Bunhill: Dream hotel turns into PR heaven

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The Independent Online
MYSTERIOUS events at Cliveden in Berkshire, once home of the Astors, meeting place of John Profumo and Christine Keeler, now a stunning country house hotel. It is closed for the whole of August - or rather Someone Else has taken it over, lock stock and barrel. A Saudi prince perhaps, or maybe the Sultan of Brunei? Nope, it is those jumped-up Brummies from Land Rover, who have taken all 37 rooms for 32 nights.

A number of questions leap to mind. First, what did it cost? Well, according to sales and marketing director, Jeffrey Carey, the average room price is pounds 250 a night, so the full whack would be a touch under pounds 300,000. Add a conservative pounds 50 a head for dinner and buffet lunch, and we get to about pounds 350,000. Mr Carey hints that Land Rover was allowed only a modest discount, which means it paid at the very least a quarter of a million.

Second question. Why did Land Rover do it? Answer: to show journalists the new Range Rover, being launched publicly at the end of next month. Over the five weeks, 750 hacks from around the world are staying one night or more at Cliveden (a lucky few in the pounds 620 a night Prince of Wales suite). The public relations people said its image (the relentlessly up- market one, not the Keeler / Profumo one) was the one they wanted to stick to the Range Rover, and even the finance director of Rover said he thought it was worth every bean, given that the new vehicle had already cost pounds 320m.

Third question. Why did Cliveden agree to block out every other booking at the height of summer? 'It was not an easy decision,' Mr Carey says. 'But because we rely on British guests, August is nothing like as good as the rest of the summer.' In addition, the deal was struck last June, when the recession's grip was still firm.

But even this was not the clinching factor: it was the presence of so many journalists. 'We spend our lives trying to get them here,' he says. 'We had 750 journalists through in five weeks - that's more than we would normally get in 25 years.'

Cliveden is run by a management company, also called Cliveden. And Cliveden the group needs a friendly press at the moment. It belongs to hotel developers John Lewis and John Tham, and is to be floated early next year. It would like to have a nice high share price. It also has the small Fenja hotel in Cadogan Gardens, London, and has been given a Czech government contract to convert the Salm Palace in Prague. No doubt it has greater plans yet.

Before other companies reach for their wallets, Mr Carey warns that the Land Rover encampment is a one- off. 'Our regular guests and club members will wear it once, but we couldn't do the same thing again for many years.' Until the next Range Rover is launched, presumably.

STILL on cars, have you ever wondered what the Queen gets as junk mail? Barclays offering her a pounds 10,000 loan? Probably not. A free Omo sample? Unlikely. But I can reveal that she has had a very special offer from Jaguar. The company has sent her pictures of the long wheelbase version of the new Jaguar saloon, in the hope of parking a few in the Royal Mews. The Queen would, I gather, be entitled to a discounted ex-factory price - which is also offered to other VIPs and 'opinion formers', including ambassadors and MPs. If she wants to know whether the long wheelbase job motors, she should pop round to Downing Street for a test run. John Major has one of the very few stretched versions of the current XJ6.