- Every year, Richard Branson hosts the Necker Cup, a tennis tournament hosted on the private Necker Island.
- The tournament has hosted matches between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, and involves pro tennis players being paired with amateurs to compete for the Necker Cup.
- Stacey Wilkinson, an entrepreneur from Manchester, managed to attend the exclusive attend and told Business Insider about her experiences.
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As 2019 drew to a close, tennis pros, celebrities and business tycoons across the globe were gearing up for one of the world’s most exclusive events: The Necker Cup, an annual tennis tournament held on Richard Branson’s private island.
Sir Richard paid a modest $120,000 for Necker Island, one of the British Virgin Islands, back in 1978. Since then, it has become a paradise retreat for the world’s rich and famous, hosting the likes of former US President Barack Obama and Hollywood actress Kate Winslet.
Stacey Wilkinson, a 39-year-old entrepreneur from Manchester, found her way to the competition – which has hosted matches between sporting legends like Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal – after meeting a new business associate who had attended the year before.
“I was badgering him to see if I could get myself an invite,” said Stacey, who founded her recruitment start up, Techsearchers only a year ago. “He put me in touch with the president of Necker Cup and tennis fanatic, Trevor Short, and we hit it off. Before I knew it, I was booking flights.”
What followed was a week-long soirée with some of the most recognizable names in international sport and business, filled with champagne-soaked breakfasts, sailboat races and water fights with Sir Richard.
Wilkinson did pay a discounted fee to attend the event, but didn’t say how much. Packages start from around $17,000, according to the Necker Cup website.
Stacey told Business Insider: “I had a serious case of imposter syndrome for the first couple of days. I was probably the poorest person there – I was told the average net worth was about $100 million.”
Among the dozens of guests and competitors were billionaire Tom Morris, CEO of British discount superstore Home Bargains, and tennis legend Rod Laver, all of whom were treated to gourmet meals every night – with celebrity chef Luke Mangan flying in from Australia especially to rustle up a Caribbean chicken dish.
“I felt so out of my depth, but every two minutes I had Sir Richard’s overly-attentive staff handing me champagne, so I just thought fuck it – speak to these people!”
And as for the man himself?
“I can’t say enough good things about Sir Richard. He actually came and sat next to me few times during lunch and dinner. The first time he did it, I absolutely shat myself!
“He’s surprisingly shy – until you get him going about something he’s interested in and then he’s like an excitable little kid. There’s no pretension or ego to him – if I was pushing 70, I feel like I’d be more selfish with my time…”
At one point, the giddy pair even got into a public water fight.
“We ended up pouring glasses of water over each others’ heads. He’s a real wind-up merchant – Just as I was about to throw mine over him he yelled in front of everybody: ‘Do that and I’ll throw you off this island!’
“Then he smiled and said: ‘Go on, you can do what you like.’ He’s a good laugh.”
A live auction at the event raised more than $1.5 million for charitable causes, including a trip on a superyacht, backstage passes to see glam metal band KISS, and a visit to the Nomad Casino in Las Vegas.
“I never imagined someone like me would end up in a place like Necker and I have to say, it’s really opened my eyes to another world. I was like bloody Cinderella – I got to go to the Branson ball and I am eternally grateful.”
Stacey already has plans to go back to Necker Island at the end of 2020 for the next tournament.
Business Insider approached Sir Richard for comment.