Pony skin on the walls and TV in the lavatory: BBC's suites for superstars

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The Independent Online

The walls are decorated with tiles covered in pony skin, the power shower gushes on to decking and grey pebbles, the lavatory has a 12-inch television screen built into a mirror above the sink.

Welcome to BBC Television Centre, the once notoriously shabby headquarters of public service broadcasting and now home to some of the most luxurious rooms in Britain.

For five months, a team of elite designers has been makingsix "Superstar Suites" so swanky that stars such as Madonna and Beyoncé Knowles will feel more at home while they powder their noses.

The cost of the project is believed to have run into six figures but BBC Resources - which yesterday unveiled the new facilities - refused to give details of its expenditure, claiming the matter was a commercial secret.

Stars who have already sampled the luxury suites include Kylie Minogue, Justin Timberlake, Kevin Spacey and Clint Eastwood.

The opulence is stunning, given that the poor state of the BBC building in Shepherd's Bush, London, has been the butt of jokes by the BBC's presenters.

Richard Philipps, head of BBC studios, justified the expense by saying that the former facilities would not "produce the creative performances" expected from the stars.

And so BBC Resources hired GA Designs, a company that specialises in decorating the interiors of five-star hotels and fashionable restaurants.

The suites have oiled teak timber floors and leather sofas from Minotti, a top Italian designer. There are cow hide Ottoman-style footstools; one table is made from walnut and another - designed by Torelli - is glass. A huge plasma television screen on a wooden platform dominates the room.

The pony skin tiles (made from imported Italian hides and sold for £600 a square metre at the exclusive London leather specialist Alma House) are in an adjoining sleeping area above a leather day bed and next to another television sunk into the wall.

In the corridor, a projector has been installed to beam the name of the star on the door of his or her suite.

Mr Philipps said: "Once upon a time you would have found the stars queuing up at the BBC canteen at 5pm with the rest of us for food. Those days are gone."

Older BBC dressing rooms had previously been patched up with yellow paint, white ceiling tiles and blue linoleum floors. Mr Philipps said the rooms had been given "little more than a cursory decoration for many years" and that it was "quite clear we needed to start from scratch".

He described the theme of the redecorated rooms as "entertainment, fun, wow", but acknowledged that materials of "longevity and robustness" had been used where possible because of the tendency of celebrities to trash rooms. The carpet in one suite was already stained yesterday.

BBC Resources, which was set up with licence-fee money but is run commercially to generate profits for BBC programmes, said it charged BBC departments and outside production companies £200 a day for the Superstar Suites and £50 for a less lavish room.