Bunhill: Hotel to high rollers

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THE Royal Suite, where Cher, Madonna and Schwarzenegger have all stayed, costs pounds 2,500 a night. The simplest double room is pounds 230. The Lanesborough hotel on London's Hyde Park Corner, which opened two years ago in the depths of recession, has never been cheap.

But that is not much of a deterrent to Wall Street's finest. Bankers and deal-makers from Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Paine Webber are regular guests, according to the managing director, Geoffrey Gelardi.

He says the Lanesborough beat every other five-star hotel in London apart from the Dorchester last year, in terms of occupancy levels. 'And we'll beat the Dorchester this year.' The hotel is already number one in London for average room revenues because, unlike most of its rivals, it refuses to give corporate discounts.

The competition has been fierce. Boom times in the mid 1980s led to the construction of a rash of new luxury hotels including the Conrad Hilton, the Langham, the Regent and the Halkin. They opened for business at just the wrong time.

Owned by the Abu Dhabi investment authority, which bought it from Alan Bond, and managed by the Texas-based Rosewood Hotels, the Lanesborough has deliberately wooed business people. Every room has its own fax machine with a direct line.

Guests are spoilt and hugely outnumbered by the staff. There are two in-house florists, for goodness' sake. Each guest has a butler - ready to iron the newspaper, run the bath and carry out other essential services.

It's triple-glazed throughout and the only hotel in the world to have private-label Bollinger.

Originally the St George's Hospital, the building's furnishings are rich, ornate and brightly coloured. It is all terribly luxurious - and ever so slightly naff.

The amiable, courteous Gelardi is a fourth-generation hotelier. His grandfather, Giulio Gelardi, simultaneously managed the Waldorf-Astoria Towers in New York and Claridge's in London in the 1930s. His father Albert spearheaded Trusthouse Forte's expansion into North America in the 1970s.

'My mother always told me not to go into the hotel business - you spend a huge amount of time away from home.' But he took no notice, going into the business straight from school and doing everything from waiting to washing up, bar work to pastry chef.

At the age of 26 he was recruited to run the food and beverage side of the Resorts International casino and hotel complex in Atlantic City. He was in charge of 1,500 people.

Staff theft was rampant there, and he significantly raised profits simply by improving security measures. But his reforms made him enemies, and he had to be ferried home each night by security guards.

'I was the only one daft enough to take the job. It was an awakening.'

In 1979 Rosewood, owned by Caroline Rose Hunt, bought the Bel Air Hotel in Hollywood for dollars 22m and installed Gelardi, then 29, to run it. Six years later and after dollars 14m of capital spending, they were able to sell it to the Japanese for dollars 114m.