The Secret Caribbean with Trevor McDonald

Sunday, 5 July 2009, 8:00PM – 9:00PM

In the second part of his journey, Sir Trevor discovers three parts of the Caribbean which all have one thing in common – they are all defined by money.

He visits Barbados, a luxury haven for the rich and famous, and the home of one man who is so wealthy he owns much of the island.

He travels to poverty-stricken Jamaica, a country blighted by violence and drugs, and meets the British girls who have been jailed for drug-smuggling and the local women trying to turn their lives around through music.

And his first stop in the second programme is the Bahamas – the wealthiest outpost of the Caribbean where many of the 700 islands have been bought by rich foreigners.

World famous magician David Copperfield owns Musha Cay, the most expensive resort in the Bahamas, where he charges guests $350,000 for a week’s stay.

Trevor is whisked across the crystal clear blue sea in a James Bond-style speed boat to meet David for a guided tour of the 11 islands which make up the resort. He also takes him to his very own sand bank – two miles of nothing but pure white sand in the middle of the ocean.

David says: “It’s one of the most magical places on earth. It’s pretty much like heaven probably is. It is an amazing, one of a kind, special place.”

Trevor leaves the Bahamian paradise behind to board a seaplane bound for Jamaica and a very different Caribbean experience. As the plane touches down Trevor admits to feeling anxious about exploring the country:

“Jamaica is the most vibrant but also the most violent island in the whole region. It has a dark side, and I arrived at Kingston airport full of anticipation but also trepidation as to what I would discover.”

The country has regions of extreme affluence, like the Beverly Hills district with its luxurious mansions, but in the valleys life is very different. Debts run up in the 1990s have spiralled out of control and the country is in economic ruin. Many areas have been plunged into poverty and are run by dangerous gangs, resulting in a soaring murder rate which is 30 times higher than it is in Britain.

Trevor is shocked to see men with sub-machine guns patrolling the streets when he visits a market run exclusively by gangs. Colin Smikle, an ex-gang member turned social worker, explains that the police are not welcome at the market which operates outside of the law – as well as selling fruit and veg, dealers are illegally selling marijuana.

Colin talks about Jamaica’s gang culture, which sees 1500 people a year murdered, and recalls his own brush with death – he was shot as he walked down the road. In Kingston Trevor visits a neighbourhood ruled by gangs, where straying on to the wrong side of the street could mean the difference between life and death.

Illiteracy is high in the city and 75 per cent of people are unemployed but Trevor meets two girls hoping to turn their lives around through the group Area Youth, a project aimed at uniting young people in the ghettos through music.

The group persuaded the gang leaders to let them run their project as an alternative to the devastation caused by gang warfare and now the gang’s ‘Godfathers’ are so supportive of this truce that they are prepared to punish anyone who breaks the peace.

Danille and Tisha invite Trevor to a special performance of a song they wrote which was inspired by the tragic shooting of a baby caught in crossfire. It stormed the charts in Jamaica last year. After listening to their performance Trevor visits the home of the founder of Island Records, where Bob Marley convalesced after being shot during gang violence.

Trevor says: “The inspirational Area Youth are the latest in a long line of artists who’ve tried to rise above the violence and poverty of Kingston. The most famous of all, of course, was Bob Marley. I wonder whether Danille and Tisha will ever be free of their area’s violence to carry forward Bob Marley’s legacy of preaching peace and one love.”

Jamaica has a reputation as the drugs capital of the Caribbean – marijuana is a leading illegal export and cocaine is smuggled into the country from South America on its way to the west. Trevor goes to Fort Augusta, one of three maximum security prisons in Jamaica, to visit some of the 19 British women serving time for drug smuggling.

One 22-year-old, jailed for 12 months for smuggling 29lbs of marijuana, tells Trevor about the terrible conditions in the prison and how she lives in hope that when she is free she won’t fall foul of the law again and end up back in jail.

Trevor tells her: “You must more than hope, you must make sure.”

He adds: “Many of the women here are first time offenders, and very remorseful. It is sad seeing these young women wasting away precious years in a Jamaican prison four thousand miles from home.”

Before leaving Jamaica, Trevor takes a trip up a perilous road to the Blue Mountain coffee plantation where David Twynam and his family battle to run their business in the face of adversity due to the unforgiving terrain and hurricanes which put the crops under threat.

The 45 degree slopes make picking treacherous and nine major hurricanes in the last ten years have ruined crops.

David says: “You can see bare bits of hillside where the hurricane has literally ripped trees out of the ground. That is symptomatic of what has happened to mine and other farms. It’s decimating. It’s not just the crop you’re losing, the trees take four or five years before they’re back again. It’s destroying not just that crop but crops for years to come.”

The plantation manager shows Trevor around the site and outlines the process from growing, picking and roasting the crop before giving him a sample of the coffee which sells for $40 per pound.

Trevor’s final stop in the Caribbean is Barbados where he visits the most famous celebrity haunt on the island, the Sandy Lane Hotel, which boasts many famous guests including Elton John and the Queen.

And he meets wealthy property developer Sir Charles Williams who owns vast amounts of the island. Trevor visits him at his plantation mansion house where he lives with his wife and their pet pig, and he takes in a polo match where each and every horse on the field of play is owned by Sir Charles.

He shows Trevor his latest development, a £425m golf course with luxury villas, and his most prized creation – the appropriately named Port St Charles marina, haven for many high rollers, including Bill Gates who moors a yacht there.

Sir Charles built his empire from scratch, but his critics say with developments selling for $7m, the only people to benefit are the super-rich.

Charles says: “The Prime Minister made his message clear, he said, ‘Don’t do anymore.’ Because he said it was having an impact on the social structure, and I obeyed him, like a good boy.

“There were three ambitions I had, a pretty wife, a nice sports fisherman boat and a fast sports car, and all three cost me a fortune.”

Trevor says: “Charles is proof that if you have enough money the Caribbean can be a very accommodating place.”

Sunday, 28 June 2009, 8:00PM – 9:00PM

There are 7,000 islands which make up the Caribbean, stretching from the coast of Florida down to South America, and, in this brand new series for ITV1, Sir Trevor McDonald goes beyond the images of the region in the glossy travel brochures to discover why the rich mixture of people and cultures make it like no other place on earth.

Sir Trevor begins his journey by visiting three islands which typify the contrasts in the Caribbean. In the first part of The Secret Caribbean with Trevor McDonald:

He takes in the ‘faded romance’ of Cuba, the Caribbean’s biggest island, a country where almost everything is half a century old. He visits the oldest cigar making factory on the island, and learns about living under a communist regime where food is rationed and a television can cost more than a home.

Sir Richard Branson gives the roving reporter a personal tour around his own £200m paradise island in the stunning tax haven of the British Virgin Islands where guests pay £30,000 a night to enjoy the luxury surroundings, the tremendous views, the white sandy beaches and the crystal clear waters.

Trevor travels to his birthplace, Trinidad, for one of the highlights of the country’s calendar, a two-day long carnival. Trevor models a hand-crafted costume and soaks up the noisy, bright atmosphere as bands of up to 1000 people dance through the streets.

In Cuba, Trevor discovers a country where in large part time has stood still. When Fidel Castro overthrew the government 50 years ago America responded by imposing a trade embargo on the island – as a result many things there are more than 50 years old, including many of the cars.

With a local journalist as his guide, Juan, Trevor travels around the capital city, Havana, in a bright red classic Chevrolet.

Trevor says: “The entire city is enveloped by a sense of faded elegance. Buildings once grand and magnificent show signs of weary neglect.”

Juan explains to Trevor what life is like under a communist regime where everyone is paid equally, from doctors to taxi drivers, unemployment is less than two per cent and there are reminders everywhere that the state is in control – especially in the media.

The news presenter meets his Cuban counterpart, newsreader Mariuska Diaz to see how her daily life compares. They discuss News at Ten’s lighthearted ‘And finally…’ tales which take a different twist in Cuba – the story at the end of the bulletin that day is about a school being named after communist icon, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

Trevor tours the news studio and chats to Mariuska about her fame but soon discovers that celebrity status is discouraged in the country and the newsreaders are jacks of all trades – even applying their own make-up before a bulletin. Trevor is also surprised to learn that the newsreader has a second job to supplement her wage – as an MC in a club.

Juan shows Trevor his two-bedroom apartment bought for the equivalent of $200 from the government – then he takes him to an electrical shop, with nearly bare shelves. As consumerism is discouraged in Cuba, the government taxes goods, resulting in a television costing more than Juan’s apartment and some things taken for granted in Britain, like toasters, being almost impossible to obtain.

Trevor’s shopping trip with Juan, as he picks up his monthly food rations, is a world apart from a supermarket run in the UK. Trevor watches in amazement as the Cuban reporter gets rice and grains and even cigarettes and matches at a subsidised rate – his whole monthly shop costs the equivalent of just $2.

At the cigar factory, Trevor follows workers as they collect the tobacco and roll the leaves, producing three million cigars a year by hand that sell for up to £30 each in the west – more than the workers earn in a single month.

The atmosphere in the factory is buzzing as the workers chat and smoke but Trevor is astonished to see them all stop and stand in silence as the national anthem is played before the daily newspaper is read out to them.

And Trevor faces a test to his resolve when he is offered a freshly made cigar – something he gave up smoking 25 years ago.

As he leaves Cuba, Trevor says: “I wonder whether the era of a new American president will bring meaningful change to Cuba. I felt the place evokes in the visitor a real feeling of old world romance. People I met are anxious to embrace change but it seemed to me only on their own terms.”

Trevor’s stops off at the British Virgin Islands, a paradise far removed from his Cuban experience: “They are a little bit of Britain in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. The Queen is still sovereign in these parts and it’s easy to see why Britain is keen to keep an influence. The natural beauty, combined with generous tax breaks, makes these islands a magnet for some of Britain’s richest people.”

Thirty years ago Richard Branson bought Necker Island for £60,000 when it was completely barren. He has now developed it into a luxury residence which employs 70 people.

Trevor takes a look around Necker and meets some of the guests who have splashed out and flown in from New York for a three night mini-break. And Richard invites him into the office where he runs his multi-billion pound empire – a hammock over-looking the ocean.

Richard tells the programme: “We’ve had an offer in excess of £200m, but it’s priceless, we’d never sell it, it’s one of those things which is absolutely priceless. It’s a nice position to be in, I’m lucky, I am spoilt, I accept that and I pinch myself every morning.”

Trevor also rolls up his trousers and wades to the shore for a sneak preview of Richard’s latest purchase, Mosquito Island, which he plans to transform into an eco-friendly retreat with its own water and power supplies.

Finally, Trevor goes back to his roots in Trinidad, where the memories come flooding back as he takes in the annual carnival. The island, one of the richest in the Caribbean after an oil boom, gained independence in 1962 but has always retained a robust sense of its own identity, which is particularly evident on carnival day.

The numerous bands which make up the carnival each have a historical or social theme and Trevor watches as they parade through the streets in their colourful costumes, playing music and singing all through the day and late into the night.

Carnival dancers can be on their feet for up to 15 hours at a time and Trevor meets some of troupe as they show him their elaborate feathered and shiny costumes, some of which cost up to £1000. He joins in with the spirit of things, donning one of the outlandish outfits.

Steel drums are synonymous with the rhythm of the annual celebrations. He meets the man who makes the carefully crafted instruments, sold all over the world, which Trevor refers to as the ‘heartbeat’ of the carnival.

Trevor says: “Watching the festival this year brought back for me a flood of warm memories. For two days Trinidadians put all their problems behind them and lose themselves with abandon in a riot of noise and colour.

“They know there will be a more sober tomorrow but that simply means 364 days till the next carnival.”

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1