From Errol Flynn to Ralph Lauren, Jamaica has always attracted the rich and famous, but the island also served as inspiration for the ultimate (albeit fictional) symbol of glamour – James Bond. As a commander in the Naval Intelligence Division (NID) of the British army, Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming, first visited Jamaica in 1943. Staying in the Blue Mountains, he was immediately taken with the island’s sensual pleasures and declared that he’d be back to put down permanent roots after the war. By 1947, he’d paid £2000 for a plot of land on Jamaica’s north coast that had once served as Oracabessa’s racecourse, and engaged local workers to build the elegant beach house that he’d designed himself. Naming it after a bungled NID anti-German operation he’d been involved in, Goldeneye became his winter retreat and a source of competition with neighbour Noel Coward, who insisted that his Blue Harbour was far superior to Fleming’s spartan bachelor pad.
Ian Fleming at Goldeneye
A series of magazine articles penned by Fleming on the joys of his island paradise soon lured a fashionable set to Jamaica, and Goldeneye played host to such luminaries as Sir Anthony and Lady Eden, Truman Capote, Lucian Freud, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Cecil Beaton. Cocktails by the pool and snorkelling with his “Jamaican wife” Blanche Blackwell (mother of Island Records’ Chris Blackwell) soon began to take up most of Fleming’s time. It wasn’t until his other lover and soon-to-be wife, Lady Anne Rothermere (ex-wife of the British newspaper baron), became pregnant in 1952 that he got down to any serious writing. He cranked out Casino Royale on a rickety old Remington typewriter with the jalousies shut to block out the distracting sea view.
Clearly besotted with the island, Fleming exploited the Jamaica connection by taking his hero’s name from the author of the classic book Birds of the West Indies – and many of his characters were inspired by Jamaican friends. Pussy Galore, in the Goldfinger novel, was said to be a tongue-in-cheek representation of Blanche Blackwell. Two novels, Doctor No and The Man with the Golden Gun, were set here (scenes for the movie versions were filmed in Kingston and Westmoreland respectively), and the island served as the fictional San Monique in Live and Let Die. And of course 007 wouldn’t have dreamed of drinking any other coffee than his favourite Blue Mountain brew. Fleming later wrote “Would these books have been born if I had not been living in the gorgeous vacuum of a Jamaican holiday? I doubt it.”
Bond on film
Fleming returned to Goldeneye each January to spend two months writing, but the years of hard drinking and partying began to take their toll and by the late 1950s his health had seriously deteriorated. Fleming survived long enough to supervise Cubby Broccoli’s movie version of Dr No, filmed in Jamaica with Chris Blackwell as location manager. In the first few months of 1964, Fleming returned to Goldeneye and wrote his last 007 novel, The Man with the Golden Gun, infusing the pages with a strong sense of nostalgia for Jamaica. Though his Bond novels had by then sold some forty million copies, Ian Fleming died (on August 12, 1964) without ever really knowing what a sensation he had created. Four months after his death, the release of the movie version of Goldfinger signified the beginning of worldwide Bond mania.