Shake, don’t stir, the martinis. I’m in GoldenEye, sitting at James Bond’s birthplace, which is a small corner desk where Ian Fleming created the world’s most dashing superspy in 1952 and banged out all 14 Bond books. Fleming’s three-bedroom Jamaica beach pad seems rather simple, considering the British naval officer-turned-bestselling-author hatched Pussy Galore, Auric Goldfinger, assassin-thwarting gizmos, rocket bombs and other do-or-die havoc on this very spot.
Anybody — covert or not — can book it for a vacation.
Never mind that just a few days ago, 007 killing machine Daniel Craig overnighted here.
“Fleming didn’t want the house to be fancy,” recalls nearly 82-year-old Chris Blackwell, whose spirited mother, Blanche, lived close by and purportedly was the longtime love of the married Fleming. “When I went there, it was very militaristic and very sparse. There wasn’t a cushion in sight. He would wake up, swim, write after breakfast, nap. He was very disciplined.”
Your mission: soaking up sun, fun and iconic history. Blackwell — London-born and Jamaica-raised — built, owns and hangs out at the 52-acre GoldenEye resort, although he’s probably better known as the legendary music producer who vaulted Bob Marley and Jamaican reggae to international fame. Bring a license to chill because the disarming seaside resort — which includes what is now called “Fleming’s Villa” — is a spread-out enclave of 44 rustic-chic cottages, lagoon dwellings and multicolored beach huts, fringed by flowering jungle with gravel roads. It’s more enchantingly Gilligan’s Island than secret agent glitz. Except you are being surveilled in the ocular-shaped saltwater Eye Pool: A giant turquoise eyeball stares up as swimmers splash overhead.
Blackwell’s own dossier is fascinating. He palled around in his teens with Errol Flynn, was rescued by Rastafarians after a boating mishap, founded megahit Island Records (besides Marley, his artists included U2, Tom Waits and Cat Stevens), and is a boutique hotel-and-rum mogul. He also saved nearby frozen-in-time Firefly, the tropical lair of illustrious raconteur playwright Noël Coward; this sunset hour, the laid-back Blackwell and I are sipping fruity Blackwell Rum-label cocktails on Firefly’s lawn next to Coward’s grave.
We’ll get to that chapter shortly. As for Fleming’s house, “It is creatively blessed. I lent it to Sting and he wrote his biggest record there, ‘Every Breath You Take,’ “ Blackwell says. He mentions it not to brag because this is one unpretentious multimillionaire, clad in a well-worn lavender souvenir sweatshirt emblazoned “Montauk.”
Guests staying at the resort can tour Fleming’s villa if it’s not rented. Three days before my peek, Craig slept in the white-canopied four-poster bed adjacent to Fleming’s toiled-over writing desk. The extravagantly paid leading man was about to begin filming the untitled 25th Bond movie elsewhere in Jamaica, bringing the suave sleuth back to his roots. The first movie, “Dr. No” (1962), was shot in this Caribbean nation. Bond buffs will never forget when sultry shell-clutching Ursula Andress emerges from the ocean in a knife-belted bikini.
Fleming’s GoldenEye got its start in 1946, when he bought 15 acres that had been a donkey racetrack, sketched out his idyllic hideaway and christened it after one of his clandestine World War II operations. He was infatuated with Jamaica, then a British colony, and each winter he ditched England to spend several months at his paradise perched above the azure waters of banana port Oracabessa Bay. For 13 straight years, in between snorkeling, swimming and bird-watching, the urbane scribe tapped out Bond fantasies until his death from a heart attack in England at age 56 in 1964.
Since then, GoldenEye has hosted a bevy of barefoot VIPs from Bill and Hillary Clinton to Harrison Ford to Scarlett Johansson. The delightful Ramsay Dacosta, 82, was Fleming’s gardener, and decades later he still helps visitors plant trees throughout the resort for a $1,000 donation to Blackwell’s Oracabessa Foundation benefiting the local community. Strolling around, you’ll notice dozens of hand-printed weathered markers beside vegetation: the guava tree planted by Johnny Depp, the ackee planted by a teenage River Phoenix, the Julie mango stuck in dirt in 1998 by silver screen then-Bond, Pierce Brosnan. (Of course, “GoldenEye” is also the title of Brosnan’s 1995 Bond caper. And Bono wrote the movie’s theme song here.)
In front of the home’s open-air picture windows is the “sunken garden,” where Fleming entertained celebrity friends, including Katharine Hepburn, Truman Capote, Coward and the swashbuckling Flynn, who had moved to Jamaica. A steep stone staircase descends to Fleming’s narrow private beach. Dacosta points to a jagged rock offshore, remembering how Fleming regularly waded out with fish-filled conch shells to feed an octopus that lived under it. “Octopussy” was not only the title of a Bond story; it was the name of a fishing boat Blanche Blackwell gave Fleming.
In 1976, Blackwell purchased the spymaker’s refuge when the first potential buyer, Marley, backed out, deeming it “too posh.”
Long before that, Coward fell for Jamaica while vacationing at Fleming’s villa. In 1949, the British “Private Lives” and “Blithe Spirit” playwright built his first nearby retreat, Blue Harbour. Later he erected his beloved, one-bedroom Firefly on a hilltop with a sweeping view of Jamaica’s coast. After Coward’s death in 1973, Firefly sank into disrepair; Blackwell bought it in 1992.
What’s so extraordinary is that the entire home is a musty time capsule, seemingly untouched since the acclaimed showman suffered a heart attack in Firefly’s shower and died on the bed. A faded pink towel monogrammed “N C” hangs in the yellow-and-black-tiled bathroom as if he had just wiped his hands. In the living room, a glass decanter holds a couple of inches of his now-oxidized brandy, straight across from the composer/singer’s much-tinkled piano.
In an outdoor corridor, a glass patio table is set with floral-patterned china, just like when the Queen Mother dropped by and quaffed a vodka-and-beef-bouillon Bullshot with Coward.
Firefly is also one for the books. And GoldenEye guests can privately tour it, capped with a picnic or sunset wine on the expansive lawn. You’ll be joined alfresco by the bronze, life-size statue of Coward, cross-legged in a chair, cigarette in fingers, admiring the spectacular vista. He’s buried close by, a rectangular marble slab marking his final resting place and favorite cocktail spot.
‘One Love’ vibe
When I arrive at GoldenEye, there is no clue, other than a cryptic “Private Property” notice on a wrought-iron gate. After a guard gives us the OK, we reach the reception Fleming Room. Next door is the treehouse-style Gazebo restaurant, where Fleming pondered MI6 plots in a gazebo shack. In the restaurant’s entry, five framed stills from “Dr. No” show Andress in her classic bikini debut, one with hunky co-star Sean Connery. The scene was shot on a 20-minute boat trip from GoldenEye and arranged by the film’s then-24-year-old location manager, Blackwell himself.
Another reason to R and R here is that conservation is a main concern. One morning, I chat with local fishermen at what they call the Bond 007 Beach, and a cigarette-stub-chewing angler boasts about his huge jackfish catch. It’s a testament to one of Blackwell’s projects, the Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary, which protects another offshore area in order to revive the overfished stock.
Fleming cherished the natural beauty of his Caribbean haven; he even picked the name of his bird-watching guidebook’s author — James Bond — for his cloak-and-dagger hero.
Today’s resort, starting with a few cottages in the 1990s, remains remarkably down-to-earth with a Jamaican “One Love” vibe. At the thatched-roof, record-album-covered Bizot Bar, I’m channeling my inner Bond girl as my husband and I sip frothy signature pineapple-and-rum GoldenEyes with the rolling surf lapping against rocks, a drop-dead gorgeous sun setting, and resident cat Fleming meowing at our feet. Soon, tree frogs and crickets loudly chirp a bewitching symphony. I figure You Only Live Twice.