A sojourn at Ian Fleming’s Jamaican beach estate – now a refurbished luxury hotel – where James Bond was born.
“My job with naval intelligence got me right into the inside of everything,” the British novelist Ian Fleming once said about his role as an international spy during World War II. “I couldn’t possibly have had a more exciting or interesting War.” In 1942, Fleming was assigned to Jamaica to gather intelligence on Nazi U-boat activity in the Caribbean.
He fell in love with the place. After V-E Day, he bought a plot on the beach in St Mary, Jamaica, built a home and named the estate GoldenEye. It was here that the writer invented the character James Bond, penning all 12 of the 007 novels in his private tropical paradise. After Fleming’s death at 56 in 1964, Chris Blackwell – the British founder of Island Records and one of the most important music producers ever (he’s credited with discovering U2 among others) – purchased GoldenEye and turned it into a resort.
Five years ago, Blackwell relaunched the place with a top to bottom refurbish. While it’s elegant and fit with all the modern amenities, it retains its DNA – that sultry island ambiance that Fleming first discovered when he first arrived in Jamaica. Travel with us there now, through the eyes of GoldenEye’s (and OO7’s) founder.
Fate played a major role in Ian Fleming’s life. During the terrifying first days of World War II, British Naval Intelligence was in need of a young man who spoke Russian, French and German for covert operations. Fleming fit the bill and ended up almost randomly at a lunch with the Director of Naval Intelligence. Soon after, he was shipped off as an undercover agent to Jamaica. Fleming on his discovery of this tropical wonderland: “I stayed in the good old Myrtle Bank Hotel, and it poured every day – and I loved every minute of it. I’d never been in the tropics before and I thought they were wonderful, as I suppose any Scotsman would.
When I went back in 1946, I borrowed a car from a man called Sir William Stevenson, who was chief of our intelligence service in the States during the War. I went round and finally found this disused donkeys’ racing course by the sea. I bought the racecourse and I built on it a square of a house which I had designed while I was working in the Admiralty during the last two or three years of the War. It is by a little banana port called Oracabessa, and the house is called GoldenEye, a name I chose. I have written all my books there.”
From the late 1940s to his death in 1964, Fleming spent his winters in the tropics, preferring London and his country cottage outside the city alternatively. Through these years, his novels were read obsessively by millions and his fame blossomed alongside that of his anti-hero, 007. All the while, he worked (not so hard) at perfecting the good life. The author on his daily routine at GoldenEye: “I get up with the birds, which is about half past seven, because they wake one up, and then I go and bathe in the ocean before breakfast. We don’t have to wear a swimsuit there, because it’s so private. My wife and I bathe and swim a hundred yards or so and come back and have a marvelous proper breakfast with some splendid scrambled eggs made by my housekeeper.
Then I sit out in the garden to get a sunburn until about ten. Only then do I set to work. I sit in my bedroom and type about fifteen hundred words straight away, without looking back on what I wrote the day before. I have more or less thought out what I’m going to write. Then, about quarter past twelve, I chuck that and go down, with a snorkle and a spear, around the reefs looking for lobsters or whatever there may be, sometimes find them, sometimes don’t, and then I come back. I have a couple of pink gins, and we have a very good lunch, ordinary Jamaican food. I have a siesta, from about half past two until four.”
After siesta, Fleming would write some more, sending his hero 007 into the most romantic calamities. Then Fleming would focus his attention on the majestic Caribbean sunset: “The dusk comes very suddenly in Jamaica: at six o’clock it suddenly gets very dark. I have a couple of powerful drinks, then dinner, occasionally a game of Scrabble with my wife – at which she thinks she is very much better than I am, but I know I’m the best – and straight off to bed and into a deep sleep.”
Where did the name GoldenEye come from? Fleming explains: “I happened to be reading Reflections in a Golden Eye by Carson McCullers, and I’d been involved in an operation called GoldenEye during the War, the defense of Gibraltar. The alternative choice was Shamelady, which is the Jamaican name for the sensitive plant, the one that curls up when the leaves are touched. The whole 30 acres were covered with the plant.”
Fleming always claimed that Bond was not his alter-ego, though he did imbue his character with desires of his own. They both, for example, smoked gold-ringed cigarettes of Balkan and Turkish tobacco mixed by Morland’s of Grosvenor Square, and they both had a passion for Bentley automobiles. So who was Bond? Fleming: “He’s got his vices and very few perceptible virtues except patriotism and courage, which are probably not virtues anyway. I didn’t intend for him to be a particularly likable person. He’s a cipher, a blunt instrument of the government. Bond is a highly romanticised version of anybody. He’s a sort of amalgam of romantic tough guys, dressed up in 20th Century clothes, using 20th Century language.”
Fleming died at 56 years old of a heart attack. By then, his books had sold over 18 million copies and the first two Bond movies – Dr No and From Russia with Love – had spread the gospel of 007. Here Fleming looks back on life, as only he could: “I have always smoked and drunk and loved too much. In fact I have lived not too long but too much. One day the Iron Crab will get me. Then I shall have died of living too much.”
Published in Playboy South Africa June 2012