The glamorous way to run up an overdraft

If you have the means, check into a hotel and stay there. By Anita Chaudhuri
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LET'S FACE it, there can be few more glamorous ways to run up an overdraft than to take up an extended residency in a top hotel. Just imagine. No more stumbling around racking up Sainsbury's Reward Points in the seven o'clock crush. No more midnight panic when the tequila bottle mysteriously runs dry. No more rubber gloves. All your prayers answered with a fully stocked mini-bar and an intravenous link to room service.

If you have the means, then rest assured that you will be in good company. Saying that you live in a hotel has always had enormous cachet. Famous long-stay hotel residents have included Coco Chanel, Dorothy Parker, Liz Taylor, Dylan Thomas and Howard Hughes. Chanel took a suite at the Paris Ritz in the Thirties and ordered a bellboy to deliver fresh camellias to her room every day. One man who perhaps understands the allure of hotels more than most is businessman Alan Edgington. In May 1995 he landed a new job at Otters, a Ford dealership in Crawley. He checked into the Europa hotel at nearby Gatwick Airport for a few days - and checked out three years, one month and eight days later.

His final bill was pounds 40,000, for which he could probably have secured a modest residence of his own somewhere. But that, of course, would be missing the point.

By all accounts, the Europa is a serviceable, four-star establishment, not known for its tales of debauchery and rock 'n roll excess. Charming up to a point but not, perhaps, up to the standards of the Paris Ritz. "Primarily we are a hotel that is very much oriented towards the conference traveller," explains Heinz Sedlacek, general manager of the Europa. "We get a lot of people passing through to and from Gatwick Airport".

It sounds spookily like the Traveller's Tavern, the fictional Norwich hotel where cult TV character Alan Partridge idles away his days. In one memorable episode, Partridge is so bored in his room that he attempts to disassemble the Corby trouser press in his room and shows off his impressive collection of free hotel mini-shampoos and shower caps, of which he has accumulated hundreds.

"I cannot confirm whether Mr Edgington collected all his free shampoos over the years but he would be entitled to them - that is all factored into our nightly room rate," explains the Europa manager helpfully. Right.

And does the Europa have many guests who simply can't bear to check out for several years?

"I have to admit no, this is a rare instance," says Sedlacek. "I have been managing hotels all over the world, in the Middle East and Africa. Abroad people are much more likely to live in hotels than in the UK, it doesn't go on here so much."

So why does he think anyone would want to stay at his hotel for three years? "Well, I think Mr Edgington was a bachelor and the hotel suited him. He didn't have to worry about running a home."

Alan Edgington is certainly in good company. Elizabeth Taylor stayed at the old Ambassador Hotel in Hollywood, sipping tea on the balcony and smelling the freshly cut grass on the rolling lawn below.

Hotels offer luxury, but they also accord untold opportunities for brat- like behaviour. Dorothy Parker moved into New York's Algonquin hotel after the collapse of her marriage and stayed there for several years, hosting secret cocktail parties in her room all through Prohibition.

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived at the Ambassador and one night piled clothes and furniture onto the bed, set it ablaze and skipped town without paying their bill. Dylan Thomas saw out his last days in the Fifties at the Chelsea Hotel, a venue that also played host to Nico, the Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol and Sid and Nancy.

Howard Hughes lived at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles in the Fifties and, in an increasingly paranoid and racist frame of mind, walked up the back stairs five flights to his room every time the black elevator operator was on duty.

The Marmont, where Jim Belushi died and Robert De Niro holed up in a penthouse for two years, has always been a popular rooming house. "This is not a hotel for tourists," quipped manager Philip Truelove to Los Angeles Magazine recently.

More recent hotel devotees have included Shirley Manson of Garbage who holes up in a hotel in Wisconsin when not at home in Edinburgh, Van Morrison who spends months living at the Portobello Hotel and Ralph Fiennes, who moved into the Pelham Hotel in South Kensington after his marriage broke up, and is still a regular guest.

In the end, the only thing that persuaded Mr Edgington has moved out is to pursue business interests with another garage in Plymouth.

Mr Edgington himself was unavailable for comment yesterday, but his girlfriend Jo Upton, who works for the same Ford dealership, was indignant that anyone should associate him with king of the "sports casual" style, Alan Partridge.

"He's nothing like that, honestly."