Richard Branson's sprawling home on his private island in the Caribbean tragically burned to the ground this week after it was struck by lightning caused by Hurricane Irene. Fortunately no one was injured, thanks in part to actress Kate Winslet, who was vacationing on the island and carried Branson's 90-year-old mother to safety.

Branson vowed to rebuild, and said that his daughter Holly would get married on Necker Island's beach this winter as planned. But given the extent of the damage to the Great House, constructed almost entirely of wood, Branson has a tall task ahead of him.

So what was Necker Island like prior to the fire? By all accounts, it was a tropical getaway frequented by celebrities and fueled by booze, and colored by the antics of Branson himself. According to the Daily Mail:

Despite its elite guest list, Branson's island is anything but formal. One recent visitor told me that as she left by speedboat, he saluted her — and all the other boats in the bay 00 by dropping his trousers and baring his bottom, as if he were a daft schoolboy rather than a billionaire captain of industry.

This prank is typical of Branson, who loves to entertain his guests on Necker with risqué banter and torrents of alcohol.

The roster of A-listers that have vacationed on the island since Branson and wife Joan bought it in 1979 for around $290,000 goes on and on.

Eddie Murphy honeymooned there for a week in 1993, as did actress Geena Davis. Kate Moss met a boyfriend there (though it didn't last), Robert de Niro once partied all night in the lounge, and even Mariah Carey has dropped in, according to the Daily Mail. It's also a popular destination for British royalty. Sarah Ferguson and her daughters have been multiple times, and even Princess Diana came with William and Harry back in 1990. Of course, when it's not populated by the rich and famous, it's available to rent, at the cost of around $50,000 per night.

We've pulled together some photos and video of what Necker Island used to look like, and the of the destruction caused by the fire. Hopefully it won't be too long until it's restored to its former glory.

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Republished with permission from Authored by Jen Ortiz. Photos via Virgin Limited Edition