“Never say no to adventures. Always say yes, otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.” That was our bartender quoting James Bond. We were sitting at the Bamboo Bar on Button Beach in Jamaica, sipping a couple of especially potent rum punches, discussing our favorite 007 movies and James Bond quotes. “It’s just that I’d rather die of drink than of thirst!” our traveling companion and afternoon drinking buddy shouted, as he raised his Red Stripe. “It’s from ‘Thunderball,’ 1965, fourth in the series,” he informed us.
Some people come to Jamaica for the beaches and the sunshine and the “don’t worry, be happy” Reggae vibe. We’d come to Jamaica for all of that, and to walk in the footsteps of Ian Fleming, the author of the infamous Bond novels. Our James Bond Jamaica trip was pre-COVID, but we’ve thought a lot about it recently, with the fall release of “No Time to Die,” the 25th movie in the Bond series, and actor Daniel Craig’s final appearance as the British secret agent, 007. Many of the scenes from “No Time to Die” were shot in Jamaica and the kickoff production gathering of cast and crew was at Ian Fleming’s GoldenEye villa and estate. It brought back memories; the GoldenEye resort is where we had begun our Fleming & Bond Jamaica trip two years ago.
Fleming first visited Jamaica while serving in the Navy during World War II, when he was sent to investigate Nazi U-boat activity in the Caribbean, in an operation dubbed GoldenEye. He was immediately smitten with the island, and in 1946 he purchased a 15-acre overgrown parcel above the port town of Oracabessa Bay on the island’s northern coast. Fleming personally designed the modest three-bedroom home on the parcel and called it GoldenEye. It’s here that he created 007 and penned all his James Bond novels, at a small writing desk in the corner of the home’s living room.
The property exchanged hands a few times after Fleming’s death; Reggae musician Bob Marley considered buying it, but it was his friend Chris Blackwell who ended up purchasing it in 1977. Blackwell, who had an aristocratic Jamaican mother and spent his early years on the island, was the founder of Island Records that brought the world Marley, Traffic, Bad Company, Grace Jones, U2, Cat Stevens, Steve Winwood, and others. He also had a connection with Fleming. His mother, Blanche Blackwell, was Fleming’s longtime mistress. That might be why young Chris, at the age of 24, landed the job as a location scout and production assistant for Fleming’s “Dr. No.” Blackwell even makes a cameo appearance in the film, dancing at a bar at Morgan’s Harbour Hotel & Marina.
Today, GoldenEye is part of the Blackwell-owned Island Outpost resort collection (www.goldeneye.com). The ultra-luxe property includes a cluster of luxury villas, cottages and beach huts, surrounded by tropical gardens, an inner lagoon, snug coves and private beaches, covering more than 50 private acres. Fleming’s home is still there, too, and is available to rent. It was vacant on our visit, so we were able to get a tour, and a peek at some original furnishings, photos, and memorabilia from Fleming’s time there. It’s a lovely spot overlooking a private beach, with its own pool and gorgeous water and garden views — a place for James Bond-style fine living.
There was a lot of fine living going on during Fleming’s days on the island, with a cast of celebrities, including Errol Flynn, Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Olivier, and others.
Just up the road from GoldenEye was party central at English playwright Noel Coward’s Blue Harbour home. Coward had at one time rented Fleming’s GoldenEye, and later decided to build his own home on the island. It quickly became a high society hotspot, so much so that Coward purchased another hideaway retreat just up the hill, rumored to be Captain Morgan’s pirate lookout. He named the property Firefly and lived there until his death in 1973. Eventually, Chris Blackwell bought Firefly, too, restored it and it’s now open for public tours (www.firefly-jamaica.com). We visited on a bright clear day and had stunning views of the north coast of Jamaica.
One of our favorite scenes in the 1972 James Bond film “Live and Let Die” is the famous crocodile escape. In the film, Bond, played by Roger Moore, is sent to the Kananga’s crocodile farm to be eaten, but performs a daring getaway by running across the backs of a line of crocodiles. We toured the Jamaica Swamp Safari Village where it was filmed, and met the cast of predatory reptiles (well, maybe not the same ones). It’s a fun tour, and the farm is not only home to a bask of crocs, but a motley collection of rescued animals (www.jamaicaswampsafarivillage.com).
Fleming was an avid swimmer and fisherman, and many of his works showcase Jamaica’s gorgeous beaches. We spent a few hours at James Bond Beach, featured in “Dr. No” and arguably one of the island’s prettiest spots. Warm, calm waters, golden sand, and a little Reggae music playing in the background made for a relaxing afternoon. Another afternoon we lounged at Laughing Waters Beach, another gorgeous location, also featured in the film “Dr. No.” This is where Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) walks out of the sea and spots Bond (Sean Connery).
We spent our last evening back at GoldenEye at the water-facing Bizot Bar, where the popular drink of choice was the Blackwell rum punch. We decided on a martini, shaken, not stirred. “Why not?” our bartender said as he poured the drinks into chilled glasses. “After all, ‘You Only Live Twice.’”
For more information on Jamaica, visit www.visitjamaica.com.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org