Have you heard of Essex's secret celebrity island, which has hosted Rihanna, Jude Law and Stormzy?
- Credit: Osea Island
By Collette Lyons
Found in the Blackwater Estuary, the exclusive Osea Island has played host to Rihanna, Jude Law, Daniel Radcliffe, Stormzy and plenty more stars. But what attracts them to this wild corner of Essex? Collette Lyons, co-author of The Club, the New York Times bestselling novel set on the island, gives us a peek behind the scenes of this luxury retreat
When you think of private islands, you probably picture a sun-soaked, white-sand paradise. My husband (co-author Paul Vlitos) and I certainly did, at least when we started imagining potential locations for our latest thriller, The Club, where the action takes place over the course of one fateful weekend at a secluded members-only resort. But as a backdrop for the murky goings-on at the resort’s star-studded launch event – where murder, lies and blackmail turn the celebrity party of the year into the murder mystery of the decade – we quickly realised that a white-sand tropical idyll just felt a little too… idyllic.
We wanted somewhere more atmospheric to imagine as we set about writing. We considered fictionalised versions of Gardiner’s Island off the Hamptons (one of the most valuable pieces of privately owned land in the U.S., still in the hands of one eccentric family), then Inchconnachan on Loch Lomond (home to a colony of wallabies) and Heart Island on the Saint Lawrence River, New York (in the middle of which looms a spooky-looking castle that has never been lived in). But in the end, we landed in Essex. A grassy 38-acre dot in the Blackwater Estuary, in fact, the island of Osea. It had all the elements we were looking for: wild, unique, decadent and closed off to all but an invited few (plus a handful of paying guests from September to May).
Owned for the past two decades by music producer Nigel Frieda (there were rumours at the time that the Beckhams considered buying it), Osea has been run as a recording studio (Rihanna and Charlie XCX have rented it out), a party venue and unlikely holiday destination since 2012. It has also served as the location for TV and film; The Woman in Black was shot here and more recently HBO’s The Third Day, starring Jude Law – you’ll see some of the props and murals for it still dotted around the place. This summer, it’s hosting the One Island Festival, which will see 16 DJs play over three days, with 500 revellers staying in luxury yurts across the island (there will, the website promises, be a bit of restorative yoga and meditation thrown in too).
We (my husband Paul and I co-author our novels under the pseudonym Ellery Lloyd) booked ourselves a trip, (hoping to bump into one of its celebrity fans, of course), and we were bowled over by its unspoiled loveliness. It is accessed via a rocky Roman-built causeway that floods twice day – quite quickly and dramatically we are told, probably to underline that we should pay very close attention to the tide times. In the absence of a yacht or helicopter – the preferred A-list mode of transport in The Club – our compact little car bounces over it no problem even though we’ve got a weekend’s worth of shopping in the boot (there is nowhere to buy essentials on the island, although it would be easy enough to nip on and off if you really needed to.
Our home for the weekend is a two-bedroom Victorian cottage in a higgledy-piggledy cluster of them reminiscent of a quaint model village. The properties range in size here from the Edwardian ten-bedroomed Manor House and 1920s Captain’s House, which are both over on one side of the island, to the tiny Sweetshop, a studio for two. The décor (think Persian rugs, oil paintings and a weathered leather sofa) is well-loved but well-chosen. There is a huge widescreen TV and a kitchen stocked with all you could need to cook up a feast. We wished we’d taken the time to stop en route as the team advised to buy some brilliant fresh local produce; nearby Gardeners Farm Shop in Goldhanger is great for fruit and veg, while Paul Bloss in Maldon has Blackwater and West Mersea oysters from Osea’s waters, as well as glistening mounds of local skate, bass and dover sole. Alternatively, the fish shacks of Mersea Island are just half an hour’s drive away if that floats your boat.
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Happily, our cottage is right opposite The Puffin, a teeny-tiny pub with a giant fireplace – something which Frederick Charrington, the East London brewer who bought Osea in 1903 to found a temperance community, would perhaps not wholly approve of. Still, we spend a very happy couple of hours drinking red wine there, before heading to The Shack, which serves hearty pizza, burgers and hog roasts, with menus alternating over the weekend when the bulk of its paying guests come. The other overnighters, mostly families and almost all repeat visitors, happily chat around the bonfire after dinner while children toast marshmallows. This is also the place to come for your morning latte and sausage baps for a blustery picnic on the beach.
Our car stays parked the entire stay – you’re not allowed to drive around the island, making it brilliant for young children to roam freely – but there are bikes to borrow if you want to explore. At the weekends, you can go on a led kayaking trip around the circumference of the island to work up an appetite before lunch. On a rainy day, there are film screenings, DVDs to borrow, plus tennis and pool tables. There are also two swimming pools (one saltwater, ‘mainly for decoration,’ we are told, the other heated in the summer months – and of course the sea for the brave).
Children will love feeding the friendly donkeys, and of course there’s a full 360-degree coastline for shell collecting, sandcastle building and foraging. If you want to island-hop, it’s worth planning in advance, as from March to October, neighbouring Northey is accessible with advance permission from the National Trust. An even wilder version of Osea, a circular walk around its eerie landscape of saltmarshes and sea walls takes a couple of hours, and it is heaven if you’re a bird-spotter. We, however, are much keener on star-spotting and the island doesn’t disappoint – as we are grabbing a coffee on our final morning, we bump into Stormzy, here with his entourage to record an album.
Two-night minimum, from £700 per night for a two-bedroom property. Whole island rentals only May to September. Visit oseaisland.co.uk
The Club by Ellery Lloyd is out now
This year’s must-read thriller, The Club, by Britain’s hottest author Ellery Lloyd is set on Essex’s very own Osea Island. Taking on the perennial favourite of the A-List – the private members’ club – The Club is a smart, savage and stylish thriller that goes straight for the jugular. Think Agatha Christie with a Soho House Membership card on a luxury private island, with a supporting cast of homicidal Hollywood superstars and a housekeeping staff with some very dark secrets. Both addictive and outrageously entertaining, this is one novel you won’t want to miss!
The Club by Ellery Lloyd is a Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick, published by Mantle £14.99
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