Her brother’s PRI­VATE is­land is a PLACE for adren­a­line sports and par­ties, but Vanessa Bran­son’s is­land GET­AWAY is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent.


Richard Bran­son’s sis­ter, Vanessa, has an is­land of her own, too, – we find out how hers is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent to his

On a re­mote is­land in Scot­land that’s just 4km (2.5 miles) long, and has only a smat­ter­ing of elec­tric­ity, a fa­mous fam­ily with a rich en­tre­pre­neur­ial his­tory gather ev­ery two years for an off-the-grid cel­e­bra­tion. “The full Bran­son clan gath­ers here ev­ery other year,” says Vanessa Bran­son – sis­ter of Richard – who owns Eilean Shona is­land. “There’s my mother, my brother, my sis­ter, our 11 chil­dren and the seven ba­bies. The kids all travel to our de­serted beach on dif­fer­ent craft, pad­dle-board­ing, sail­ing or kayak­ing. We cook mus­sels over a fire, drink rosé and sing and dance to my nephew Sam’s gui­tar-play­ing and my daugh­ter Flo’s crazy flute ac­com­pa­ni­ment. Mem­o­ries don’t get much bet­ter than these.”

The story of how Sir Richard Bran­son bought Necker Is­land in the eight­ies to im­press his girl­friend (now wife) dur­ing one of their early dates is now the stuff of ur­ban leg­end. Many en­trepreneurs dream of step­ping foot on the Vir­gin ty­coon’s Caribbean play­ground – a place for kitesurf­ing and rau­cous par­ties, where vis­i­tors have been known to eat sushi off other guests’ stom­achs and dress as sumo wrestlers. But his sis­ter’s is­land is a space for quiet re­flec­tion, dis­con­nec­tion and soli­tude.

An art cu­ra­tor and trustee of Vir­gin Unite, a not-for-profit that sup­ports en­tre­pre­neur­ial ideas, Vanessa pur­chased the is­land in 1995 with her for­mer hus­band Robert Dev­ereux, who led the entertainment arm of Vir­gin in the 1980s be­fore chair­ing the Soho House group for eight years.

The is­land boasts 607 hectares (1500 acres) of Scot­tish moor, wild open hills and wood­land, with a main house and seven rentable prop­er­ties (plus two more un­der de­vel­op­ment). They’re pur­posely low-tech. In fact, Vanessa de­signed the is­land to be an es­cape from the ‘iPhone life’ that we’re all liv­ing in – and that her brother has made a for­tune from.

“I think we have the per­fect bal­ance [on the is­land] of be­ing con­nected, but

also be­ing able to get away from iPhone life,” she says. “The main house has elec­tric­ity, but five of our cot­tages are com­pletely off-grid. You can walk to the lit­tle vil­lage hall [which has in­ter­net ac­cess] to use your com­puter. It’s in­ter­est­ing to wit­ness how ur­gent be­ing con­nected feels when you first ar­rive on is­land and then, as the days go by, how quickly you re­alise how good it feels to be free of emails.”

Un­til the mid­dle of the 18th century, Eilean Shona was pop­u­lated by a num­ber of ‘crofters’ (ten­ants of small plots of land). Since the 1930s, the is­land had been owned by three fam­i­lies, who had de­vel­oped it, grad­u­ally, into a slow-travel des­ti­na­tion to visit.

Even though Eilean Shona is only a 10-minute boat trip from the main­land (or a quick char­tered he­li­copter ride), any kind of prop­erty ren­o­va­tion is quite chal­leng­ing on an is­land.

“To ren­o­vate a build­ing is a real feat of or­gan­i­sa­tion,” says Vanessa. “All the build­ing ma­te­ri­als are brought over by ‘Span­ish John’, the lo­cal barge. The builders ei­ther com­mute across the wa­ter each day, or stay on [the] is­land for the du­ra­tion. Paul Wadding­ton, the ge­nius is­land man­ager, has be­come very adept at fix­ing ev­ery piece of house­hold ma­chin­ery him­self!”

With no TIME wasted mak­ing EV­ERY­DAY lo­gis­ti­cal de­ci­sions, you are FREE to dream.

The main house, which was named af­ter the is­land, has 11 bed­rooms, a large library and does come with mod-cons (a dish­washer!). But the very new­est con­ver­sion – The Old School House – is to­tally off-grid, with no elec­tric­ity, in­ter­net or mo­bile re­cep­tion.

Their aim in the re­design was to show that low-fi liv­ing could be both com­fort­able and stylish. A gas-lit lux­ury par­adise.

“The house it­self is re­ally el­e­gant,” says Vanessa. “We added win­dows and sky­lights so it’s swamped in nat­u­ral light, and you’re aware of the dra­matic land­scape and wildlife around you. The wood-burn­ing stoves pro­vide lash­ings of boil­ing wa­ter for the roll-top bath. The sheets are the best qual­ity Egyp­tian cot­ton.”

There’s one small shop on the is­land that cov­ers guests’ ba­sic needs, and sells lo­cally made fish pies and veni­son casseroles. “Ev­ery­thing you do is tide­and weather-de­pen­dent,” says Vanessa. “Ev­ery case of wine has to be car­ried onto the boat and up to the main house. Ev­ery empty bot­tle then has to do the re­turn jour­ney across the sea again.”

The is­land it­self has a rich his­tory: it was the in­spi­ra­tion for Nev­er­land in J.M. Bar­rie’s Peter Pan. As an artist her­self, Vanessa hosts a pro­gram of artists’ res­i­den­cies, writ­ing work­shops and play­writ­ing re­treats on the is­land. She’s also de­vel­op­ing the na­ture re­serve by plant­ing thou­sands of trees to man­age the an­cient wood­land.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the is­land is a place that most vis­i­tors find to be ex­tremely cre­atively in­spir­ing.

“The days on Shona are end­less,” says Vanessa. “In sum­mer it doesn’t get dark un­til mid­night. With no time wasted mak­ing ev­ery­day lo­gis­ti­cal de­ci­sions, you are free to dream, make art and fo­cus on friends and fam­ily. The en­vi­ron­ment is never static; tides pull in and out at dif­fer­ent times each day; the weather rolls in over the At­lantic, pro­vid­ing clear blue days and big cloud days, but mostly a mix of the two. This, plus the land­scape, means you can’t fail to be in­spired.”


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