As the curtain rises on the 22nd Holders Season in Barbados, founder Wendy Kidd talks to JANE SLADE about how her stunning plantation home has given her a new lease of life
There are few signs to Holders, the exquisite 17th century house built on a former sugar plantation on Barbados’s fashionable Platinum Coast. A small wooden post saying Holders Hill is all that guides you down a bumpy track to an Eden of bougainvillea, frangipani and hibiscus orchids and ultimately the whitewash walls and huge wrap-around verandah of Holders House.
Here baronet’s daughter, Wendy Kidd has created a bohemian idyll for herself and her high-profile children from her marriage to showjumper Johnny Kidd, from whom she is now separated.
Holders is where the former model and horsewoman Jodie Kidd; her older sister Jemma Kidd, now married to the Duke of Wellington’s grandson and their professional polo player brother Jack all grew up. Wendy ran the estate with Johnny, her husband of 33 years until their marriage ended in 2005.
They invited friends and riders to polo weekends held on the magnificent polo ground, the first to be built in Barbados, opposite their house, and welcomed performers like Pavarotti and Kylie Minogue to their annual Holders Season, a mini Glyndebourne-meets-Glastonbury festival, established by Wendy 22 years ago. This year Holders Season was a very British celebration with Paul Merton performing a stand-up routine, an evening of music from the London Community Gospel Choir and and an act called The Fawlty Towers Dining Experience.
However, when the couple separated 10 years ago Wendy, an opera lover and former model, took over the house that her husband, the grandson of Lord Beaverbrook inherited from his mother.
“Holders is now mine,” Wendy asserts as we sit down on one of the comfy bamboo sofas on the huge verandah.
She has certainly taken on a big job. Over the years Holders, which neighbours the fashionable Sandy Lane Hotel, has struggled to make itself pay; the concerts have run at a loss and some 300-acres have had to be sold off leaving just five remaining on the Holders estate.
Yet Wendy, whose looks belie her 71 years, has kept this serene oasis with its stunning sea views, swimming pool, gazebo, various outbuildings and courtyard, going as both a home for her growing family; she became a great grandmother for the third time last April, and a business.
Establishing a music festival, organic farmer’s market and recording studio
Apart from the annual festival ( 7-21 March) which has made Holders famous throughout Barbados she has initiated an organic farmer’s market where each Sunday locals sell their home-made jams, juices and authentic British bangers on stalls laid out in her garden.
She has also converted a barn into a hi-tech recording studio which she rents to visiting artists, and offers five bedrooms in the main house and two in neighbouring cottage to PGs as she called them on a somewhat quirky B&B&L basis. “The nightly rate from US$125 is per person and includes bed, breakfast and laundry,” she explains. “I have to do their washing, I can’t have people going home with dirty laundry.”
And it didn’t help last year when her son Jack’s polo business was fleeced of tens of thousands of pounds by a businessman who left a trail of debts.
Her oldest employee is 84-year-old Rachel Carpenter who joined Holders when she was just 20. “She worked for my mother in law. Now she works for me and then goes to live with my daughter Jodie in England for the summer,” Wendy says, adding that her other long-serving employee Joan has been with her for 17 years.
“I am just about keeping above water,” she sighs. She had the house reroofed in cedar shingle last year and called in the ‘bug busters’ to rid her mahogany sweeping staircase of termites.
Yet she is happy and single, and shudders at the suggestion of contemplating marriage again.
“I am very happy with my life; in fact I feel I am enjoying a new lease of life.”
Wendy lives in the main house, but is surrounded by her family. Her son Jack has a cottage in the garden, daughter Debbie, one of two children from her first marriage, lives nearby as does her granddaughter Astral with her three children.
“I am a great believer in family,” Wendy declares. “When Jemma and Jodie come to stay with their children I just block out those weeks and the house becomes a family home again.”
Holders dates back 300 years and was the former home of plantation owner Sir John Holder who is buried on the estate. It is one of a few plantation houses on Barbados that remains in private ownership and has a real sense of being first a family home and second a quirky B&B; the place is strewn with antique furniture, family photos, piles of books, bric-a-brac and a curious wall of hats inside the front door.
Some of Wendy’s PGs as she calls them come for a few days and end up staying for several weeks. “They come and never leave,” she laughs. “I think they just love this mad house. They find us by word of mouth and are usually business people, polo players or friends of friends.”
She is the chatelaine in shorts
She admits to loving her ‘chaotic lifestyle’, as a chatelaine in shorts running around carrying a clip board; “I carry it everywhere; I have to write everything down as I have a terrible memory,” she laughs as she darts between the tamarind and cherry trees to find some university students she was supposed to meet. And when she isn’t holding her clip board, she is tending her orchids.
“I just love gardening,” she adds. During Holders season which ended at the end of March she strung lights through the trees, dangled chandeliers from the oaks and positioned pots overflowing with palms on the grass.
While she lives most of the year in her Caribbean haven she loves spending the summer months with Jodie and Jemma and their children in the English countryside. “Barbados is very small and beautiful but you can suffer cabin fever.”
Interestingly she still hasn’t applied for residency on the island even though she has lived there for 42 years. “I just renew my visa every few months,” she says.
Paul Altman, managing director of Savills Altman Real Estate and past president of the Barbados National Trust says: “Plantation houses represent the linkage of Barbados to its past. They have always been used as references in terms of determining the vernacular architecture of Barbados. For many years, plantation homes remained closely held. However, as families grew, it became less practical for them all to fit in to a single home. In many cases, some families sold the estate homes, particularly as the cost of maintaining them became prohibitive.
“Today, plantation and heritage homes represent exceptional restored properties within real estate sales portfolios, with a few serving as museum homes. One example is Villa Nova, once the Caribbean home of Sir Anthony Eden, former British Prime Minister. It has hosted guests such as Sir Winston Churchill, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Noel Coward and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.”