50 years of partying at the hippest beach bar in the Caribbean

Charles is now 75 and his eponymous bar will soon be 50. Life, which was never exactly hectic, has slowed down. “I’m more of a mascot,” he muses as he sits at one of the tables in the center of Basil’s, his voice slow, thoughtful, punctuated by fits of laughter. This role involves sitting at the bar, eating quesadillas, chatting with guests and generally making his guests feel special. Later he will dance along with the live blues band and play a little backgammon.

It’s a dream life, but it all started with Mitchell’s week-long gamble on Charles. When the mail boat returned, Mitchell declared Charles indispensable. “I told her the boat was coming and she said, ‘Oh my God, no, you can’t leave.’ I said, ‘I don’t have any clean clothes,’ and she said, ‘We’ll fix that!’” He leans back and smiles heartily. Suddenly he jumps up. ‘Look, sea turtles! I swim with that every morning.’

“David Bowie was a good friend”

It sounds simple and idyllic, but Charles’s life isn’t all about dancing barefoot to live music and splashing around. He has three children (his two sons live in the US and his daughter is in St. Vincent) and three grandchildren. He talks about several girlfriends over the years – also several business ventures, including a bar in St. Vincent and a store and wine cellar here on Mustique. Charles has two homes on the island, spends the summer in the Hamptons or on Martha’s Vineyard, and is a regular at the Royal Box in Ascot. He plans to go to Morocco and Paris after that, and maybe even Bali.

“David Bowie introduced me to Bali,” says Charles. “We were having lunch at his villa and he told me he had all his shirts made there.” He pauses. “He was a good friend.”

I’m told Charles is fabulously indiscreet about celebrity guests – and he brings up stories of getting “quite friendly” with Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman, playing tennis with Pippa Middleton (“a strong player”), and picnicking with Princess Margaret. But clearly a lot has happened that he doesn’t tell – the real appeal of Basil’s Bar en Mustique is its culture of discretion.

Colin Tennant, later Lord Glenconner, bought the 2.2 square mile Caribbean island from a Vincentian family in 1958 for £45,000 and planned to develop it into a cotton farm. His wife, Lady Anne, was a lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret, and Tennant’s genius idea was to give the princess a small plot of land on the unpromising, mosquito-infested islet as a wedding present. She built Les Jolies Eaux, a five-bedroom villa. And wherever Margaret went, rock stars, movie stars and tycoons soon followed.

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