You treat this place like a hotel

News that an elderly couple has been living in a Travelodge for 22 years has been greeted with disbelief. In fact, says Andy McSmith, they are part of a great tradition
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The Independent Travel

Who would want to live in a hotel? Not just stay in one, for a pampered holiday, but actually live in it, right through all four seasons, year after year, like the deaf old major in Fawlty Towers, or the eccentric Uncle Giles in Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time?

It is a choice of residence that seems to belong to a bygone era when the upper classes had money to burn, hotels were inexpensive, and there were no nursing homes for the elderly, or services such as home help and meals on wheels. So, if you were rich, retired, and lonely, and did not want the trouble and expense of maintaining a house full of servants, you moved into a hotel. There you could expect personal service from staff who stayed in the same job for years on end, and who would ring for the undertaker when your time was up.

In these impersonal days, when most hotels are owned by multimillion pound chains, staff turnover is brisk, and home ownership is considered a must for anyone who can afford it, you do not expect people still choosing a hotel as their permanent residence. However, our ideas on the subject have been overturned by the amazing story of David and Jean Davidson, who arrived in a Travelodge 22 years ago, and never left.

The Davidsons set off from their Sheffield flat to visit a sick aunt, it was reported this week, and stopped off at the Travelodge in Newark, Nottinghamshire. They returned when the old lady died four months later – and decided to stay. After 12 years, they tried a change of scenery by moving to another, newly-built Travelodge, 15 minutes drive away, in Grantham. They have remained there ever since, in room one, now known as the Davidson Suite, which has a view of a car park and a slip road.

David Davidson, who is 79, is a Royal Navy war veteran. His wife, Jean, aged 70, is wheelchair-bound, but their room is on the ground floor, so there are no lifts or stairs to worry about, and it is not far to the dining room or the shops. "There is just no reason why we'd want to go home," Mr Davidson said.

The couple pay £450 a month for the room they now occupy, and keep up a council flat in Sheffield, which costs them £140 in council tax. Against those costs, you can offset what they save in heating bills, water bills, phone rental and TV licence. In all, the couple have calculated that it is cheaper than moving into a private nursing home.

Their case is unusual, but not unique – or, in these days of huge and unstable house prices, imprudent. They demonstrate that you need a reasonable income to live permanently in a hotel, but you do not necessarily need to be rich. However, there are numerous examples of people who were indeed rich, and famous, who could have lived almost anywhere, but who chose to make a hotel their permanent residence. Here is our brief guide to some famous hotel guests who came to stay.

Howard Hughes

Desert Inn, Las Vegas (and others)

The billionaire (whose life story was dramatised in the 2004 film, The Aviator) was reckoned by the 1960s to be the world's richest private citizen. He was also terrified of contact with germs, and obsessed with avoiding tax. The trouble he took to pay no tax suggests that he was deranged. At the age of 61, he abandoned his California home and spent the rest of his life in hotels. His most famous stay was at the Desert Inn, Las Vegas, which he bought within a month of arriving there in 1966. He lived on the ninth floor, while the eighth floor became the nerve centre of his business empire.

Soon, however, he was buying up other hotels – and living in them. He had a policy of never staying anywhere for longer than 24 weeks. Under US law, only residents pay income tax, and a "resident" means someone who has lived in one state for 180 days. The dodge worked, but whether it was worth the trouble of constantly moving on, with his retinue of aides and servants, is open to doubt. Hughes died during a flight between his Acapulco penthouse and a hotel in Houston, from liver failure brought about by drugs and starvation. He had, however, been one of history's great long-term hotel-dwellers.

Richard Harris

The Savoy

The Irish actor was the star of about 80 movies, including This Sporting Life, A Man Called Horse, The Unforgiven, and the early Harry Potter films, in which he played Dumbledore. He claimed that he had been miscast only twice in his life – as a husband. Both his marriages, to actresses, ended in divorce, and it surprised him that they did not break up sooner, given his drinking, drug abuse and unpredictable ways. In his fifties, he finally found a permanent home – in London's Savoy hotel, where he remained for over 15 years. When he was 72, staff became concerned because they had not seen him for seven or eight days, but they did not dare breach the "Do Not Disturb" sign on his door. His ex-wife, Elizabeth, came and found him dying. As he was taken out on a stretcher, he lifted his head and announced: "It was the food."

Coco Chanel

The Ritz, Paris

The eponymous French fashion designer once declared that "for me, the Ritz is home." Not everything Coco said about her life was true. She lied about her age, reducing by ten years, and about the six years she spent in an orphanage in her teens. But her attachment to the Paris Ritz is indisputable. She lived there for more than 30 years, even while Paris was under German occupation, and the Ritz was HQ for the German High Command. Her lovers included a German officer who arranged for her to remain in the hotel. She also maintained an apartment near la place de la Concorde, although it had neither a kitchen nor a bedroom. After Paris was liberated, she found it advisable to move temporarily to Switzerland, but made a triumphant comeback in 1954, when she was 71 – or, if you believe her, 61.

Dylan Thomas

The Chelsea, New York

The Chelsea Hotel, in Greenwich Village, New York, includes among its past long-term patrons an amazing list of writers, artists and bohemians. Two are renowned not so much for living there as for dying there. Nancy Spungen was found dead on the bathroom floor of Room 100 in October 1978; her boyfriend, Sid Vicious, did not live long enough to stand trial for her murder. Then there was the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. On his last visit to the Chelsea, aged 39, he boasted that he had downed "18 straight whiskeys"; slept that off; went out to a bar for a couple of beers; returned to the Chelsea; fell ill; and died five days later, on November 9, 1953.

Salvador Dali

The Meurice, Paris

Dali, a painter, performance artist and, in George Orwell's estimation, "disgusting human being", left his native Spain in the 1930s for France, and fled in 1940 to New York. In Paris, he lived in two luxurious rooms at the Meurice Hotel, which had once been occupied by the exiled King Alfonso XIII. He was outraged when the hotel management replaced his wooden toilet, and is said to have exclaimed: "What's happened to Alfonso's throne?"

Dali kept two pet ocelots in his rooms. He once asked the hotel's concierge staff to bring him a herd of sheep, so he could shoot blank bullets at them. He also asked the concierges to catch flies for him in the Tuilieres Gardens, paying them five francs per fly.

He also maintained an expensive residence at the Plaza, New York, where the entertainer, Cher, was startled to find that she had sat on a peculiarly shaped vibrator left in easy chair.

Peter Sellers

The Dorchester, London

Sellers was a regular of the Dorchester Hotel, which was effectively his London home for decades. It was there that he spotted the 21-year-old Swedish actress Britt Ekland, in 1964, some weeks after he had been told by a clairvoyant that he would marry a woman with the initials "B.E." He was then 38, and divorced. He turned on the charm, reputedly bought her the entire contents of the Dorchester flower shop, and proposed to her over the phone after she had left for Manhattan a few days later. The marriage produced a daughter, Victoria, but after four years, they were acrimoniously divorced.

In July 1980, Sellers arranged to meet his old colleagues from the Goon Show, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe, in London, but never made the meeting. He had had a heart attack in his Dorchester room, and died in hospital days later.

Marlene Dietrich

Hotel Lancaster, Paris

There is a suite in Paris's Hotel Lancaster, painted lilac, which includes a huge sitting-room with two marble fireplaces and an impressive Louis XV desk. It is named the 'Dietrich suite' after the star, who made this her Paris home for three years. It also includes an original drawing of Dietrich, by Von Sternberg. Dietrich's link with France began in inspiring circumstances. As a German who had made it big in Hollywood, she was offered all manner of inducements to return to Nazi Germany, but so despised the Nazis and their anti-semitism that she performed, at some risk, to Allied troops on the front line. She was decorated with the Legion d'Honneur. She gave up singing at the age of 74 and retired to an apartment in avenue Montaigne, where she died in 1992.

King Peter II of Yugoslavia

Claridge's, London

There is a suite in Claridge's Hotel, in Brook Street, London, that was once in Yugoslavia. Not physically, but for official purposes. When he was 17, the young King Peter was the figurehead of a doomed, quixotic anti-Nazi coup in Belgrade, which the Germans quickly put down. He had to run for his life, and arrived in London in June 1941. There he met and married Princess Alexandra of Greece. The British recognised him as the legitimate king of Yugoslavia, and when it transpired that Alexandra was pregnant, it was thought that the child's chances of inheriting his father's throne would be improved if he was born in Yugoslavia.

So the Claridge's suite was solemnly (but temporarily) turned over to the sovereignty of the Yugoslav government in exile, and Crown Prince Alexander was duly born in his homeland.

Cole Porter

Waldorf Astoria, New York

The songwriter was married for 34 years and liked to be seen with pretty women. This was a front – but he could not have worked in Hollywood and on Broadway, writing songs for films or shows like Anything Goes and Kiss Me, Kate if it had been known that he was gay.

When he was 46, his life was further complicated by a riding accident that crushed both his legs, leaving him in continual pain and needing repeated surgery.

A few months after the accident, he moved into the Waldorf Astoria Towers in New York, and stayed for 15 years, until his death in 1964.

For the last 10 years or so of his life, Porter was a recluse. His song "You're the Top", from the musical Anything Goes, includes the line " You're the top, you're a Waldorf salad."

His piano is still in the hotel's Cocktail Terrace.

Greta Garbo

Fairmont Miramar, Los Angeles

In 1924, the Hollywood tycoon Louis B. Meyer spotted a sultry, hauntingly beautiful young actress in a silent movie made in Sweden. She was 20, and used the stage name Greta Garbo. Mayer brought her to Hollywood, and installed her in the newly built Palisades wing of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, Santa Monica. Garbo loved acting, but hated the publicity. After a few months, she agreed to marry an actor named John Gilbert, the only man she seems to have loved, apart from the father she lost when she was 14. But she did not turn up for the wedding, retreating instead into the solitude of her hotel room. The most famous quotation attributed to her was "I vont to be alone." As with so many famous quotations, it was a misquote. "I never said I want to be alone, I said want to be left alone. There is all the difference," she once explained.

David Beckham

Santo Mauro, Madrid

When he deserted Manchester United for Real Madrid in July 2003, David Beckham needed a place to live. When you are earning more than £100,000 a week, and have a relocation clause in your contract, you can obviously afford the best. The Beckhams took two suites in the Santo Mauro hotel, a former palace built for the Duke of Santo Mauro, where they – or at least he – spent 80 nights, running up a bill of £432,875. The rooms themselves cost only £80,303. The extras included nearly £78,000 for guest rooms, over £54,000 for food, and nearly £7,000 at the bar, plus laundry, phone calls, extra security, and a birthday party for their son, Romeo. It was in this hotel that the footballer allegedly had an affair with his assistant, Rebecca Loos (and, she claimed, with other women), while his marriage was going through a bad patch and Victoria was away in the UK.