Thursday 23 November 2017

Dream of island idyll shattered by global storm

The stunning island of Inish Turk Beg is for sale. Dave Kenny recalls his time there with owner Nadim Sadek

The May sun drooped like a weary pilgrim over Croagh Patrick as our catamaran whipped across Clew Bay. On the PA, the booming sound of the Chieftains competed with a boisterous south-westerly. At the helm, a beaming Irish-Egyptian studied our faces.

Nadim Sadek, Chief Islander of Inish Turk Beg, likes to make a good first impression. He had succeeded. We were re-enacting the Flight of the Valkyries scene from Apocalypse Now, with Carolan instead of Wagner. Between the scenery and the state-of-the-art boat, it was a killer introduction to the island of Inish Turk Beg.

This was the summer of 2010, when Nadim, myself, producer Suzanne Doyle (MTV/U2) and film composer Lance Hogan, were conceiving The Brilliant Irish Flute Series: a chart-topping book/ CD celebration of traditional instruments.

During that time, we would witness the besotted Secret Millionaire's love affair with a 65-acre clump of grass and rock off the Mayo coast.

Last Thursday, it was announced that the island is for sale at the knock-down price of €2.85m. The company that owned the island went into receivership earlier this year. The sale is being conducted by Knight Frank and Sherry FitzGerald, in association with Christie's International Real Estate.

Nadim and his wife Sandra have now decamped back to their home in Kensington, London, with their four children: Searsha, Shaefri, Sean and Oisin.

It's a sad end to a dream that cost Nadim dearly. Around €9m was spent transforming the island from a backwater to a world-class retreat, where an overnight stay could cost up to €9,000.

Last October, Nadim, 49, appeared in The Secret Millionaire and gave away €40,000 to charities in Cork. While he posed as a photo-journalist, he was fighting to save his island. I was with him during part of the filming and his optimistic demeanour was impressive -- but then he is the son of a diplomat.

Nadim's Egyptian father (his mother is from Limerick) worked for the WHO and the family travelled widely when Nadim was young. When he was 12, Nadim was sent to board at St Columba's school. He later studied psychology at Trinity and started his career at Lansdowne Marketing.

He is one of the UK's top qualitative-research experts and his clients have included some of the world's biggest brands. In 2003, he sold his firm, Sadek Wynberg, amassing a fortune in the process.

That same year, he fought off Boyzone's Ronan Keating to buy the island for €1m. The entrepreneur set about transforming the island into a retreat for artists, holidaymakers and business leaders.

He laid power lines across Clew Bay and shipped in concrete on barges to build new foundations and roads, employing locals to do the work.

He hired London architects, Andrew Wright Associates, to design the five new buildings. The result was spectacular.

The day we arrived, Nadim showed us around with boyish enthusiasm, bounding up the grassy slope to the head of the island.

"I whistle a lot as I visit its various shores, hills and ridges," he said.

He knew those ridges and hills intimately. We were led over stiles and through muck and wet grass as he plucked curry flowers and spoke about the island's flora and fauna.

We were shown the facilities for jet-skiing, water trampolining, boating, clay pigeon shooting and fishing. There was a tennis court, basketball facilities, an all-weather soccer pitch and even a helicopter pad.

Inside the main, six-bedroom house, we had a panoramic view of Clew Bay. It was like looking at a constantly changing portrait, with the cloud shadows deepening the greens and greys of nearby Clare Island.

The decor of the living room was sumptuous and modern. There were leather couches and gleaming brass ornaments: the finest of everything. This was rural Ireland with a Kensington twist, sophisticated yet cosy.

There was Villeroy and Boch on the table and wellies in the hall. There were top-quality branded dressing gowns and slippers in the bedrooms and yet you never felt you were in a hotel. Adjacent to the main house there was a large games room with a pool table, air hockey tables, a karaoke system and a punch bag. Nearby, 'Craft Cottage' was stocked with art and jewellery-making materials and 'The Pavilion' house boasted a hot tub.

The jewel in the island's crown, however, was the infinity pool, with its spectacular views of Croagh Patrick.

Nadim's love of excellence was everywhere. His Inish Turk Beg logo won a Mobius Award. His award-winning whiskey bottle was handmade in Thailand to his exact specifications. His island photographer, Dylan Thomas, is an acolyte of Lord Lichfield and has met the Queen.

Nadim's work on Inish Turk Beg became so famous in the right circles that Bill Gates is reputed to have stopped by one day.

After developing the island, Sadek went on to build his 'Inish Turk Beg' brand. This included his own limited-edition, single malt whiskey called 'Maiden Voyage'. A one-litre bottle retails for €155.

He also sold local seafood, including Inish Turk Beg smoked salmon, to London's Harrods. He even founded an Inish Turk Beg stud.

His highest-profile endeavour, however, was to turn the island into a recording studio in August 2010. Nadim had been looking to do a music project and producer Suzanne Doyle approached me for a concept. The result of all our collaborations was a double CD set of trad and rock tunes played with Irish instruments.

Executive producer Nadim got Warner Music on board. Lance's album leaped from Down By The Salley Gardens to Sex On Fire by The Kings of Leon. I wrote the accompanying hardback book.

Nadim's island music project -- The Brilliant Irish Flute Book/CD (Warner Music UK) -- went to the top of the iTunes Charts. The critics called the book a "treasure", RTE made it album of the week and the band played Croke Park during the All-Ireland finals.

Nadim wasn't afraid to muck in and cheerfully sold copies of the book/CD from the back of the band's van at the Flatlake Music Festival in 2011 and at The Button Factory in February.

It was an intensely enjoyable experience but, unfortunately, our association with Nadim didn't end happily.

Neither myself nor my partners have heard from him since February. Putting business to one side, I can only imagine how he must feel about losing the island.

Nadim had a cultural vision and assembled all the correct elements to make it work. He turned a rural 'ghost island' into something beautiful. Unlike other developers who have scarred the country with their ghost estates, he has left something remarkable in his wake.

No man is an island. The global financial storm was always going to break over Inish Turk Beg at some point. Hopefully, Nadim and his family will weather the rest of it successfully.

Sunday Independent

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