When A-listers arrive in Ibiza, they call Serena Cook, the British fixer who can arrange pretty much anything – for a price. Not even a pandemic will stop her. This summer? It’s all about (very) private parties by the pool. Simon Mills reports...
The Ibiza fashion crowd still talks about the 40th birthday bash thrown for Givenchy’s creative director, Riccardo Tisci, back in 2014. Held at Los Olivos, an Andalusian horse stud farm near San Rafael, the party’s theme was “dark subversive glamour” and the dress code “Spanish”, guests greeted by gauchos astride fine palomino horses. All dressed up in requisite black, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Jessica Chastain, Madonna, Jared Leto and Kim Kardashian took to the candlelit, white rose-strewn dancefloor to watch the cabaret: Kanye West performing Gold Digger.
But for Serena Cook, British-born, Ibiza-resident concierge extraordinaire, caterer, party planner, limousine procurer, professional queue jumper, venue bagger, boat charterer, table booker, self-styled manager of multimillionaire expectations and organiser of this particularly extravagant hoedown, it was the bar staff, tray holders and bus boys who were most memorable. “It was clear that Givenchy wanted these front-of-house workers to be a vital decorative element and it had been very strict about the way they looked: male only, clean-shaven, slim, handsome.”
Cook and her team had to cast every single one, noting shirt sizes, height and weight, flying in extra buff men when Ibiza’s supply of handsomeness had run out. She also auditioned 24-hour security for Kim and Kanye and made sure that no one got any pictures of Justin Bieber canoodling with Kendall Jenner.
Fine-tuning and attention to detail, fixing and hand-holding – this is what Cook does. She is known as the go-to girl for Ibiza’s visitors wanting VIP tables at Pacha, Ushuaïa and Amnesia, a 12-person reservation at La Paloma, dinner dance for 8 at Lio, a speedboat to Formentera and lunch at Juan y Andrea on the beach. She has fixed a masseur for Johnny Depp, flown in a Hermès Birkin bag-shaped cake by private jet from London for a female client’s birthday, and chartered another jet from Barcelona filled with white roses when the specific demands of a client cleaned out all the florists in Ibiza. In 2017 she organised a low-key wedding for Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender. Pay her enough and she might even get you magic Willy Wonka tickets to the private parties at the Cirque du Soleil owner’s house (next door to the Uber billionaire’s house) or the fabled, super-secret Enchanted Forest rave.
As the former agent for Villa Titanium, superstar DJ David Guetta’s home and once the most expensive rental on the island (in 2016 the price was €251,000 a week), Cook also knows her way around the real estate and can locate an eight-bed, party-ready villa at short notice for a cash-rich, time-poor client… who might also be Sir Mick Jagger.
Once, many years ago, a house owner was showing her around a big property in an idyllic rural area with a view to renting it out to wealthy holidaymakers. Cook was given a tour of all the bedrooms… except one. “You’ll have to be quiet,” the owner warned as he pushed open the remaining door. “We have a guest staying in here and she’s still asleep.”
“I tiptoed around,” says Cook. “But I couldn’t help noticing that the woman with the wild hair snoozing away was Tina Turner.”
Cook, a tanned blonde with Med-blue eyes, will tell you that she was “in the right place at the right time” when she got a job as Jade Jagger’s chef in Ibiza in 2001. Jagger was the unofficial poster girl for Ibiza. Super-connected, photogenic and quite a bit wild, stories of Jagger’s love life, the happenings in her big boho/bourgie house, her clique of flip-flopped aristos and rock’n’roll fashion model friends all getting off with each other in sari-draped teepees while Bobby Gillespie deejayed under the huge mirrored disco balls suspended by the swimming pool, provided Ibiza with a new and alluringly decadent cachet.
During her year in Jagger’s galley Cook prepared organic feasts – anything from vegetable patch to Nobu-influenced Japanese – for Mario Testino, Kate Moss, Mick Jagger and Puff Daddy. Around the lunch table she learnt the potted social history of Ibiza and its postwar open-door policy: “First the hippies, then the gay community. The gay crowd brought the fashion crowd… who brought the celebrities. Then the big money followed.”
Cook wasn’t just cooking lunch. She also curated other people’s pleasure. “I’d arrange boats, recommend restaurants and beach bars, locate English-speaking nannies and Girl Fridays, and help with Jade’s annual summer party, which has now become the stuff of legend,” says Cook. “Jade co-hosted with [property developer] John Hitchcox and they got the mix of people just right.” Rock stars, models, locals, hippies, fashion designers, the odd banker and rag-trade magnate; Yasmin and Simon Le Bon next to Peter Simon of the Monsoon chain. Kate Moss and fashion editor Katy England. Elle Macpherson at one end of the candlelit pool, Estelle singing American Boy at the other. Cook saw an opportunity. “I was 27. I could speak Spanish. Having Jade Jagger on my CV certainly helped.”
“You could make this into a business,” noted photographers’ agent Camilla Lowther (mother of Vogue model Adwoa Aboah) during one of those long lunches.
“Around the time Serena arrived on the island, Ibiza was changing fast,” says DJ Pete Tong, then enjoying a DJ residency at Pacha. “I remember how the club was doing well but still pulling in a Nineties, Ministry of Sound-type crowd.” Tong showed the management a big Pacha coffee table book full of photos of louche and glamorous Seventies bohemians and said, “I want to get these people back.”
Noting that the new wave of incoming rich – the hedonically inclined types – had plenty of money to spend at the roped-off VIP areas in the clubs but were short on cojones when it came to dusty, Ibizan adventure, Cook set up shop at the end of a mobile phone.
“The new people coming to the island were used to the south of France, where everything is manicured, tarmacked and neatly sign-posted. They weren’t properly tuned in to the ramshackle, hippy vibe of the island, where a fantastic villa might be at the end of a bone-rattling dirt track and marked only by a blue painted rock on the side of the road. It was hard to explain that a posh new hire car would have its underside scraped off on the steep drive down to the delightful Es Torrent restaurant at Sant Josep, and then also convince them that it was very much worth the journey.” These were people who definitely needed looking after.
Some 18 years later, Ibiza is chock-full of smart 4x4s, the Es Torrent beach restaurant is booked solid all summer (global pandemics notwithstanding), new hotels include franchises bearing the Nobu and Cipriani liveries, and Cook’s concierge outfit, Deliciously Sorted, has an expert team of staff and suppliers vetted and trained to her own high standards.
If you are, say, a Parisian hedgefunder or a London-based property developer and you require DJ David Guetta to play at your villa party, Cook will call and personally negotiate the £360,000-ish fee. A wedding on the private island of Tagomago, just off the Ibiza coastline by Santa Eularia? “It can be arranged for around 200,000 euros [£178,000]. But we’ve worked with budgets of up to 500,000 euros.”
Customers have typically chosen from three concierge packages. Silver is £440 a week and Platinum £1,320 a week; a fee of £2,650 a week gets a hedge-funder or a Paris Hilton “bespoke” service, with a dedicated manager at the end of a phone 24/7.
“When Paris arrived on the island I asked her, ‘Do you want be discreet… or do you want to be seen?’ Some people – like Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander – want to be private. Others don’t.” Unsurprisingly, the reality-show veteran, Instagram influencer with 12 million followers and walking, tweeting, self-publicising $3 billion multi-fragrance industry, desired visibility.
Hilton rented Jade Jagger’s house, had fun at a foam party and, under Cook’s guidance, took an evening walk around Ibiza Town. “She got mobbed. And loads of publicity.”
A few summers later, despite having no experience as a house music DJ, Paris Hilton had secured herself a five-year residency at Ibiza superclub Amnesia and was said to be charging $1 million a night.
“We don’t do drugs, hookers or animals,” says Cook. “I’ve turned down requests for dancing bears and caged tigers.” Anything else and she can sort you out.
But maybe not this summer. So far this season, there are no private jets or blacked-out Range Rovers on Ibiza and even fewer requests for exotic wildlife. The superclubs are not thumping, the beach bars not buzzing. Alfresco raving at Ushuaïa or Blue Marlin is on hold. Cook says the island feels less like 2020 and more like the Seventies. “This summer will be very different,” says Cook. “With the clubs closed, people will have to make their own parties.”
There are few mentions of Terry-Thomas when stories of old Ibiza are told. DJs Danny Rampling and Paul Oakenfold or pop stars such as George Michael and Freddie Mercury tend to get all the heat when recounting the recent history of the island, not gap-toothed Ealing comedy bounders. But back in the Sixties and Seventies it was the star of School for Scoundrels, and the originator of the catchphrase “absolute shower”, who was a trailblazer for the mythical Balearic lifestyle.
In 1968, Terry-Thomas built a hilltop house, Can Talaias, near the village of San Carles, and set about establishing Ibiza as his own “Raj on the Med”. Terry-Thomas’s home, now a hotel run by his son, Cushan, hosted private parties where Sir Laurence Olivier, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Terence Stamp would misbehave for days with Nico, Ursula Andress and the Vogue model April Ashley. While staying at Can Talaias, actress Diana Rigg liked to wander around the grounds naked. In the driveway there was a cream Mercedes-Benz saloon, painted with tiny flowers, to match T-T’s favourite Liberty print shirt. This was the old Ibiza. Eccentric, cliquey, flower-powered, superchic, pretty much deserted. A little bit bourgeois and a lot bohemian. The modest 1973 opening of the now world-famous nightclub Pacha was a few years off, and the fabulously eccentric aristocrat Lady Penelope “Pempe” Aitken, an Ibiza homeowner since the Fifties, was still busy creating an English country garden and throwing her own wild parties at her house near Santa Eulària. Soon Joni Mitchell would arrive in Ibiza to write songs for her 1971 LP Blue, with Frank Zappa, Grace Jones, Mike Oldfield, Bob Marley, members of Pink Floyd and King Crimson not far behind her.
Ask any Ibiza lifer – the grizzled beach club DJ, the old hippies of Las Dalias at the multicoloured Namaste restaurant, the posh music biz Brits who bought their idyllic Santa Gertrudis fincas for a few thousand pesetas in the last millennium – and they will tell you that the Sixties/Seventies Ibiza (when there were no direct flights to the island and few hotels to stay in when you got there, when roads were free of traffic and the beaches were empty) was the real Ibiza… and how much they want a return to that spirit.
Last year, when Ibiza saw 3,540,000 visitors between January and September, the idea of tranquillity would have seemed impossible. But in this summer, says Cook, Ibiza has achieved something like that Seventies time warp state. Currently it’s in a slow transition out of Covid-19 lockdown, the skies eerily quiet, and dolphins have been spotted in the usually sewage-plagued and yacht-blighted waters of Marina Botafoch in Ibiza Town.
Restaurant terraces are open to locals, but only at 30 per cent capacity, while the Dalt Vila ramparts of old Ibiza Town, normally heaving with daylight ravers, are almost empty. Commercial flights from the UK to the island have only just restarted. The party looks like being as exclusive as one of Terry-Thomas’s bashes.
For Cook this presents a challenge. She’s postponing her portfolio of parties and weddings until the back end of the season.
Last year had hints of a practice run for 2020. Even before coronavirus, the authorities had been clamping down: music at beach parties and on terrace bars had been curtailed with daytime DJs having their sound systems limited to 65 decibels – “quieter than most vacuum cleaners”, claims one bar owner. Clubs had to close at 3am rather than 6am.
“The rules meant that private parties now started at lunchtime and finished at midnight, instead of, say, starting at midnight and ending at 6am.” And with many of the villas now equipped with their own nightclubs the party can carry on long after that.
A new development, Sabina Estates, on the west coast at Cala Tarida and claiming to be the island’s “first ecologically inspired private villa estate” could be key to Ibiza’s new, gated, private party economy. With 50 villas designed by starchitects John Pawson and Sir David Chipperfield, developer Anton Bilton, who has a home on Ibiza, wants to “create the palace of a long-lost Phoenician princess who walks the halls and terraces in flowing robes”.
“I imagined an eclectic community of like-minded owners,” says Bilton. “The style is faded grandeur. It’s understated.” And priced between £3.5-£22 million a house. Bilton sees a typical property being occupied by “a sexy couple, with kids”.
Railing against the ecological damage wreaked on the island by tourism and its plastic waste problem (recent samples reached 4,576,111 plastic particles per square kilometre – the highest rate of waste found anywhere in the Med), Cook has teamed up her friends Ben Goldsmith and William Aitken (grandson of Lady Penelope “Pempe” Aitken) to establish the Fundación para la Conservación de Ibiza y Formentera, or IbizaPreservation.
Saving the dolphins, chartering the speedboats, booking the superstar DJ for the star-studded fundraiser event. Cook, whose work uniform is denim cut-offs, whose office is a Land Rover Defender, whose workplace is the beach bar or multimillion hilltop villa, might just have sorted herself the best job in the world.