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Celebrities Rent Out Their Digs; Rolling Stone Gathers $15K for a Week at His Villa
The Wall Street Journal, July 2000

Looking for a special place to unwind with friends recently, Joy Evans chose to rent a private villa in Acapulco, Mexico. But it wasn’t just the stunning view of the bay or the opulent décor that lured her. It was the home’s owner: singer Julio Iglesias.

"It’s the celebrity treatment you’re buying," says Ms. Evans, a marketing director from Chappaqua, N.Y., who chose the home because she assumed the staff would be top-notch. The highlights: a bartender, who manned a thatched-roof bar in the middle of the pool and a team of masseuses who came daily.

Forget the Lincoln Bedroom. These days, more celebrities than ever rent their homes to strangers. Upscale-vacation planners say there has been about a 50% jump in this part of their business in the past two years. Virgin Group Ltd. Chairman Richard Branson’s private island, for example, is booked more than a year in advance, as are Mick Jagger’s and Princess Margaret’s homes on the Caribbean island of Mustique.

After all, nothing confers bragging rights like sleeping in a movie star’s bed or romping in a rock star’s Jacuzzi-even if the owner is nowhere in sight.

Premium Price Tag

None of this comes cheap. Rocker Mr. Jagger commands $15,000 a week for his six-bedroom villa. Actress Jane Seymour gets $21,000 for seven days in her 14th century castle near Bath, England. Elvis Presley, nearly a quarter century after his death, fetches $ 6,000 a week for the Palm Springs, Calif., home where he proposed to Priscilla. And that doesn’t even include security deposits, which run as high as 20% of the rent.

But why are celebrities-many of them increasingly protective of their privacy- so quick to open their doors to anyone who can meet their asking price? Some are discreetly trying to sell their homes by offering the buyer of the real estate’s equivalent of a test drive. Others are trying to raise money for a pet charity, bring in some extra cash or keep their staff occupied and well tipped.

"The Duke of Devonshire can’t walk all 60-plus rooms of his manor everyday," say Gregory Patrick, owner of Tours of Enchantment in Houston. "So although he doesn’t need the money, it helps to have the toilets flushed."

The leasing of celebrity homes almost always is handled by management companies so guests rarely have contact with their famed landlords. Tenants who try to initiate communication- say by leaving behind a demo tape or a phone number- are usually foiled when housekeepers throw them away.

Take Arnold Chiet of Bethesda, Md. He spent a week at the Mustique home of Lord Litchfield, Queen Elizabeth’s cousin, and was tickled to find a telephone directory that included numbers for David Bowie, Tommy Hilfiger and Princess Margaret. Although he says he "never dreamed of dialing any of the numbers," he did talk the staff into giving him a tour of Princess Margaret’s house next door, which was empty at the time.

"It’s fun," says Mr. Chiet, a retired vice president and general tax counsel for Lockheed Martin. "You think, ‘Gee, she could have been queen of England, and I’m standing in her bathroom," he adds.

Getting the Celebrity Treatment

Others simply revel in the chance to live like a celebrity, with amenities such as security guards, butlers, chauffeurs, chefs, and masseuses. Tom Blumberg spent $100,000 to take his family to Necker, Mr. Branson’s private island in the Caribbean. The price included a staff of 31, three villas and two beaches complete with electric coolers stocked with champagne.

Not to mention cachet, "If you’re a businessman, you’d like to think of yourself as good leader, with verve and flair, ready to take on great companies," says Mr. Blumberg. Living in such a place, even for a week, "lets you think of yourself as a Branson kind of guy."

To be sure, the custom of staying in the well-appointed homes of famous people isn’t new. In the mid-18th century the French aristocracy maintained huge country estates, with thousands of acres and hundreds of servants. Yet, they were rarely used by their owners, who instead loaned them out to other gentry.

Travel agent Mr. Patrick says a guest who rented country and western singer Randy Travis’s home on the Hawaiian island of Maui asked the female chef to work naked. She quit on the spot.

Famous owners aren’t always flawless hosts. For example, some travel agents say some celebrities string clients along for months before telling them exactly which week they will allow them to book. "Celebrities can be just a little more, shall we say, star like," says Wendy Wachtel, a vacation planner in Sag Harbor, N.Y.

This can lead to perhaps the ultimate thrill of renting a celebrity home: outclassing the stars. Explains Mr. Chiet, who leased a house on Barbados where the rock star Sting had stayed: "The butler said he’d rather work for me."

Renting from the Stars
Below are some celebrity retreats that are available for use by the rest of us.

Goldeneye
Who: Ian Fleming, author of James Bond novels
What: 17-acre retreat with five private villas
Where: Jamaica
Cost: $35,000 a week

The King’s Hideaway
Who: Elvis Presley
What: Three bedroom, mountainside estate
Where: Palm Springs, Calif.
Cost: $5,000 a week

Casa Julio
Who: Julio Iglesias
What: Cliffside estate with view of Acapulco Bay
Where: Acapulco, Mexico
Cost: $25,000 a week

Stargroves
Who: Mick Jagger
What: Six bedroom villa with Japanese pavilions
Where: Mustique Island in the Caribbean
Cost: $15,000 a week

St. Catherine’s Court
Who: Jane Seymour
What: Castle on 14 acres with stables and church
Where: Outside Bath, England
Cost: $21,000 a week

Contact: Tours of Enchantment at
1-800-WHY-DREAM
www.toursofenchantment.com

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