'If you have a perfect place in your heart, I think it should stay there'

YOUR PAPERS PLEASE

Dea Birkett

Date of birth

21 August 1958

Place of birth

Hampton Court

Occupation

Travel Writer

Travel writer Dea Birkett has a rare stamp in her passport. It looks like a large, black postmark and says "Pitcairn Island Police and Immigration". In 1992 Birkett spent four months on Pitcairn, fulfilling a dream which began when she saw the movie Mutiny on the Bounty. She says: "I was sitting in a cinema on a rainy afternoon at the Elephant and Castle. I was watching the latest of five movies made about the Mutiny on the Bounty, in which Mel Gibson played Fletcher Christian and Anthony Hopkins, Captain Bligh. I was captivated by the images of this lovely island. At the end, the credits rolled up and said that descendants of Fletcher Christian live on the island to this very day. It was miserable and grey and cold outside and I thought, 'I've got to go to this lovely place.'" It took Birkett two years. The Foreign Office is inundated with applications from people who want to live on Britain's last colony in the South Pacific, and nearly all are refused. Birkett persisted and gained permission to go, but there were other problems. She explains: "Pitcairn is incredible remote. The only way is if you can convince a cargo ship to take you as a member of crew. The ships pass within about 10 miles of Pitcairn and they literally drop you over the side on a ladder into a long boat." Luckily she had worked her passage from Lagos to Liverpool as a steersman in 1987, so she found it relatively easy to join a chemical carrier in Houston, Texas, bound for the South Pacific. On Pitcairn she found people dressed in T-shirts and shorts, speaking a language reminiscent of the 18th century - calling a gun a musket and saying "tarry awhile" instead of stay. Birkett lived and worked with sixth-generation descendants of Fletcher Christian. "I did washing, I cooked, I helped in their garden, I went out to trade with passing ships." But Pitcairn was not the island of her dreams. She explains: "The island of the movies is surrounded by coral beaches, it's palm fringed, there's a lovely blue lapping sea. Pitcairn has no beach and a violent coastline. What I thought would make Pitcairn so attractive - its smallness, it's remoteness - were in actual fact huge problems for the people there and also for me. I found that the 38 inhabitants were fallible and human like all of us, and I was enormously disappointed. It was not fair of me to project this paradise on to a very ordinary place. If you have a perfect place in your heart, I think it should stay there."

"Serpent in Paradise", Dea Birkett's book about Pitcairn is published by Picador at pounds 16.99.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
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.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing