Billionaire's Paradise: Inside Necker Island - TV review: It's heaven on Planet Richard Branson...

...unless you're one of the locals

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The Independent Culture

Did you really want to spend a cold, dark evening in January watching a documentary about the luxury beach resort reserved for celebrities and the fabulously wealthy? No, you didn't, but luckily Billionaire's Paradise: Inside Necker Island (BBC2), the documentary about Sir Richard Branson's £40,000-a-night resort, also had one or two insights about the tourism industry to justify its existence. That is if you could endure all the shots of golden sandy beaches, azure seas and poolside piña coladas in the meantime.

There are three staff members for every guest on Necker, that's 100 staff members, split into two de facto groups: the locals and the expats. Locals commute by boat from nearby Virgin Gorda to do most of the cleaning and manual work. For groundsmen Brian and Arnett this includes collecting coconuts to order: "We used to climb the tree, but it's more modernised now," said Arnett. "We have a stick."

Then there's the expats, all toned, tanned gods of the surf for whom flirting with the guests is part of the job description. Slightly demeaning, no? Head of finance Milly doesn't seem to mind: "It's interesting, y'know, anything goes." Perhaps occasionally acting as a human sushi platter seems a fair deal, when you're the only accountant in the Northern Hemisphere who gets to go to work in flip-flops.

Above them all floats Branson, in his linen shirts, with his castaway's beard; he is a vision of ultimate relaxation. Although, apparently, he does occasionally answer a few emails from his outdoor poolside office (or rather he dictates them to his two PAs). What a life, eh? Branson says he's felt a mystical affinity with Necker ever since he first flew over it in a helicopter, back in 1978. "I'd just never seen anything so perfect, except my beautiful lady I was wooing who was also in the helicopter with me." It's for this reason, he's made the island his permanent place of residence, and absolutely nothing to do with tax.