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50, and at home in Barbados

LEANNE TASHER, [email protected]

50, and at home in Barbados

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ENGLISH VISITOR Shaun Bailey has appointed himself a tourism ambassador for Barbados.

He has been visiting the island every year since 2010, has claimed the tropical destination as a second home and has no reservations about spreading his enthusiasm among his friends.

In fact, he recently rallied a group of 50 relatives and friends, most of whom reside in his hometown of Reading in Berkshire, to join him in Barbados to celebrate his 50th birthday anniversary on May 8.

He was especially happy that his milestone birthday fell the same year that Barbados was celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence.

Last Tuesday, Bailey was relaxing at the Butterfly Beach Hotel in Maxwell, Christ Church, where he is staying with his wife Zoja and friend Carol Burnett.

Casually dressed and wearing an official 50th anniversary independence pin, he sipped rum punch as he recounted his several unforgettable experiences in this island.

He said it was really “the people” and the “non-tourist side of Barbados” that intrigued him most about this country.

“. . . Every time I come to Barbados I find another reason to come back and fall in love with it even more.

“. . . I’ve never ever come across such a lovely, warm-hearted nation of people.

“Everywhere you go, you are welcomed. Everyone wants to sit down and share stories with you. And by speaking to the local . . . they tell you their little favourite places to go and that’s how I heard about Martin’s Bay on a Thursday, which is a world apart from Oistins on a Friday night,” he said.

It is no surprise that Bailey is more likely to be spotted at a street-side snack bar or rum shop, chatting with locals with rum in hand, than at an internationally acclaimed five star restaurant.

It is the “real Barbados” that he craves, the side of the island he said visitors with all-inclusive packages often miss out on.

The rustic Villa Marie Bar on Maxwell Main Road, Lexie’s Bar in Oistins, where many fisher folk “lime” and islandwide Q in the Community events paint the land of the sun, sea and sand through the eyes of Bajans, he explained.

“. . . I mean you can go to Q and meet a family that would go home and make lunch for you, then bring it back. Then you sit in the back of their car eating the lunch they’ve made and drinking beer . . . . You won’t get that anywhere else in the world,” he enthused.

The carpenter of 30 years recalled his first trip to Barbados, which was 27 years ago.

Still he remembers the way waves along Silver Sands Beach seeped between his toes and the mouth-watering moments when local foods like cou cou, fish cakes and macaroni pie first tantalised his taste buds.

Even though his love for Barbados ignited at first sight, several years passed before he could see the island again. Bailey explained that, especially after his children (Oliver, Emma and Benjamin) were born, trips to “paradise” could no longer fit his budget. As fate would have it, Bailey returned in 2006 to wed Zoja at the Bougainvillea Beach Hotel.

By the time he was standing at the beachside altar, the 50-year-old said he was sure of two things, his love for Zoja and Barbados.

“I didn’t want a wedding ring because I work in construction. So I decided to have a tattoo [instead of] a wedding ring. And what I chose was the shape of the Barbados with the national flag inside and our wedding date,” he explained, while pointing to the tattoo on his left arm.

Describing himself as a humble, spontaneous person, Bailey said he exchanged vows with a coral ring that was made by craftsmen on the Silver Sands beach just a day before the wedding.

His 50th birthday celebrations, on the other hand, took months of preparation and was anything but whimsical. What began as a birthday invitation to friends on Whatsapp messenger last June ended in three fun-filled days of events, starting with a pre-birthday dinner on Saturday, then a birthday party on the Jolly Roger and finally, an “England versus West Indies” cricket game on Miami Beach.

“I am so humbled that so many have taken the time and effort to come over. It’s beyond my wildest dreams . . . . It’s been incredible. I’d lie on the beach down at Miami [Enterprise Beach] and see a [British Airways] plane come in and I’d know who’s coming in and then watched the Virgin one come in. Every morning has been like Christmas Day and then you come in the hotel and your best friends in the whole world are there,” he said.

A visibly excited Bailey appeared even more flushed as he recalled meeting legendary cricketer Sir Everton Weekes, who was the guest of honour at his pre-birthday dinner that was held at Uncle George’s Fish Net and Grill on Saturday, May 7. The 91-year-old even presented Bailey with an autographed copy of his autobiography, which took him by surprise.

Having been raised in a working class household in Reading, with his father being a welder and mother, a part-time secretary, the avid cricket lover said that before coming to Barbados he had never travelled outside of Great Britain.

More holiday vacations are on the horizon for Bailey, who hopes to make yearly trips a family tradition. Although he probably won’t have the opportunity to return for Independence Day, he said he will surely celebrate the nation’s milestone.

“I’ll be here in spirit and I’ll have a glass of Mount Gay or Brigand in my hand, raising a toast,” he said.