The millionaire and the island nation: Eccentric mogul Felix Dennis to buy one laptop for every child in St Vincent and the Grenadines

 

Media Editor

It is a good thing for the world’s 193rd most populous country, St Vincent and the Grenadines, that it has an Honorary Consul in Warwickshire.

More fortuitously still, he is the eccentric and very wealthy publisher Felix Dennis, who has just brokered a deal for the tiny Caribbean nation that would be the envy of any education authority in Britain.

After rounds of negotiation - involving the bearded British media mogul, the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Microsoft, the Taiwanese computer giant Acer, the former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his troubled successor Nicholas Maduro - each one of the 12,500 secondary school children in the island country is to be given a new laptop computer.

Mr Dennis, 66, hopes the initiative will help St Vincent and the Grenadines, which has a population similar to that of Chesterfield, to grow into a technology hub with a population trained in computer skills. “The schools in St Vincent and the Grenadines have very limited access to IT facilities at the moment, let alone each individual child,” he told The Independent. “I’m delighted that Dennis Publishing has managed to help push this deal through so that every secondary school child can have a laptop to learn with.”

The publisher’s relationship with the Caribbean nation began more than 15 years ago after he purchased Mandalay, David Bowie’s hilltop villa on the exclusive island of Mustique, which is one of the Grenadines and is a favourite holiday destination of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge.

The couple’s visit last year coincided with the island’s annual Blues Festival in which Mr Dennis, who takes part every year, performed his not-unaccomplished version of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”.

Computers in a school in St Vincent Computers in a school in St Vincent
Mandalay is regarded as one of the most spectacular villas on an island where Mick Jagger and Tommy Hilfiger are among the other homeowners. Visitors pass through a gate guarded by a pair of flame-spitting stone Griffins and through Indonesian-style pavilions, with columns and doors carved from Javanese teak, courtyard pools stocked with goldfish and Japanese koi. The veranda look out to luxury yachts moored in the bay and the smell of frangipani and jasmine hangs in the air.

Dennis publishes a portfolio of titles that includes The Week, Viz and Auto Express and made one of his several fortunes from the $240 million [£144.5 million] sale of Maxim in 2007, when it was the best-selling men’s magazine in the world. He has been producing computer magazines for 30 years and now claims to be the UK’s leading technology publisher. He also has a 600-acre estate in the Midlands, where the grounds are the setting for a stunning collection of more than 50 bronze statues.

Felix Dennis is also known for his verse and among his output of more than 1,500 poems is a volume dedicated to his other homeland in the Caribbean. In Sunset, Mustique he describes the scene from Mandalay as the sun goes down.

A ball of fire is spilling in the sea
The empty sky flamingo-pink and grey
Cicada songs creak out the end of day
A choir of tree-frogs whistle: “Come to me!”

Despite his luxury lifestyle, Dennis, who has narrowly avoided death from thyroid illness, throat cancer and crack cocaine addiction, has a track record in trying to put something back. He has planted more than a million broadleaf trees in his Heart of England Forest near Bidford-on-Avon and the computer project is his attempt to leave a legacy in St Vincent and the Grenadines, where he holds citizenship as well as being Honorary Consul. “It is most definitely a home to me now – I spend four or five months of the year there,” he said.

He is friendly with the Prime Minister, Dr The Hon. Ralph Gonsalves, who praised “the ‘maestro’ Felix Dennis”, for his role in negotiating with Microsoft, Acer and Japanese software company Trend Micro to bring laptops to the country’s schools. Venezuela assisted with financing. “The special personal relationships between Felix, on the one hand, and between Hugo [Chavez], Nicholas [Maduro] and me, on the other, were instrumental in putting together this amazing project.”

Each year, Dennis gives four of his best-performing UK staff a holiday at Mandalay. One of those, Julian Lloyd-Evans, Dennis Publishing’s managing director of advertising, worked on the computer project and said he hoped it would have a lasting legacy. The software partners have given the schools a five-year licence to cover the children until the end of their studies. Teachers will receive specialist training in webinars from London.

Lloyd-Evans said he thought the project could inspire other similar initiatives in other parts of the Caribbean and in other developing nations. “We all hope that St Vincent and the Grenadines becomes a fantastic testimonial for what technology can do to inspire children and a new generation. We hope that this could be the start of similar programmes in the future.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003