Never mind Matt Damon and Brad Pitt, the real VIP in town last week was a charming English lady called Bill Hine, who was visiting our little island for the 44th time in 33 years. Yes, you read it right! Bill first arrived in St Lucia in 1980 so she’s stepped off the plane at Hewanorra an average of 1.333 times since then. Regardless of the math, it’s an amazing record of her devotion to her ‘home away from home’, which is how she regards St Lucia. Bill is a bit of a creature of habit, so for the first 17 visits she stayed at Cunard La Toc, but after it closed in the early 90s, she chose the Royal St Lucian and for the last 27 visits has found it to be the perfect resort for her.
This time, Bill Hine found a new General Manager at the Royal, and his energised team of experienced staff and new blood met with her approval. From the Repeat Guests Lunch when the Virgin Atlantic crew sought her out for an emotional goodbye and photos, to the exquisite flowers in her newly renovated suite, Bill laughingly admits to feeling like a celebrity. She is full of praise for the Royal GM and his staff, for “bringing the hotel back to life.”
At 86-years-old and with a dodgy knee, Bill Hine is lively and vivacious, a captivatingly warm character, with a self-deprecating wit and lots of stories to tell. She recalls her first visit in 1980, when the immigration officer announced the hotel she was heading to had burned down eight hours earlier — perhaps not the most auspicious premier for any destination, but she wasn’t phased. Instead of staying at the unfortunate St Lucian Hotel, Bill headed for the La Toc Hotel, and the rest is history.
If that’s not memorable enough, hours after she flew back to England, on August 4th St Lucia was hit by Hurricane Allen, killing 19 and causing catastrophic damage islandwide.
“When I heard on TV that Hurricane Allen had struck, I got really worried for the people I met” she says. Returning in October of 1980, Bill started to bring clothes and toys on every trip, which were distributed among needy people on the island by St Benedict’s Church. Time after time, Bill packed t-shirts, dresses and baby clothes into her suitcases before boarding the flight from London Gatwick, and nowadays she delivers her donation to the Red Cross at Vigie.
In 1995 when Bill stepped off the plane for the 21st time, a champagne welcome reception awaited her, hosted by the staff of the Royal St Lucian. Later in the holiday she was presented with a wooden plaque by Minster of Tourism, Romanus Lansiquot at another cocktail party. He praised her devotion to the island and stated:“We are very happy and this speaks well for the country.” Humble as ever, Bill was near tears as she accepted the accolade, and states “I just fell in love with the island. The people are warm and friendly.” Over the 33 years, Bill has gotten to know St Lucia very well, and she remembers the details vividly. From tours to the Pitons to boat rides and tropical gardens, Bill has carved out a tourist trail on the island, but one place she admitted to avoiding was the rainforest “because I’m afraid of snakes!” So to mark this very special 47th visit, Rainforest Skyrides’ Chief Operating Officer Herena Cao invited Bill to soar through the treetop canopy at Chassin, safely seated in a gondola suspended more than eighty feet above the forest floor. Bill was thrilled and enchanted by the experience, enjoying the birds singing and ravine waters cascading beneath her feet — she only wished she could have ziplined, although her knee replacement would never allow it these days.
After the brand new, Bill returned to an old favourite. When Indira Ashworth of Charthouse Restaurant in Rodney Bay heard that she was back in town she invited her for dinner to celebrate. The Charthouse opened thirty years ago, so Bill is one of its most loyal superfans, and with her trademark humble smile, she admired the view of the water and reminisced over her favourite battered shrimp.
Driving back through Babonneau, Bill had been reminded of a visit long ago when she went home with a housekeeper from the hotel to meet her family. As they walked along the road, a lady came from a small wooden house and asked if Bill had a camera, which she had. The lady’s mother was celebrating her 100th birthday, so Bill was enlisted to take the official photograph that would be cherished by the family. It was a special moment she would never forget, and an example of why Bill Hine has made St Lucia her ‘other home’.