A lightning strike has been blamed for a fire that ripped through the luxurious Caribbean home of Sir Richard Branson, forcing his guest, the actress Kate Winslet, to rush for safety along with the entrepreneur's 90-year-old mother.
Together with her boyfriend and two children, the Oscar-winning actress was among 20 people staying at the Great House on Sir Richard's private hideaway of Necker in the British Virgin Islands, when lightning struck the property in the early hours of yesterday morning.
The fire gutted the largely wooden eight-bedroom mansion, though partly thanks to the help of Sir Richard's son Sam, 25, nobody was hurt.
The airline boss and his wife were staying 100 metres away in another of Necker's properties, but his mother, Eve, was in the house as well as his 29-year-old daughter, Holly.
"We had a really bad tropical storm with winds up to 90mph," Sir Richard said. "A big lightning storm came around 4am and hit the house.
"My son Sam rushed to the house and helped get everyone out. Kate Winslet, her boyfriend and her family were there and Holly and some of her friends were also staying. My mother was there and they managed to get her out and she is fine."
Speaking yesterday afternoon, Sir Richard added: "The main house is completely destroyed and the fire is not yet completely out. My office was based in the house and I have lost thousands of photographs, which is very sad."
The multimillionaire began building the Great House on a hilltop overlooking the sea soon after he bought the island in 1982. Its bedrooms had each featured a balcony, king-size four-poster bed and en suite bathroom.
A spokeswoman for Virgin Limited Edition, the exclusive holiday firm that manages the island, said that Sir Richard and his guests were being accommodated elsewhere on the island. They have numerous other unharmed facilities to offer some level of distraction. Necker boasts three cliff-side Balinese houses, another three secluded in the centre of the island, a lake with 200 flamingoes, two floodlit tennis courts, a spa and gym, several swimming pools – including one with a swim-up bar and a small boat to carry sushi to sunbathers on their lilos – and beach-side hammocks hanging from palm trees.
The entire island can be hired exclusively for up to 28 guests at a cost of $54,500 (£33,100) per night, or $1,946 (£1,180) per person per night – excluding a 2.5 per cent service charge.Reuse content