The most sparsely populated country on earth, dark frozen winters, peat bogs, and in summer mosquitos so big they can bite you through a fleece – the charms of Greenland are not immediately apparent to a man like Donald J Trump. Still all that and its lack of golf courses aside, has not deterred the US President from making an audacious bid.
Last week his much-publicised attempts to buy Greenland – which in typically understated form involved tweeting a photograph of a fishing village replete with a gold-plated Trump Tower plonked in the middle accompanied by the caption 'I promise not to do this to Greenland' – sparked a full-blown diplomatic incident with Denmark, which owns the region as an overseas territory, and resulted in the cancellation of a presidential trip.
Mulling over his potential purchase with reporters earlier in the week, Trump emphasised his pursuit was "essentially a large real estate deal" as well as being "strategically interesting". That and fulfilling a seemingly universal fantasy most of us have been gripped by at one time or another: owning an island to call one's own.
Sir Richard Branson has Necker island in the British Virgin Islands. Johnny Depp has his Bahamian bolthole Little Hall's Pond Cay, which he reportedly purchased 15 years ago for US$3.6m ($5.6m).
In 2012 the wind-lashed isle of Dorninish off the West Coast of Island was put up for sale for 300,000 Euros ($524,000) – previously known as 'Beatle Island' it was bought by John Lennon in 1967 as a place to set up a new age community and retire to. Instead within a matter of years a storm destroyed their tents and blew the hippies back to the mainland. Island living, it seems, is often not all it's cracked up to be.
So it was for US property developer Dr Albert Sutton when he bought Columbia Island and neighbouring Pea Island for a combined US$1.45m ($2.5m), situated in the Long Island Sound an hour north of New York. In an interview with the Telegraph the now 85-year-old reflects on his initial thoughts when the opportunity to purchase the islands became apparent. "I remember thinking this is great," he recalls. "I'll think great thoughts, I'll really come up with something interesting if I'm looking at birds and sky and water when my whole life I've looked at big buildings."
The reality was rather less profound. The old adage no man is an island rings true through the ages. Dr Sutton ended up pouring US$8m ($14m) into making Columbia Island habitable before deciding this May to put both of them up for sale for a combined US$13m ($22m) having spent a single night out across the water. "It became clear that this is more for someone who really likes the good life," says Dr Sutton, Brooklyn born who is unmarried and lives alone. "When I began to build it, I saw that I wasn't going to really take advantage of this in the way somebody else might."
Dr Hutton first bought Columbia Island 15 years ago – despite its name it spans little more than an acre and was formally used to house a radio transmitter. In 2015 he decided to purchase neighbouring uninhabited Pea Island to add to his personal archipelago. "It protects whoever is going to own this [Columbia Island] from having a hostile neighbour or anything like that," he told the New York Times earlier this summer explaining the purchase.
He is right to worry about who else might be eyeing up the surrounding islands. After all in the 1990s the aforementioned Donald Trump attempted to buy David's Island, situated opposite Columbia Island, but ended up abandoning plans to build condominiums there losing his US$500,000 ($873,000) deposit in the process. More recently the president's daughter, Ivanka, was reportedly interested in the purchase of Rat Island, a 2.5acre lump of bedrock once used as a quarantine centre for typhoid patients. In the end it was sold to a different buyer at auction for $176,000 ($307,000).
Back on Columbia Island, Dr Hutton (who prior to working in New York real estate had a career as a pathologist) soon realised his island dream was going to require a lot of money to fulfil. "So I said, 'OK, this is what I'm doing now, I'm not building a little zen spot for me to think great thoughts or write poetry, we're doing this project.' That's what it became, there was a shift."
The necessary renovations included basic infrastructure such as installing a desalination unit for drinking water, water pumps to keep the building dry, solar panels, steel girders and thick metal "hurricane doors" from Norway to guard against the squalls blowing in.
He was also required to buy a decommissioned Second World War landing craft to sail out to the island and a barge to ferry construction materials to and from the mainland. "Initially I was working every day, I'd take the crew out there and see what we could do and it seemed to require a great deal because there wasn't any grid, there was nothing provided, no electricity and so on. You sort of had to start from scratch and that became the project."
It is not just millionaires that succumb to the island fantasy. Earlier this year a private island on the River Bute in Norfolk went on sale for £300,000 complete with two thatched cottages, with enough mooring for 50 canoes, pedalos and rowing boats.
In an interview with the Telegraph at the time Anthony Clay, of estate agents Knight Frank, who has twice been responsible for selling Thorne Island in Pembrokeshire, a property accessible only by boat which comes complete with a Napoleonic fort, delivered a word of warning to potential investors. "People think they can sell a one-bedroom flat in London for £650,000 ($1.2m) and buy an island for half the price but they're then looking at investing a million or so and about five years to make it liveable. Your island is a hobby, your priority is a main house somewhere."
As he poured money into his New York island Dr Hamilton admits to a similar awakening. "The project became the issue and it stopped being about my personal pleasure or gain or spending time and putting my feet up," he says. "I had to do this thing correctly, and to do it correctly you have to do a lot of things. It just required a lot of work."
Still he claims to have no regrets. Some successes in the property market elsewhere enabled him to fully complete the project. The 5,625sqft property - 1 Columbia Island – boasts four bedrooms, two bathrooms and an open kitchen. Should it sell he stands to make a tidy profit.
"You have the whole city at your disposal, and you have the privacy. It's kind of living in both worlds," he says. "Most of the island buyers are in the tropics, warm places that are distant, but here you can get that natural kick, while at the same time having access to and being adjacent to a bustling city."
Currently 1 Columbia Island and Pea Island remain up for sale. "What will you do with your private islands just minutes from NYC?" call the real estate sirens from the pages of the Sotheby's brochure. How long before another investor is lured to their fantasy across the water?
Five islands currently for sale
Host your very own Fyre Festival on this island in the Exumas (although hopefully more successful). Little Pipe Cay is a rare freehold find, and comes with cottages spread across its 38 acres. Its on for £70 million ($134.5m) with Knight Frank.
Swap your Home Counties commuter belt home for a haven in the Gryts archipelago, 160km south-west of Stockholm. Breviksnäs Alskär comes with four cabins, a sauna, fish smoker and a jetty, all for £792,000 ($1.5 million). It's available through Vladi Private Island.
New York, USA
Three hours north of Manhattan is Ball's Island, which sits in the middle of the Susquehanna River. The seven-acre island has a three-bedroom Thirties house with all the mod cons, and is surrounded by ancient forest. It is £368,000 ($707,000) with Vladi Private Island.
Lataro is a paradise: surrounded by pristine coral reefs, with 90 per cent of its 800 acres dedicated to a conservation reserve. It is also the last home to the Coconut Crab, the world's largest hermit crab. The luxurious house on the island is powered by solar energy. It costs £8.2 million ($15.7 million) with Vladi Private Island.
Ram Island was originally used to put sheep to pasture. Now the island, which sits in the middle of Wheeler Bay, is a perfect summer home with a four-bedroom arts and crafts-style house in five acres of land. It is £1.1 million ($2.1 million) with Landvest.
- Additonal reporting by Isabelle Fraser