Want to sleep in Mick Jagger's bed? No problem. Yes, the rich are different from you and me: they're cheaper. Rather than let their splendid houses in paradise sit empty when they aren't using them, some celebrities prefer to rent them out, offering dream vacations to total strangers (or at least those with five-figure vacation budgets).
Ordinary mortals can now frolic in private redoubts once reserved exclusively for those anointed with fame and outrageous fortune. Among the mansions currently available are those belonging to Randy Travis, Jane Seymour, Merv Griffin and — oh, yes —Charo.
Charo, who bills herself as "the original cuchi-cuchi girl," may not have much of a career anymore, but she has a really, really oversize seven-bedroom spread on spectacular Tunnel's Beach, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where "Jurassic Park" and "South Pacific" were filmed. Prices begin at $7,700 a week.
Meanwhile, Mr. Jagger's Mustique retreat — a Japanese-style six-bedroom oceanfront villa with a rambling koi pond and a series of pavilions connected by a raised walkway —goes for $13,000 to $16,000 a week. The "rent a celebrity villa" trend, which began in the roaring 90's and seems to be weathering the current economic slump, is a logical (and for celebrities, lucrative) outgrowth of the American obsession with the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Even Robin Leach himself latched onto the trend for a while: his Villa Golden Dreams, an opulent three-acre, 8,500-square-foot compound on Jumby Bay Island, just north of Antigua, fetched $5,000 to $6,400 a day. He recently sold it, but the house is supposed to be back on the rental market in November. Voyeurism is undoubtedly part of the allure. Fans are willing to pay a premium for thechance to feel as if they are mixing with celebrities, even if the celebrities themselvesare nowhere to be seen.
"There's no greater feeling than vacationing in their idol's home," said Alfredo Merat, the president of Overseas Connection Inc., which rents eight celebrity houses. "It makes for a very exciting time."
Celebrity vacation villas are on the Web at villasoftheworld .com, which is run by Overseas Connection. Why should you think about shelling out for a celebrity villa? To begin with,they almost always offer three things that famous people crave: luxury,security and, most of all, privacy. Mick Jagger's villa is completely secluded — bamboo screens and lush vegetation fend off sightseers and paparazzi.And it comes with his private Jeep and a staff of six.To put the prices in some perspective, for large groups, the per-person cost of a celebrity rental can work out to the equivalent of staying at a Four Seasons or a Ritz-Carlton.
Naturally, for some, these properties offer tremendous cachet and intrigue, enmeshed, as they are, in the personal histories of their owners. "I've stayed in houses all over the world, and it impressed me that Mick's looked just like it does when he's there," said a businessman who has rented the Mustique villa twice. He asked that his name not be used, because, he explained, "I want to go back there, and I don't want to make him mad."
Mr. Jagger, it turns out, is very particular about who stays at his villa. "He's a little picky," said Mr. Merat of Overseas Connection, which lists the villa."Clients must apply for the right to rent his property with a detailed description of the party, number of people, names and occupations."Mr. Jagger personally reviews each application, Mr. Merat said, "and then a fax comes back saying either yes or no without explanation."Mr. Jagger is obviously no fool: fellow rock stars almost never make the grade, Mr. Merat said, for fear that they will destroy the house. "He's a bright businessman," he added.
Mr. Jagger has good reason for caution. His villa, like most other celebrity homes for rent, is filled with his family's personal belongings. "They don't change anything," the businessman said. "It's not new or sanitized, with all personal items removed, like other rentals. It looks like they were there the day before, with family pictures and mementos from Mick's career, and even a Christmas tree in the closet."
Luxury reigns chez Jagger. After all, the owner has gone from his bad-boy rock 'n' roll days to being knighted by the queen. On request, the staff is happy to prepare a luxurious picnic, served on adjacent Macaroni Beach, complete with flatware, crystal, cut flowers, Champagne and lobster. "It's likeyou're at a London dinner party," the businessman said.
In some homes, cachet comes in the form of history. Jane Seymour's 11-bedroom English manor house, St. Catherine's Court, near Bath, dates from A.D. 950 and once housed Henry VIII's mistress, Ms. Seymour said, andtheir daughter. Surrounded by 14 acres, with gardens, tennis court, orangery, croquet lawn, Victorian plunge pool and medieval church, the house is available for $23,000 a week.
Ms. Seymour said that she and her family stay at St. Catherine's Court twice a year, and her photographs, paintings and other personal touches are found everywhere."It's a very personal home," Ms. Seymour said. "It's not a hotel and will never be a hotel." History of a different sort comes with Merv Griffin's 45-acre estate in County Galway, Ireland: it used to belong to John Huston. Now a 12-room hotel, it can also be rented out in its entirety for $20,000 to $30,000 a week,depending on the season.
IAN FLEMING'S Jamaica estate, Goldeneye, was also a place where Hollywood royalty dropped in, along with a famous neighbor, Sir Noël Coward. The rambling compound, where Fleming wrote his James Bond thrillers, has a three-bedroom house and four smaller villas on a private beach in Oracabessa. The design is Indonesian, the furnishings include the author's desk, and there's a seawater swimming canal. The cost ranges from $42,000 to $80,500 a week. Individual villas are sometimes available, starting at $1,000 a night.
Goldeneye is now part of the Island Outpost hotel and villa chain owned by Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, and his partners. "Fleming built a gazebo, away from the house, where he could write," said Mr. Blackwell, who grew up on the island, knew the author and bought the estate in 1976. "During the Suez crisis, Sir Anthony Eden, the prime minister, was visiting, and that gazebo became the headquarters of the British government for one day."Later, scenes for "Dr. No" were shot near James Bond Beach, which adjoins the property. Later still, Bob Marley, who recorded for Island Records, stayed at Goldeneye. So did Harrison Ford and Sting, who wrote "Every Breath You Take" while there, Mr. Blackwell said."It's very private, like having a whole section of Jamaica to yourself," said Kevin Haasarud, the executive director of HBO Films Comedy Institute, whostayed at Goldeneye while scouting locations for a writers' retreat. "It has an ethos. It conjures up all kinds of things that are very romantic and enticing. It's an A-list destination for those interested in Hollywood lore."(A celebrity gloss also covers Mr. Blackwell's other property, Cuckoo's Nest, a spectacular five-bedroom, three-level house with mountain views in Sundance, Utah. It rents for $1,500 to $3,500 a night.)
For the ultimate in luxury, isolation and price, few places beat the big house on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands. This private 74-acre island is owned by Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group of companies. There are 12 bedrooms, 2 freshwater pools, 2 whirlpools, beaches with beach huts and barbecue grills, a lighted tennis court, windsurfers, sailing dinghies, motor launches and a helicopter landing pad. The price, a whopping $120,000 to $141,000 a week, includes all meals and drinks and a staff of 22.
A bit more modest are the rentals offered by Randy Travis, the country singer, and his wife, Elizabeth. They rent out two houses on Maui. The larger, a Polynesian-style seven-bedroom villa in Lahaina, has some of the star's platinum records on the walls and goes for $9,000 to $12,000 a week.The Travises live in the historic district of Santa Fe, N.M., in one of three houses they own in the area. The smallest house is for rent now, and thehouse they live in will be — just as soon as they move out. "We're leaving lots of the stuff we now use, and lots of personal touches,"said Ms. Travis, her husband's manager. "It's special, because we're trying to make a really homey, comfy feeling."Mr. Travis said he felt so inspired in his Santa Fe digs that he once wrote seven songs in two days, working with a partner in his custom-made gym-and-office lair. "When we rent this property," he said, "I'm putting police tape around that area, and nobody but me and whoever wants to write can get in."