There is a king-sized ruckus in Barbuta.
Even though the best all inclusive resorts would have treated her like a Queen, it’s no surprise to disover that Princess Diana prefered her holidays at the K Club on the Caribbean island of Barbuda.
Once it was a favorite holiday destination of Diana, Princess of Wales, where she would take the young Princes William and Harry for carefree winter breaks.
Today, passing cruise ships swing by so that passengers can take pictures of Princess Diana Beach.
But since the Princess’s death, the K Club on the Caribbean island of Barbuda has suffered a reversal of fortunes, closing 12 years ago.
Now the once luxurious resort is at the center of an extraordinary legal battle involving Hollywood legend Robert De Niro and some of the island’s tiny population.
De Niro, together with his business partner James Packer, has bought the remainder of the lease on the land from its previous owner and has been granted planning permission to revamp, re-open and extend the K Club.
However, more than 300 of the island’s 1,500 residents have signed a petition objecting to the development, which they say is excessive and illegal.
The row is the subject of an ongoing court case which the islanders say they will take all the way to the Privy Council in London, Barbuda’s ultimate court of appeal.
Islander Mackenzie Frank, the man leading the protest group Barbuda People’s Movement, said: “No one objects to the K Club being re-opened, but they want so much extra land. There are an awful lot of issues at stake.”
The saga began when the late Mariuccia Mandelli, the “godmother of Italian fashion” and founder of the Krizia label, closed the 251-acre K Club in 2004, 15 years after she had built it.
The resort, once the island’s second-biggest source of revenue, but now empty and neglected, fell into disrepair, until De Niro, who has property investments all over the world, bought the remainder of the lease with Mr Packer, the son of the Australian media mogul Kerry Packer.
They want to invest $250 million (£204 million) in the project over 10 years, but only on condition that they can lease an extra 300 acres surrounding the site.
In 2014, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda agreed to lease 555 acres of land on Barbuda to Paradise Found, the company formed by De Niro and Packer.
Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda (who embarrassed Prince Harry on his visit last month by inviting him to take Meghan Markle on honeymoon there) made De Niro a “special economic envoy” to the island and hailed him as “a visionary” for his work in hotel development.
For the 198-year lease, the company was charged just $6.2 million, the equivalent of a quarter of a cent per square foot per year. Mr Frank describes the agreement as “one of the biggest giveaways ever”.
Under Barbudan law, all 62 square miles of the island are owned in common by the people. In February 2015 the people held a meeting at which they supported the De Niro plans.
Mr. Frank and others challenged the result, and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda responded by passing an Act agreeing to De Niro’s proposal. Mr Frank says the Paradise Found Act is unconstitutional and is challenging it in the local courts.
De Niro said on a visit to Barbuda last year: “I have been coming to Antigua and Barbuda since I was in my early 20s. It’s about making it very, very special.
“That’s why we have to curate it and make sure it’s done in the right way. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t feel that’s the only way it can be done.”
Mr Browne said of the Barbuda People’s Movement: “We respect their right to protest, and similarly they ought to respect our right to attract good, sound, tangible investments that grow the economy and put people back to work.”