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Clariches! The money-soaked secrets of Britain's swankiest hotel
BBC2 programme Inside Claridge's offers viewers a peak behind the sumptuous world of the hotel
23:53 GMT, 10 December 2012
One of the managers of Claridge’s has a story he likes to tell about the world-famous hotel. ‘People used to ring up the telephone operators here,’ says Timothy Lock, ‘and they would ask: “Could I speak to the king” and the operator would reply: “Which one”’
Although the story is probably apocryphal, it contains a nugget of truth. Over the past 150 years, Claridge’s — in the heart of London’s Mayfair — has played host to hundreds of heads of state.
It is not for nothing that the hotel is known as the ‘annexe to Buckingham Palace’.
Annexe to Buckingham Palace: A stay at Claridge's in Mayfair cost up to 7,000 a night
Highest standards: Thomas Kochs is the youngest general manager in Claridge's history
Design royalty: This suite was decorated by fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg
For most of us non-royals, however, gaining access to this most exclusive of hotels sets you back about the same as buying a half-decent crown. With a night’s stay costing up to 7,000 — and afternoon tea 50 per head — it’s hardly surprising few manage to pass through its highly polished art deco portals.
But now, thanks to a TV documentary called Inside Claridge’s, we can witness not only the sumptuousness of the hotel, but also the astonishing lengths the staff go to keep guests happy.
The first episode of the three-part series was screened on BBC2 last Monday, and drew 3.2 million viewers. Word of mouth quickly spread, and this week hundreds of thousands downloaded the episode from the BBC’s iPlayer service.
The second episode was shown last night — with record viewing figures for a Monday evening BBC2 show anticipated. It’s not hard to see why, because it is a window on a world most of us could never afford to witness.
So what will you find at Claridge’s that you’d never see at a Travelodge
For starters, the minibar doors are
checked to ensure they are not stiff; in the restaurants, cutlery
handles are positioned one inch from the edge of tables; and the labels
on the pots of jam on breakfast trays all face the same way.
‘Just imagine if those things didn’t
matter any more,’ says Thomas Kochs, who at 41 is the hotel’s
youngest-ever general manager.
The twinkling and unflappable German is
undeniably the star of the show, and indeed of the hotel.
It is Mr Kochs who writes a note to
each guest in his hefty fountain pen, a touch that can bring unforeseen
difficulties, especially when it comes to strangely-named rock stars.
always have the same predicament whenever U2 are staying,’ he says with
a wolfishly ironic grin. Two of the band members’ with unorthodox names
— Bono and The Edge — pose a problem. ‘Do we write, “Dear Edge”
Because you can’t write “Dear Mister The Edge”!’
Behind the scenes: The BBC documentary allows people into the sumptuous world of the hotel
Art deco: Even the lifts are decorated to the highest standards
Luxury: The drawing room at Claridge's hotel at Joan Collins' Wedding to Percy Gibson
Fan: Regular guest Joan Collins, pictured with her husband Percy Gibson on their wedding day at Claridge's, said the hotel is 'pristine and wonderful'
Opulent: The elegant lounge at Claridge's
The majority of guests have more conservative names, such as the American couple Jack and Norma Melchor, who have visited Claridge’s for 40 years.
It is returning guests like them the hotel especially values — which is why, it seems, every one of them is treated like royalty.
Whenever guests such as the Melchors stay, photographs are taken of the suite so it can be rearranged exactly how it was before when they return, and a profile is assembled of their tastes and desires.
Anne Barnes, the deputy head of housekeeping, consults her records to remind herself that Mrs Melchor likes her bed to be nearest the window, and made with sheets and blankets. In the sitting-room, a wingback chair is placed exactly where the couple like it, and a table is placed at just the right distance next to it.
During their 16-day stay last Christmas, the Melchors — who made their fortune selling their software company to Hewlett Packard — left the hotel only twice. With the suite costing 5,500 per night, their entire stay, including food and drink, would have cost well in excess of 100,000.
(It was, sadly, to be their last visit together — a postscript to the first episode noted Mrs Melchor had since passed away.) However, the demands of the Melchors were minor compared to some others.
Last year, a Japanese pop star and her 35-strong entourage stayed in the hotel for a month. The singer insisted her room should have a Jacuzzi, so the hotel ripped out the existing bath, and replaced it with a top-of-the range bubbler.
Some guests say the colour of the room
is not to their liking, in which case Claridge’s re-decorates the room
for the course of the stay, and then returns it to how it was before.
‘I never say “no” to a guest,’ says Anne Barnes. ‘I will do everything in my power to do whatever they want me to do.’
Highly trained: (left to right) doorman Roman Probodziak, deputy head of housekeeping Anne Barnes, butler Michael Lynch, general manager Thomas Kochs, concierge Martin Ballard, hotel manager Michael Bonsor, head chef Martyn Nail and a page boy
Roman Probodziak works as a doorman at the hotel. Many of the 400 hotel staff have worked their for decades
Such a willing attitude comes into its own whenever Arab royalty comes to stay. Last year, a princess and her retinue booked 40 rooms on the third floor.
Ten of the rooms had to be cleared of furniture to make way for dressing rooms and dining rooms. Some of the bedrooms were transformed into kitchens, and two entire suites were devoted just to storing shopping.
It took the hotel two days to make the changes, which they did even though the booking had not been confirmed. And, as a final touch, the princess insisted her mattress should be lined with four duvets, because she likes her bed to be soft. Presumably she had read the fable of The Princess And The Pea.
Whenever a room is refurbished — which can cost up to 200,000 — senior members of the hotel staff spend a night in the room to ensure that everything is as it should be.
The room is examined from every angle to check nothing unsightly is visible. It is not acceptable for a guest to sit down on a chair only to be able to see a nest of untidy cabling under a desk. The slightest of scuff marks on a skirting board requires an urgent phone call to the decorating department.
Just over 400 people work at
Claridge’s, all of whom are highly-trained, and many of whom have worked
at the hotel for decades. Among them are those who work in the laundry —
they wash 1,500 towels a day, nearly 550,000 per year.
The kitchen serves up more than 1,000 lobsters a year and 60,000 bottles of champagne are drunk.
More than 200 miles of corridors have to
be vacuumed, and countless panes of glass and mirrors have to be cleaned
regularly, with some requiring attention every few hours.
Royal guests: The Duke of Windsor is pictured leaving the hotel in 1940. Such is the high clientele that if someone rings asking to speak to the king, the operator would reply 'Which one'
Star draw: Victoria Beckham, pictured leaving Claridge's, is a fan of the hotel and actress Anne Hathaway stayed there this month, right
Some guests come to stay so often that the hotel stores their possessions. One of these is the sugar magnate Jose ‘Pepe’ Fanjul, who has stayed at the hotel for 300 nights over the past decade.
Mr Fanjul sees the hotel as a home from home, for whenever he stays he finds his dozens of suits and hats all positioned in exactly the same places as when he previously visited.
The employees see their jobs as being beyond mere hostelry. ‘It’s a stage,’ says Anne Barnes. ‘It’s a theatre.’
As for Mr Kochs, his role is to make fantasy a reality. ‘Dreams are being fulfilled in this hotel,’ he says. ‘This hotel means more than just sleeping.”
Of course, hotels often mean a certain amount of licentious behaviour. Peter Charlesworth, the agent of Claridge’s habituee Joan Collins, once worked as a bellhop many years ago.
He recalls with a smirk: ‘I think I caught Alfred Hitchcock in a compromising situation with a very large blonde.’
For guests such as Joan Collins, the appeal of the hotel lies in its evocation of a more sophisticated age.
‘There’s a feeling you’re not quite in the 21st century,’ she says. ‘It’s so pristine and wonderful, it’s as if it’s not from today.’
During the Olympics this summer, the staff at Claridge’s found themselves pushed even harder than normal, with no fewer than seven heads of state staying, along with their retinues.
Apparently, at one point during the Olympics, one caller did phone the hotel asking to be put through ‘to the president’.
The switchboard operator was delighted to prove the story about numerous heads of state being in residence, by answering: ‘Which one’
n Inside Claridge’s is on iPlayer and the final episode is on BBC2 next Monday at 9pm.