginger Fro – it’s made with ginger-infused vodkas. A favourite brunch dish is ricotta hotcakes with honeycomb butter, or coconut bread with lime curd. But a lot of the locals will have grits and boiled fish on a Sunday morning. Grits are delicious – like cornmeal with cheese.
For lunch you can’t miss Queen Conch, which is run by a local family. It’s a wooden shack on the bay with a gigantic conch sign that blows in the breeze. You sit at tall wooden stools and watch the mother-daughter team scoop out the conch flesh and chop it up right there in front of you, with sour oranges, hot chilli and a lot of fresh tomato, onion and green pepper. Most people would be wise to ask for tourist strength, because otherwise it will blow your bikini off.
In the afternoon, you can rent a little boat from Duke Davis. They’re pretty basic, but all you need for a swim and a snorkel. You can motor to one of the completely deserted islands nearby: Ben Bay, Jacob’s Island or Pigeon Island. They’re all pink sand and coconut trees – when we go, we just take the dogs and some sandwiches. Or you can head to the amazing bay at Whale Point; it’s filled with turtles and giant orange starfish the size of placemats. You can buy a boogie board at local lumber store Chacara on Harbour Island if you need one. And there’s some good bonefishing in the lagoon on Windermere; it takes about an hour and 45 minutes along crazy, potholed roads to drive there, but if you’re keen, you might well think that it’s worth it.
For a fancy night out, we always tell friends to go to the Rock House; it’s sort of Miami-orientated and they don’t take children. It’s run by a lovely friend of ours, Don Purdy, and you can eat around the swimming pool; order the lobster and red velvet cheesecake, and ideally something from the very serious cocktail menu. Then there’s The Dunmore, which has been decorated by another friend, Amanda Lindroth; to me it has the most charm of any place on the island. There are wonderful old prints all around the dining room, and you can eat their amazing fish tacos while you watch the moon come up. The rooms there are lovely too – spread across a few bungalows, with sisal on the floors, lots of rattan and ikat and pretty Indian quilts. And it has a fantastic beach.
And, of course, there’s the original Pink Sands hotel. It’s been through some ups and downs; last year they asked David to redecorate the main rooms, as it was a bit tired. The main rooms are especially pretty, with dusty-rose fabrics and rattan furniture that was stained in India; it’s still very elegant and quite club-like.
The thing about Harbour Island is that it’s about beaches and family and nightclubs. There’s great dancing at Daddy D’s. It’s mad there, with a great mix of people, and there’s a lethal cocktail called a Goombay Smash. The Gullywash – gin and coconut water – is also very good. Afterwards you can hit Peter Pan’s, a snack shack that serves a burger the size of a boxing glove.
On Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, we have an amazing festival called Junkanoo. Its roots date back to when slaves had one day off a year, and this is how they would celebrate. Thank God we’ve come a long way from where it originated. Everybody, from grandmothers to their grandsons, is out in brightly coloured crepe-paper outfits, beating goatskin drums.
There are probably more bars and churches on Harbour Island than anything else. The pretty pink church on the hill is St John’s – the oldest in the Bahamas, dating back to the mid-1700s. And the yellow one in town is the Wesley Methodist Church.
If you’re coming to Harbour Island to shop, you’ll need your wallet. It’s tiny, but high-end. Our shop in town is called The Sugar Mill; it’s on Bay Street, at the end of the main dock. There’s a palm frond-papered changing room and mahogany shelves with zebra skin-framed mirrors. I was inspired by The Cross in Notting Hill, so we have everything from buckets and spades to embroidered evening gowns. Other shops I recommend are Blue Rooster, owned by a wonderful Bahamian lady called Gabrille Kennedy, who sells kaftans and rather preppy clothes. There’s a lovely shop called Shine owned by Stephanie HD, an amazing Bahamian-German woman who handmakes all her jewellery and glass-jellyfish mobiles. And another Bahamian friend of ours, Dake, has just opened a shop in a tiny wooden shack that he renovated, selling über‑chic swimwear and scarves and some nice jewellery.
A sort of hidden island secret is Ocean View, where David first worked. It’s now overseen by Charlotte Phelan and Ben Simmons, the son of the previous owner. They have refurbished it completely and created a lovely, funky little hotel with a gorgeous design: lots of bright colours and exotic prints. Ben really is attracting a groovy thirtysomething crowd, bringing a new generation here. He has also built The Other Side, a new tented eco resort where he will host events. It has the real flavour of the island, and we don’t want to lose that. We want the eclectic, quirky and diverse community of Harbour Island to last forever.