David Leppan is full of surprises. For someone who has entertained royals, prime ministers and some of Hollywood’s most elite movers and shakers in his villa on the White Isle, he’s disarmingly affable, insisting that everyone calls him David: “Mr Leppan – I hate being called that.” Despite his reputation as a busy serial entrepreneur, he’s extremely generous with his time. ‘Well I am really busy... living,’” he laughs. “I do lots of things but I live in a very meaningful way.”
And there is nowhere David would rather be living than Ibiza: a cultural mecca for creatives, epicureans and tastemakers alike – somewhere that chimes perfectly with his business-meets-bohemia sensibilities.
Today he speaks with us from his Roca Llisa home of 15 or so years – a palatial, contemporary 13-bedroom estate ensconced on a hilltop, its lush gardens peppered with exotic palm trees and vivid, tumbling bougainvillea. Relaying his first visit here in 1986, South African-born David recalls with total clarity the moment he knew Ibiza would become home. “I was 13 years old and it was quite shocking because I was going to Europe and it did not look European at all – not refined or polished. It looked like South Africa – there was a roughness to it,” he says. “I remember thinking “This will be home.”’ For David, a school boarder since the age of five, home had been a very loose concept. “Home was more of a feeling, so to come to a small island in the Mediterranean where I didn’t speak the language, to feel that suddenly, it was striking. That was 35 years ago.”
David often refers back to his formative years spent at boarding school, an experience that seems to have had a profound effect on shaping him. “Lots of discipline, obedience and very militant. Ibiza is the exact opposite – mentally and spiritually.” He paints an idyllic picture of morning cove swims and afternoon siestas. “As a creature of habit – a very taurean thing – I head to a small cove and go for a swim in the sea every day. There are days when it’s cold and I stand there questioning my sanity, but I can’t contemplate a day without doing that.” This pace of living is a world away from his time traversing the world, racking up one hundred plus business flights a year. “I’ve had times in my life where I’ve been incredibly hectic. But to get clarity you need time and space to think – that’s what this home is about for me.”
He’s a natural host (another thing he attributes to his archetypal taurean outlook) and his tireless business life means he instinctively knows what his well-travelled guests need during their stay. “I’ve hosted everybody from actors to humanitarians and European aristocracy. This is somewhere they can totally recharge and be at ease.” He puts this sense of ease partly down to the clever configuration of the house itself: a blindingly white, cavernous estate with generously sized bedrooms served by their own dressing rooms and en suites, and each with outdoor access to the immaculate grounds. “I’m very insistent that my friends all come and stay – that’s because the house really lends itself to everybody having their privacy and not feeling like you’re falling over one another. It allows people to drop their guard.”
Presumably, David’s carefree carpe diem attitude also has a lot to do with any easy candour from his house guests. “My grandparents would say things like, ‘Oh no, that’s the fine china’ or ‘We only use this silverware on special occasions.’ For me, I can’t think of anything more special than being alive – that’s about as special as it gets. I mean hell, that calls for a celebration!” He makes a point of setting the table with the same plates, cutlery and silverware whether he’s dining alone or entertaining. “I would rather these things be used and chipped or broken, than have them sitting in the cupboard. You want to surround yourself with things that you find beautiful, that are valuable to you. I don’t believe in putting things in glass cabinets and hiding them away.’
His home is a dazzling showcase of treasures where Old Masters sit alongside African wood sculptures, Asian antiquities and artwork his children have made for him over the years. How does someone amass such a collection? “Everything in the house represents part of my journey – it’s a mad mix but then my life has been a mad mix.” His principal interest, be it paintings or photography, is the human form. “That ability to paint the glow of a human and to give weight within the painting, so you can see they’re standing in their shoes – it’s only right that we should refer to these people as masters, the Old Masters. For me, portraiture has always fascinated me because principally, people fascinate me.”
It’s a preoccupation certainly reflected in his philanthropic endeavours, with his most recent projects centred around supporting the vulnerable during lockdown. “I was concerned less about the virus and more about the impact that lockdown was going to have on people’s mental health. It dawned on me that there may be people who were alone and needed some sign from the outside world that we were with them on this.” The result was #meetmywilson – a social media initiative inspired by
the Tom Hanks film Castaway, that focused on connecting one another.
Philanthropy is hugely important to David, so much so, that he founded Billionaire.com – a magazine focused on encouraging philanthropy from the world’s most privileged elite. “It goes out to a very small group of people around the planet, so that they might be inspired to become more giving.” He conceived the idea around the same time he became the first backer for The Global Citizen Festival. “Philanthropy in certain families is already multi-generational, the Rockefellers, for example. My focus was on the new wealthy.” It’s not that easy to access these people.”
Though if anyone can access them, it would be David, who pays no heed to titles. “I find little value in titles,” he shrugs. “Growing up in South Africa, we’re a pretty flat structured society. There’s not the sense of somebody who’s dreadfully important, you come at people as people.” And perhaps therein lies the appeal of Ibiza, described by David himself as a melting pot of tolerance, open mindedness and hedonism. “That’s unusual for an island. Islands are generally quite closed but Ibiza has always been hospitable to us crazies.”
David’s next venture will be a year-round hotspot for residents and visitors alike. With a clutch of slow food restaurants, bars and open-air lounges and an already oversubscribed members club nestled within 13,000 sq m of gardens, Los Patios is set to open its doors next year and is perhaps the most natural next step for someone who loves to host. “The island has always attracted an incredibly interesting group of people and it has to be one of the most tolerant places. And that is important to me – I feel at home in such a place.”