'Ego-hoteliers' vie to leap on London bandwagon

Catherine Pepinster on the new breed of owner and their creations
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The Independent Online
They have egos as big as the Ritz and they're opening a new form of hotel for the international media and fashion set in London. The "ego- hoteliers" have arrived.

This new breed claims its hotels are discreet and chic, for people who want privacy and style and are prepared to pay for it, and are bored by the five-star palaces such as the Savoy and the Dorchester.

What they have in common is an obsession with imposing their own personality which dominates every aspect of their hotels from the choice of eggspoon to the grouting in the bathrooms. Among them is Gordon Campbell Gray, who is converting a former Lloyd's banking hall in the Aldwych into a 120-room hotel; Ian Shrager, who owns Manhattan's Paramount, Royalton and Morgan's and is opening four hotels in London; Anouska Hempel, the former actress, who began the trend towards the "ego hotel" with the Hempel, and Christina Ong, the Singaporean milllionaire retailer who has followed suit with the Metropolitan. Restaurateur Sir Terence Conran is also making his first foray into hotels with the re-opening of the Great Eastern in the heart of the City.

Mr Campbell Gray is unapologetic about his absolutist approach to fixing every aspect of his hotel. "Not even an eggspoon is going to be selected without it being approved by my office as right for the design of the whole place. My guests are sophisticated people who want something that really has a personality... This is about stealth wealth, people who are discreet, and stealthily acquire their money."

There is nothing stealthy about Mr Campbell Gray's desire to produce the most exclusive, stylish hotel of the moment. Nor is there about rival Mr Shrager, who is hot-footing it to Britain to catch up with London's tourist boom and need for extra beds. Mr Shrager, founder of Studio 54, New York's best-known Seventies disco, has formed a pounds 40m joint-venture partnership with Britain's Burford Property Group and plans to build four hotels in London's West End.

Last week it was announced that the first would be in St Martin's Lane, on the site of one of the capital's most respected cinemas, the Lumiere, which will close as a result. Like Mr Campbell Gray he is determined that his hotels will reflect his own taste. He once said: "There isn't a thing in my hotels, any of them, that I haven't contemplated. Nothing. From the pencils to the toilet paper to the shower curtain to the grout marks between the tiles in the bathrooms."

David Bailey, a hotel analyst with BDO Hospitality Consulting, believes there is a trend to developing hotels for younger, affluent people in the media, fashion and entertainment by hoteliers who want places reflecting their own personality.

The rush to build hotels follows reports that London is struggling to cope with the number of tourists flocking in. Last year the hotel occupancy rate in the capital was 82 per cent, the highest of any European city. An extra 10,000 hotel beds are needed to meet demand.

Mr Campbell Gray began planning his pounds 12.5m hotel with a tour to visit 20 of the world's finest hotels, where he scrutinised every detail from the softness of the pillows to the shoeshine service. "They might be luxurious, but too many of them are just too similar," he said.

Andrew Tuck, Travel