A Lifelong Love Affair
- December 24th, 2021
- in Lifestyle
A look into Eesther Wwheatley’s life and love for Vvirgin Ggorda
By Anika M. Christopher
‘Though I spent time abroad for school, I always know that [Virgin Gorda] is where I would make my home’
“My attachment to Virgin Gorda is like receiving your first kiss from your first crush and I’ve been crushing on Virgin Gorda all my life,” Esther Wheatley, a lifelong lover of the Virgin Islands, and Virgin Gorda in particular, explains.
Esther was born and raised in the Virgin Islands. Her deep love for the islands was inherited from both her grandparents and parents, who were born on Virgin Gorda. Her father was Ralph Telford O’Neal, OBE, the longest-serving elected representative in the British Virgin Islands. He represented the ninth district Virgin Gorda, and served as chief minister of the British Virgin Islands for three terms.
Though she grew up on Tortola, Esther spent summer vacations and Christmas holidays on Virgin Gorda. This is where her love for the island was fostered and grew. It became such a crucial part of her being, that even when she lived in another country, Virgin Gorda resided in her heart.
“Though I spent time abroad for school, I always know that [Virgin Gorda] is where I would make my home,” Esther explains.
After completing her tertiary education, she lived in New York for some time, but soon decided that it was time to return home. In 1990, she left USA and lived on St John for a short time, until she received a call from Charles Tobias. He informed her of a job offering at the new Pusser’s Pub and Gift Shop. For Esther, it was an opportunity of a lifetime, as it meant she would finally return to the place that she always dreamt of.
Esther accepted the offer and worked as a manager for Pusser’s retail at Leverick Bay for two years. After that, she received another opportunity, working at Little Dix Bay, where she was hired as retail director for all their stores. She worked there for five years.
In 1996, she received a life-changing opportunity that would allow her to express her love for Virgin Gorda through entrepreneurship.
That year, Esther was approached by the owner of Biras Creek, who asked if she would like to operate her own business at Biras Creek’s retail/gift shop. Ever the entrepreneur (and with a wee nudge from her friend and current employer, Chris Smith, managing broker, Coldwell Banker BVI), Esther grasped this opportunity with both hands. Two years later, the Fat Virgin Cafe/Restaurant was born. It grew to become one of the most successful small boutique and dockside restaurants in the Virgin Islands.
Esther says the inspiration for the name stemmed from an early childhood memory.
“The first time I heard that Virgin Gorda translated to Fat Virgin, I knew anything I made was going to be called that. I was about 8 or 9, and from then, I held it dear to my heart.,” Esther shares.
This newly established business proved to be not just a place to eat, but also a crucial community space. “I was privileged to have grown up in a time when I could witness Virgin Gorda transition from a place of lanterns, flambo and dirt tracks to a place today with electricity, streetlights, paved roads around the island and several hotels and villas,” Esther says as she reflects on the development of Virgin Gorda.
Fat Virgin was an invaluable part of this development, and her experience affords her a deep appreciation for this journey of development. It remained in operation just short of 20 years. “Before Hurricane Irma came in 2017, we had the unfortunate incident of Biras Creek Resort’s closure in June 2015. It was a challenging time, operating for two years without a certain infrastructure as a result of the shut-down, then the big storm of 2017 completely destroyed the Fat Virgin,” Esther explains.
After the Fat Virgin closed , Esther started thinking about the next move in her career.
“I was figuring out how I would reinvent myself, when I was approached by Chris Smith to join his team in the real estate industry,” Esther explains.
Due to her love for people (and Virgin Gorda), she says: “although there was a lot to learn, I took to it like a duck to water.”
Chris is delighted to have her on board. “Sadly, in 2017 Irma took a liking to the Fat Virgin and ran away with her! However, every disaster also provides opportunity and a silver lining. “We are absolutely delighted that Esther has joined the Coldwell Banker Real Estate BVI team, bringing all of her love, experience and intimate knowledge of the history of the BVI, and in particular Virgin Gorda and its people.”
In addition to sharing the history of Virgin Gorda, Esther has also introduced previous clients from Fat Virgin to the company.
“We had a very loyal following of Fat Virgin clients, many of whom were homeowners on Virgin Gorda. We have always considered them as not only clients, but friends,” Esther says.
Alongside her work, Esther also enjoys spending time with her family. She is married to Honorable Vincent Wheatley, Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration, and the ninth district representative. They have two daughters: one a graduate from Swansea University Medical School, and the other a graduate of London School of Economics, with a master degree in international relations and politics.
To learn more about Virgin Gorda, follow the advice of Chris. “Next time you visit the BVI, take some time to sit with Esther, have a coffee (or a rum and ting, depending on the time of day) and listen. You can find her at the sales desk at Rosewood Little Dix Bay where Coldwell Banker are the exclusive real estate agents.”