Backstage travel: No 7 - The housekeeper

No drama behind the scenes at Claridge's

Just as the set-dressing and scene-shifting of life backstage in a West End theatre plays out its own daily drama, so life behind the scenes in a luxury hotel has unique inherent rhythms. Anne Barnes, deputy head of housekeeping at Claridge's, has nearly 40 years' experience in ensuring that London's most glamorous hotels purr along perfectly. The Savoy, The Connaught and Dukes all feature on her CV. "I've loved every single one of them," she says. "But for me, Claridge's is the best."

Housekeeping might not seem the most glamorous of activities. For their guests, the public face of a hotel is often projected through receptionists, the concierge or the maître d'. However, it's clear that without that inherent pride in her place of work, Barnes's job would be almost impossible: "As a housekeeper you need to make sure that everything is pristine, in top condition. I've always said that when a guest walks into a bedroom, they should never feel as though somebody else has been in there before them. Nothing should be out of place – no pens skew-whiff, or the chair pushed up against the wall."

That's all very well, but motivating a housekeeping team to provide that sort of service day in, day out, can't be easy. What's the secret? "I nag them. I nag them all the time. I've got a very good team, and it's something we talk about every day. We go into rooms with them, we spot-check rooms and show them. We're learning every day as well."

There are 203 rooms, 65 of which are suites, and around 75 housekeeping staff. "I have a meeting with our housekeepers at 9.45am and we go through all our daily arrivals, special requests and special set-ups."

What sort of things do guests ask for? "We had a request from a family who were coming to stay and the gentleman asked if we could supply a bed for the little girl's teddy. He said it had to be shoebox-sized. We felt we could do better than a shoebox, so our carpenter made a little wooden bed and I got my seamstress to make a little duvet, little pillow and a sheet. We made this lovely little bed for the girl. She was absolutely delighted – and it made my day. We all got a lot of fun out of that."

Does Barnes ever feel that the role of housekeeping in a hotel is underappreciated? "No, not at all. I love dealing with guests, I love meeting guests, but we're very much behind the scenes. We are a cog in a big wheel, but we are very important. You never really see a maid in the corridor, she's always behind closed doors. It all happens without people knowing about it."

Ben Ross

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