MI6 guest writer Nigel Howell visits Goldeneye, the Jamaican villa where Ian Fleming authored the books that became a global phenomenon...

Where Bond Began

10th June 2012

Any Bond fan who flies over the Caribbean Sea, lands at Montego Bay airport, and drives along the winding north coast of Jamaica is set for a special reward.

After about an hour on the road you pass through the small town of Discovery Bay and instantly recognise the docks that were one of the film locations for Dr. No's 'Crab Key' island. A little further on you will pass the hidden entrance to the beach where Ursula Andress unforgettably rose from the sea in the film of the same name - celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. A few miles later you pass through the small town of Oracabessa, wherein Roger Moore made good his escape in the London bus during an action sequence for "Live and Let Die".

Above: Sean Connery and Ursula Andress on location in Jamaica for "Dr. No".

But for the real Bond fan it is a property that lies just beyond Oracabessa that is the true reward for this long journey, for behind her almost unmarked gates here lies 'Goldeneye', Ian Fleming's Jamaican villa where it all began in 1952, where he wrote the first James Bond story, 'Casino Royale'. But the villa has a fascinating story itself and, as the centrepiece of a small, upmarket resort owned by a famous record producer, the villa and its grounds remain as special today as when Fleming set his heart on living here seventy years ago.

In World War II, Fleming worked for British Naval Intelligence devising a series of daring plans to disrupt enemy operations and, in 1942, was sent to the Caribbean to investigate reports of U-boat deployments in the area. Although Fleming spent only a few days here it was enough to have him fall in love with the island and declare: "I have made up my mind. I am going to live the rest of my life in Jamaica."

After the war Fleming returned to the island, bought some land on a small cliff overlooking the Caribbean, and had a simple villa built. It was to this villa that Fleming returned each year for the peace and quiet needed in order to pen each his twelve James Bond novels and nine short stories. Even with this tranquillity, he found the villa's location and views over the sea so breathtaking that Fleming used to close the shutters at the start of his daily writing routine to avoid distraction. Fleming would later recount that he stole the name for his James Bond character from the author of a local guidebook 'Birds of the West Indies'.

Fleming loved Jamaica - so much so that he set large parts of the books 'Live and Let Die' and 'Doctor No' there, but he also used the villa's very location as inspiration for one of his short novels. Goldeneye has a small private beach at the foot of its low cliff and Fleming would often snorkel out to a rock jutting above the warm sea. It was below this rock that Fleming was rumoured to have stumbled upon a small octopus, an experience that he would use as the backdrop for the short story 'Octopussy'.

In the late 1950s and early '60s, the quiet north coast of Jamaica became a playground for the rich and famous, and Fleming would often host important guests at Goldeneye. And indeed, the magical atmosphere of the villa was not lost following Fleming's death in 1964, for in 1976 the property was acquired by local record producer Chris Blackwell.

Blackwell was the owner of Island Records, bringing such famous artists as Bob Marley, Grace Jones, and U2 to the world. He knew Goldeneye well from visits during his youth when Fleming would host film stars, producers, and society friends; so, when the opportunity came to acquire the property from the Fleming estate Blackwell could not refuse. He later acquired the land around an adjacent tranquil lagoon and added this to Fleming's original 19-acre site. Goldeneye's quiet simplicity, privacy, and spectacular location began to attract Blackwell's friends and guests, and it was whilst staying in the seclusion of Goldeneye that Sting wrote the song 'Every Breath You Take'.

More recently, Blackwell has achieved his ambition of developing the Goldeneye site into a first class hotel and resort. Now with around twenty beach-side and lagoon-side villas nestling close to the Fleming original this is a special place for any Bond fan to visit. Recently, one of MI6's readers, Nigel Howell, was lucky enough to check into the resort and has filed his report.

Although the original Fleming villa is often rented out to wealthy guests, when we stayed at the resort it was vacant and we were able to step inside birthplace of the Bond novels. And to make the experience even better, we were hosted by Fleming's original gardener, Ramsey, who though now retired, still lives on the property.

The villa is now comfortably appointed (including an outdoor bathroom to bathe under the warm sun), but the layout of the Fleming villa remains as it was when the author moved there in the early '50s. Some of the original furniture remains, including the very desk where Fleming's typewriter captured Bond's thrilling adventures.

Above: Ramsey takes us to Fleming's desk.

It's a real privilege to meet Ramsey. A modest and gently-spoken man, he can trace his experience at Goldeneye almost to the very start, and still refers to the villa's original owner as 'Commander Fleming'. As he shows us around the property, identifying the plants and wildlife that he has long lived with, he recalls the days when Commander Fleming was living there. He would visit for about two months at the start of each year and Ramsey recalls Fleming's routine of working at his writing in the morning before rewarding himself with lunch overlooking the sea, and maybe some time on the beach or snorkelling in the late afternoon. The Commander would frequently host famous guests but, with little exposure to the world of royalty, entertainers, and film stars, Ramsey was often unaware of who the guests were as he went about his daily duties. He told us, for example, that he didn't know who Sean Connery was when he lunched there one day with Commander Fleming.

Ramsey shows us into the simple but comfortable villa, and we visit the original desk in the bedroom where Fleming would write or edit his manuscripts on a traditional typewriter. It would have been impossible, at the beginning, to envisage the worldwide publishing and film phenomenon that would begin on this simple desk, in this simple villa, on the quiet north coast of Jamaica.

Ramsey leads us down the steps to the small private beach, pointing out plants that he himself tended when he was employed there. Following Fleming's death, and Blackwell's sympathetic ownership, the secluded villa has seen a steady stream of famous guests and with Ramsey's help a new tradition has begun. As thanks for a donation to Blackwell's local development charity the guests are invited to plant a tree in the grounds, which is labelled with their name. Often the planting is with Ramsey's help. Such varied guests as President and Mrs. Clinton, Princess Margaret, Sir Richard Branson, Grace Jones, and Pierce Brosnan all have trees commemorating their visits to Goldeneye.

Above: The sign marking the tree that Pierce Brosnan planed during his tenure as Bond.

We left Ramsey and the Fleming villa and explored the rest of the resort with its unique location and cottages set either directly on the beach or overlooking the peaceful lagoon. With inspiring views, beneath warm Jamaican skies it is easy to understand why Fleming chose this place for its relaxed tranquillity - the perfect location for inventing such timeless stories.

Visit islandoutpost.com for details and booking.

Many thanks to Nigel Howell.
Unless otherwise stated, all photos © Nigell Howell 2012. Used with permission.

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