“Nevis was – and still is to some extent – undiscovered and off the beaten path, so she could have come here without being inundated with paparazzi,” Hoffman comments. He wasn’t there back then, but some of his staff were. “They talk about how down to earth she was and very outgoing. She used to play cricket on Pinneys beach with her boys. It was a last minute arrangement and she didn’t hire out the hotel exclusively for herself, so there were other guests staying here too. But the restaurant was closed to outside bookings so that no one else could walk in.”
Diana’s former bodyguard, Ken Wharfe, also has some memories of the princess’s time at Montpelier, as recounted in his book Diana: Closely Guarded Secret. Harry and William, then aged eight and 10, would race nine-inch-long toads in the Nevis Toad Derby. “Harry particularly loved the place. It was not a five-star venue, but unique in so many ways. Rugged beaches and journeys in an open-top battered Toyota truck,” Wharfe wrote.
In November 2016, when Harry toured the Caribbean, he returned to Nevis – this time to nurture turtles rather than race toads on the north coast of an island that looks like a child’s picture of paradise – a perfect triangle, with verdant, volcanic Nevis Peak rising at its centre, and just one road fringing the coastline.
Besides its beguiling natural beauty, the charm of Nevis – in particular in its quaint, pocket-sized capital of Charlestown – is that this is “old Caribbean”, says Hoffman. His parents struck upon the Montpelier estate – which sits on the south of the island, at the foot of Nevis Peak – when his late father, Lincoln, fancied a challenge after retiring from banking. “We ended up going after a dream, my wife Meredith and I, my mum and dad. We took on the adventure of trying to find a hotel to run as a family business and we saw the vision. It’s one of the few properties we saw in the Caribbean that had really good bones,” says Florida-based Hoffman.
His mother, Muffin, along with a staff of 30, is still full-time hands on with the running of the multi-award-winning hotel, which includes 19 sea-view bungalows, an old sugar mill, three restaurants, and a private beach. “But mum’s approaching 80 and she works seven days a week. My ability to get back is reduced as my life and family is in the US. We’ve owned the hotel for a long time and it’s time to pass the baton,” says Hoffman of the family’s thinking for putting the property on the market. He stresses that the hotel will remain in full operation, and all bookings will continue unhindered. The family is in no hurry to sell; whether it takes six months or 10 years, it’s about finding the right person to take on the mantle.