Room service included

Imagine finding your sheets turned down and a chocolate on your pillow every night. DOMINIC LUTYENS on people who live in hotels
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Indy Lifestyle Online
If you're the sort of person who remembers with a nostalgic pang the days when your mum made your bed and your tea, or if you watch period dramas in the secret knowledge that it should have been you who lived like this - with servants - then you possibly feel that modern living is not for you. But you'd be wrong, because there is still a way to be waited on hand and foot without employing staff. Choose to live in a hotel.

OK, so the bill for the convenience, not to say luxury, of becoming a long-term hotel resident is going to be beyond most of us. But for a surprising number of the well-heeled, as well as those who find work takes them away for long periods of time (at their company's expense), a hotel room is not something you rent by the week, but actually becomes home.

The benefits are many. "The staff get to know you so well, it's as if they're your own," says Craig Malcolm, director of marketing and public relations of Firmdale Hotels, whose showbizzy London establishments include the Covent Garden Hotel and Durley House on Sloane Street.

"A lot of our long-term residents are actors making a film. They prefer to stay in a hotel instead of a private flat because of the service and security. If you say you don't want to speak to so-and-so, the staff will block calls. If your favourite dessert isn't on the menu they'll always accommodate. And if all of a sudden you want to have 10 people round for drinks, you can at a minute's notice."

Paparazzi-proof, sumptuously decorated apartments with round-the-clock room service and solicitous concierge. Oh, and the chance to prop up the bar with Gwyneth and co. Small wonder that Cate Blanchett, for example, checked into the Covent Garden Hotel while making Elizabeth.

It's well known that the American star of TV sitcom Two's Company, Elaine Stritch, lives in the Dorchester, and Little Richard makes no secret of residing at the Hyatt in LA. Similarly, it's common knowledge that Sting stays for months at London's the Hempel, while Jean-Paul Gaultier regularly puts down roots at Blakes. But, generally, mega-stars cherish the privacy swanky hotels guarantee them. Quiz the Hempel for information on celebs currently ensconced there long term and your questions are politely stonewalled.

But some stars will talk about the experience. Jimmy Constable, Lee Brennan and Spike Dawbarn, of chart-topping boy band 911, have lived in London's Regents Plaza Hotel for three years - almost by default. Constable, who's from Liverpool, didn't want to live in London but, because the band were working there so much, needed to. "We looked for a hotel that wasn't in the centre and really liked this place," he says. "We've each got a suite with a bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen. And we've got 24-hour room service, can use the gym, restaurant, bar and car park. Plus our record company is just round the corner."

Hotel living is not just for celebs. In the Seventies and Eighties, more modest long-term residents (think Fawlty Towers' retired major), were familiar figures. Seaside hotels, in particular, took them in to boost revenue off-season. These days long-termers have a different complexion. At the other extreme to the celeb at the five-star London hotel is the (often) altogether grimmer experience of the DSS resident, the product of the use by the Department of Social Security to use bed and breakfast accommodation to house some of our poorest families. Further up the scale are people relocated by their company, who will meet the bill. "This is becoming more common with so many people now on short-term contracts," says a spokeswoman for the Bournemouth Private Hotel and Guesthouse Association.

But over the years, hotels have found that long-termers can take over. Nowadays, proprietors usually draw up contracts imposing a time limit - without them, they can't legally evict any guest who is paying their bill. Not that the Regents Plaza was wary of welcoming popsters 911 and their attendant fans. "It wasn't a problem," says Constable. "The fans never come in as we're happy to go out and talk to them."

Michael Bishop, chief executive of the airline British Midland, who has checked into the same room at the Savoy for 22 years - albeit for two nights a week - views it as a convenient base for work. "I can use the function rooms for press conferences," he says. "Our PR company and the Civil Aviation Authority are both nearby." Even so, why not buy a des res in the capital? After all, the rack rate for a single room at the Savoy is pounds 270 plus vat per night and even allowing for a discount for his regular use, two nights of this puts most rents in the shade. But Bishop doesn't want another property. "My home is in the Midlands, so it's pretty close," he counters. "Being at the Savoy means I don't have to run a separate London household. And the staff know my special requirements."

Attentive staff has proved a boon for Mrs Lonsdale, an elderly long-term resident at Bournemouth's Bristowe Hotel, where she has two roomy apartments (one of which was previously occupied by her late husband). On one occasion, recalls Mrs Lonsdale, the proprietor immediately came to the rescue when her husband, who'd recently had a stroke, collapsed one night on his way to the loo: "I phoned her, she came down and we picked him up and popped him into bed." The main advantage of living in the Bristowe now, she says, is that, "I pay `x' amount a month and that's it. I don't pay electricity bills or rates. If the lightbulb goes, someone changes it. If my microwave or TV break down, they're replaced. I don't have to cook but I can entertain in my flat if I like." Mrs Lonsdale has been at the Bristowe for three years. But call her a long-term resident and she considers that an overstatement: "Others have lived here much longer."

Not as long, presumably, as American writer Brantley Bardin. He has lived in New York's Beacon Hotel for 18 years - impressive, even by the standards of the Chelsea Hotel, the Big Apple's legendary long-term resident magnet - because it's cheap: "To begin with, I paid $250 a week. Now I pay $480. By New York standards that's nothing." His one gripe is that the short- term guests "don't know how to work the hotel, the elevators". They, in turn, he feels, regard him as irredeemably debauched: "They're appalled by what they imagine goes on in here."

Bardin has been allowed to transform his rooms' decor. As has Mrs Lonsdale. "All the furniture is mine except for the fitted stuff and I've got windowboxes with sweet peas." But not all hotels permit you to personalise your space. At the any-colour-as-long-as-it's-ecru Hempel, someone's request to re- paint his apartment hot pink was, surprise, surprise, rebuffed. "We've got to keep to the Hempel style of white, cream or taupe," says Henry Chebaan, the Hempel's general manager.

Hotel-living isn't always going to feel like a home from home. But that, surely, is a small price to pay for being amply pampered. Says Bardin, "It's wonderful if you have a hangover and someone can just bring you coffee up."

TURN ON, CHECK IN

The Chelsea Hotel, at 222 West 23rd Street, Manhattan, is the hotel for long-term residents par excellence. A Victorian building with opulent apartments boasting seven rooms or more - and, more to the point, a tolerant atmosphere - it has attracted the world's boho elite since the 19th century. Sarah Bernhardt lived here, sleeping in her custom-made coffin. It also drew Arthur Miller, artist Cristo, Stanley Kubrick, Allen Ginsberg and Dylan Thomas, who finished Under Milk Wood here. Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls was filmed here - Warhol acolyte and long-term resident Edie Sedgwick once fell asleep holding a burning cigarette, after popping one pill too many, and set her room on fire. In the Seventies, the Chelsea was home to Patti Smith, David Hockney, Germaine Greer and Milos Forman, director of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Sadly, the Chelsea is now being yuppified to deter freaky eccentrics. No chance, then, of spotting Marilyn Manson in the lobby.

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