Celebrities parade through Swift's Rhode Island home

Taylor Swift (above left) in a photo she posted on Instagram of her and a friend on her High Watch lawn.
Taylor Swift (above left) in a photo she posted on Instagram of her and a friend on her High Watch lawn.PHOTO: TAYLOR SWIFT’S INSTAGRAM

WATCH HILL, RHODE ISLAND • You cannot miss High Watch, a rambling, white clapboard 1920s "cottage" that sprawls atop the bluff that gives this town its name, just before the inflection point, as Nate McBride, a local architect, put it, of the Long Island Sound as it flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

It looms over East Beach and Lighthouse Road, a hulking landmark whose most notable public era was during the 1960s, when its owner Rebekah West Harkness became a patron of the Joffrey Ballet and then founded her own company. Dancers practised on the lawn for more than a few summers.

For the last three years, however, the place has belonged to Taylor Swift, who bought it for US$17.75 million (S$24.12 million), reportedly in an all-cash deal.

And the people frolicking on High Watch's lawns are the singer's famous friends from the music and fashion worlds. It has become a landmark familiar to her 86 million Instagram followers for the annual Fourth of July parties she holds there.

With its old-money summer colony - a cohort of privacy-loving, multi-generational families tucked into century-old shingled houses - and picturesque Bay Street, this town is a curious choice for a megawatt celebrity like Swift, 26. And High Watch is a peculiar spot for such a celebrity to hole up, given its fishbowl site and proximity to the public beach, with an access path that runs along its property line.

When Swift first moved in, No Trespassing signs appeared around its perimeter that were prefaced with, "I knew you were trouble when you walked in", a coy reference to one of her own lyrics that irritated some locals, as did her shoring up, with the blessing of Rhode Island's Coastal Resources Management Council, the property's eroding armour stone sea wall and planting a chain-link fence at its edge.

You did not have to be one of her social media followers to see what fun Swift had there this year. Many publications printed photos of her romping in the surf with her friends. There was actor Tom Hiddleston, whom she is dating, in an "I (HEART) T.S." tank top embracing Swift, who wore a red two-piece swimsuit that said "America" across her chest.

There were Gigi Hadid, Ruby Rose, Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, among other young celebrities, who rushed into the water, posed for a group shot, and rushed out again, climbing the armour stones to the manicured lawn.

At the Flying Horse Carousel, 17-year-old staff member Maya Fontaine said she had never had a sighting, but remains hopeful. "We're, like, Taylor Swift fanatics in my house. Our manager told us that if we do see her, to not shout or draw attention, because that wouldn't be polite."

At the Olympia Tea Room, Swift's restaurant of choice, the two young hostesses gave a practised, "We have no comment," to inquiries. So did a representative at the Ocean House whose seaside terrace offers a nice view of Swift's house.

Perhaps the strangest response to Swift's residency was when Ms Gina Raimondo, the new governor of Rhode Island, proposed a tax on second homes worth more than US$1 million that was immediately labelled "the Taylor Swift tax". (She quickly withdrew the proposal.)

Ms Edith Eglin, a summer resident since 1938, said: "I consider her coming here a big surprise and a pleasant one. Did it encourage people with preteen children to come here and buy houses? I don't think so. Has there been increased air traffic at our little airport? I doubt it. Her plane is too big to get in here."

To McBride, the architect, "Taylor Swift is an anomaly", he said. "So she's like our pet celebrity. Everyone has kind of adopted her and refers to her by her first name. She's ours now. In a community like this, you either absorb or deflect."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2016, with the headline 'Celebrities parade through Swift's Rhode Island home'. Print Edition | Subscribe