The Best & Worst of Times: You will love it there, she said: Willy Bauer talks to Danny Danziger

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I had worked in Geneva and Lausanne, and was getting on extremely well, but I never wanted to be just a little chap somewhere in a little town on the Continent. I realised you needed to speak English if you wanted to get on. And I met a lady who said: 'I know the manager of the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne, he will find you a job, and Eastbourne is wonderful.' She assured me: 'Sunny Eastbourne, you would love it there.'

And so eventually a job was sorted out, and I arrived at Heathrow in February. It was absolutely horrific weather, the worst weather I had ever seen.

But I thought, well, it doesn't matter because I'm going to sunny Eastbourne - south of England, south of France, it will be lovely. And I sat on that train for an hour and a half, and I thought, only 20 minutes to go, where's the sun? And I arrived in Eastbourne, and it could not have been worse.

Anyway, I took a taxi to the Grand Hotel, and the porters greeted me and took my luggage to reception, who couldn't find my name on the arrival list. So I gave them my letter of appointment . . . and I then had to take my luggage out myself, and go all the way around the building to the staff entrance.

They had found a room for me in the basement. We went through long, dark, horrible corridors where the works department was situated, past the carpenters' and the plumbers' shops, and there was a little room with a broken window, very cold - the wind was howling inside, and they said, 'That is your room.' It was dreadful, really, and I felt sure there must be rats around.

I was a commis waiter, Hoovering the floors, filling the salts and peppers, cleaning silver and bringing the food from the kitchen, all the real menial jobs. I was paid pounds 3.2s. 6d a week.

But whatever they asked of me I did not mind doing because I wanted to learn the language, and I knew I wasn't going to be a waiter for the rest of my life.

I loved Eastbourne. Everything was so nice and clean, the gardens along the seafront looked fantastic. The Promenade - from the Cumberland Hotel up past the Cavendish and the Grand, and then up to Beachy Head - was fantastic, wonderful.

I had not seen the sea before I came to England. It made a tremendous impression on me, I would watch it for hours.

In those days the Grand was a great five-star hotel. It was enormously busy, 400 or 500 people would come for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it was overwhelming. I was terribly proud to work there.

There was a dinner dance every Saturday night, and people arrived in their big Rolls-Royces, dressed up in dinner jackets and beautiful dresses. You could see a certain class of person at Eastbourne then, and you knew you were dealing with the best.

I was approached by the Cavendish, also a five-star hotel, and they employed me, and I became head wine butler within a month, and my salary went up to pounds 7 a week.

In my spare time I studied English with a retired colonel, until I met the person who managed to achieve more than anyone else - my girlfriend, who became my wife. I became very friendly with her family - except at first her father, who didn't want his daughter going out with a waiter, but he then came round as well.

And I became very fond of them, and, in fact, when my mother died, their home became like my second home.

My mother had been ill long before, she had badly damaged kidneys, and her life was full of pain. I wanted to be there for my mother, and look after her, I wanted to do that, my mother was everything to me. But I fell in love with a woman, and her family was very nice, so I had a family over here.

When I think back now, I can remember the look in my mother's eyes when she took me to the airport in Stuttgart, and I left for England, because I was her favourite son. And I left her, despite the fact I knew she was ill. It's unbelievable how cruel children can be.

I see today I was very selfish to go away.

Willy Bauer, former managing director of the Savoy, is chief executive of the Wentworth Club.

(Photograph omitted)