Hotels: Gonna make this a night to remember
Claridge's has let the TV cameras in and the result is a runaway reality hit. But what's it really like to spend the evening there? Unforgettable, say John Walsh and Charlotte Philby
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Tuesday 11 December 2012
Claridge's knew it was taking a chance when it granted documentary maker Jane Treays access to its exalted corridors and bedrooms for the BBC2 three-parter, Inside Claridge's, whose second programme aired on Monday. Chances were high that viewers would deride the more-money-than-sense visitors who can spend £6,900 a night on a suite, mid-recession.
They called it right, though. TripAdvisor reports that following the first episode, enquiries rocketed by 1,769 per cent. Viewers loved the extremes of luxury on display, and the capriciousness of the wealthy guests, and wanted to try it for themselves.
I can explain it. I was invited to stay one night there – a gruelling assignment, but someone had to do it. I checked in at 6.30pm, intending to spend the evening at the Bad Sex Awards in nearby St James's Square, and eat later. The Bad Sex party is unmissable fun every year, with lashings of drink, smut, glamour, laughter, gossip and the literary world en fête. But I didn't make it.
Once you're inside Claridge's, it's like the jaws of death; you can't leave, and give up trying. It's the welcome, the room (with your personal butler), the cocktail bar, the clientele and getting Audrey Hepburn's fave table in the Reading Room restaurant. And the attention to detail.
Isn't that Henry Kissinger over there? Shall we have another Mayfair Sling? Isn't it cute how they float a chocolate square, bearing the Claridge's coat of arms, on the froth of your cappuccino?
I was in labour. We'd been trudging the streets of the West End for two-and-a-half hours, at the hospital's behest, when my husband made the brightest decision of his life – to steer the blubbering whale-woman into Claridges. It was my first trip into what immediately struck me as the Most Wonderful Place On Earth.
Forget the child headbutting my abdomen, within seconds of squeezing – ill-advisedly – through the revolving door, it was I who felt reborn. Seated on a throne-like chair, which didn't so much as groan as I lowered my barge-like frame on to its silky lap, assisted by two men, I happily gorged on scones, cake and tea while eavesdropping the most brilliant conversations.
I was so engaged in one of these, between a joyless Russian and her teenage son, that I somehow missed the start of the conversation. I turned back just in time to hear the meticulously mannered waiter say to my husband "so that's what happened to my wife's vagina". With that, he doffed his hat and melted back into the delightful chaos of the dining room, leaving us with nothing but a glorious memory and a last piece of shortbread.
I'd love to say that I've been back every day since. Alas, I have not – why risk blurring a perfect memory? Though if I ever get knocked up again, it's for sure I'll be there like a shot. Only this time, come hell or high (broken) waters, I'm not leaving. If there is one place I wouldn't mind giving birth to a boulder-like child, it would be the cool, polished floor of The Most Wonderful Place on Earth.
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