Goodbye, to architect and designer David Collins


Click to follow
The Independent Online

The architect and designer David Collins, who has just died after a shockingly short illness, was a good friend I didn’t see nearly enough. But every time I went to dinner at any of my favourite restaurants, I was reminded why he was a genius.

Weirdly, David, never seemed to be that bothered what he ate, and he didn’t drink (although he designed fabulous bars at the Berkeley, the Connaught and Claridge’s) but he understood perfectly what nearly all of us want when we go out for a meal. We want a sense of occasion. We want to feel cossetted, part of a fabulous movie. He created interiors that immediately looked like they’d been around for years. Opulent but welcoming, retro, but with every modern comfort. Immaculate linen, elegant menus.

When the legendary West End fish restaurant J Sheekey was remodelled by David, the new place had all the atmosphere of the old, but was better in every way. A series of interconnecting intimate rooms lined with wooden panelling, with cosy banquettes, walls crammed with photos, wonderfully flattering lighting. Given that it had to appeal to a theatrical clientele, he pulled off a stroke of genius – it was impossible to work out which table was the best in the house.

In spite of designing fashionable bars and restaurants, David was egalitarian – he designed the Café Rouge chain  – and everyone got a good view of the show. The Wolseley, a remodelled 1921 car showroom next to the Ritz, was another brilliant piece of theatricality –  the proof of its success is that all kinds of people want to go there, because the room is the star, and they will have a memorable time. You see the famous alongside tourists, kids with parents, women meeting other women, celebration dinners. Lucian Freud ate at the same table every single night.

Recently, David completed the Delaunay, transforming an unpromising rectangular room with another clever exercise in faux-modernism. It was an immediate success. He turned the site of the former Atlantic bar and grill – in a listed Art Deco basement ballroom off Piccadilly, into Brasserie Zédel, a vast temple of gold columns, with a little nightclub and bar. Brasserie Zédel buzzes with atmosphere, in spite of being so large – he brought the spirit of La Coupole or Brasserie Bofinger to London, but with friendlier waiters and British panache. At Fortnum & Mason he remodelled the faded café into the chic Diamond Jubilee Tea Rooms.

David Collins made London the place to eat and be seen, and his work attracted fashionable people from all over the world, anxious to be part of the fun. He was also a serial shopper and designed shops for Bergdorf Goodman and Alexander McQueen as well as the traditional English sporting goods company Kent & Curwen, who are opening on Savile Row in October.

As a friend, he was sympathetic, and supportive. When I was going through a bad patch a few years ago, he didn’t hesitate to invite me on holiday to Uruguay, and we spent night after night playing cards and gossiping. His attention to detail was legendary – and he couldn’t stand second-best, or patronising private clients. (He was fantastically indiscreet).

One night, after we had struggled to master the rules of Canasta, and spent far too much time gossiping, he left a box of new playing cards at my house. Next day he told me to keep them as a thank you for supper. Designed by Jean Cocteau, on an elegant blue background, they are pure David Collins. I will miss him so much.

Go on, Pippa, have a laugh

Pippa Middleton has had a sense of humour failure, and is taking legal action against the publishers and writers of a book purporting to give her “advice” on pregnancy. The authors of When One is Pregnant also devised the hilarious @pippatips twitter account, which had almost 50,000 followers and was pretty hard to distinguish from the gems contained in Ms Middleton’s own clunky attempts in her party guide, Celebrate.

Pippa, penned gems such as “children’s birthday parties should be happy occasions, full of fun and enjoyment”. Well, that’s news to me! I see that Pippa and I share the same lawyers – Harbottle & Lewis, who used to specialise in media, but now advise most of the younger members of the Royal Family. They have demanded that @pippatips is deleted, and it has not been updated for a month, which is a shame as it’s a harmless bit of froth. Pippa should take a big breath, stop feeling hurt, grow a thicker skin, and realise that imitation is the best form of flattery.

If When One is Pregnant and

@pippatips are that offensive, someone had better tell Craig Brown, whose parodies of the rich and famous (myself included) have been entertaining us for years in the Daily Mail and Private Eye. Would Harbottle & Lewis dare to take on the UK’s top satirist? Bring back @pippatips, please.

Ground these grandiose plans

Another week, more pleading for more runways. As the independent commission set up by the Government to look into where we should site airport expansion in the south-east of England continues to receive submissions, I can tell you what the upshot will be. It’s like watching an aviation version of Crufts, competing for Best in Show. Flashiest by far is Boris Johnson’s proposal for a massive four-runway monstrosity to be built on a new island in the Thames Estuary. He promises “economic growth” – but how you achieve that by concreting over vast swathes of land is beyond me. He says it will make Britain “the global capital of aviation”, but in truth we will be the “global capital” of duty-free lounges, acres of walkways, canned music and fast-food emporiums.

His airport would be a hub where millions of people change planes and never set foot in the UK, a giant interchange contributing nothing to our culture, except employment for lowly paid cleaners, which would be superseded by changes in the way we travel and the way we communicate in less than 25 years. In short, Boris’s plan is all about his giant ego and little else.

Heathrow bosses have asked for a third runway, which would eradicate villages and countryside and cause further noise pollution to a huge area west of London. But its boss admitted it would like a FOURTH runway – in the world of air travel, nothing is ever enough. Gatwick wants another runway, and Stansted too  is ready to grow. 

Boris’s scheme was devised by Lord Foster, whose airports include Hong Kong, Beijing and Heathrow Terminal 5. The Chinese say Beijing will soon be full and they’re looking at further sites for expansion – doesn’t that sound familiar?  The Government will spend millions on this commission, and receive a weighty document in return. It will then put it away and do absolutely nothing before the next election.

Whatever the result, we will never get another airport in the Thames or more runways at Heathrow. There are plenty of other airports in the UK which can be expanded. Like the High Speed Train, I can hear the sound of this grandiose transport scheme slowly hitting the buffers.