Strawberry Hill's second coming

BY SADE GARDNER
Observer writer

Sunday, June 10, 2018

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Strawberry Hill has long been known for its picturesque location in the cool, lush hills of Irish Town, St Andrew. The hotel is the venue for this evening's Hope In The Hills concert, with proceeds going to the Hope Institute of Jamaica.

General Manager Diana Marley said it is critical to contribute to a worthy cause.

“It's not something we would normally do at Strawberry Hill because it's too big,” she told the Jamaica Observer. “We don't really like to do things as big as that 'cause we are expecting at least 250 people or more... but we did it because of the cause — it's for cancer, it's for charity,” she continued.

British singer Joss Stone will headline the show. Suzanne and Sarah Couch are also rostered.

Strawberry Hill got its name from Horace Walpole, the original owner and 4th Earl of Orford in Britain, who realised the land and temperature were ideal for growing strawberries. The luxury resort was acquired and expanded by Island Records Founder Chris Blackwell in 1974.

Throughout the years it has been a tranquil escape for rock stars and Hollywood A-listers, including Elton John, Grace Jones, Mick Jagger and Bob Marley. In December 1976 Marley retreated to Strawberry Hill after being shot at his Hope Road home. He was scheduled to perform at the Smile Jamaica peace concert, on December 5, just two days before the shooting.

“He came here to convalesce. He and Chris Blackwell, of course, were very close. Chris Blackwell was certainly behind a lot of Bob's success. In that time in Bob's career it was a very traumatic experience, so where better to come and just chill and regenerate?” Marley asked. “I think he stayed for a week or two, I'm not quite sure, but I know he was here for a while recovering. He used to spend a lot of time up here.”

Marley, whose husband Christopher is Bob Marley's nephew, disclosed that Beyoncé and Jay Z had their eyes set on Strawberry Hill during their visit to Jamaica in March.

“They sent their security guard up here to check out the property because they wanted to stay here. We offered the two-bedroom villa and they requested a black vehicle with black tints that would drive around the back to the very entrance of the villa so they could walk right in,” said Marley. “But the security had concerns about the balcony because they were taking their kids, and we definitely understood that.”

Strawberry Hill spreads over 20 acres and boasts 14 cottages, the Field Spa (with Vichy showers), a restaurant and bar, and Blackwell's legendary Gold Room or Conference Room, which displays some of his achievements in the music industry. These include platinum and gold records of Bob Marley and The Wailers' Legend, Exodus and Rastaman Vibration albums.

Plaques of other acts once signed to Island, like U2 and Mellisa Etheridge, also adorn the walls of the Gold Room. Marley said Blackwell's plans are to build more cottages, but the current mission involves revisiting its entertainment aspect.

“Strawberry Hill was once upon a time very vibrant in terms of things always happening...a lot of entertainers, a lot of celebrities...We're really kind of taking Strawberry Hill in a different direction now. We want the Kingston business; we want people to recognise us again for who we are — unique, a great experience, a lovely destination,” she related. “We're working very diligently to improve our food and beverage so that people can come up here and have a nice dining experience with us. We've just really decided to make a conscious effort to bring some entertainment back up here — you know, light jazz, a little modern music, a whole diversity of activities.”

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