My secret life: Olga Polizzi, Designer & hotelier

Interview,Charlotte Philby
Saturday 12 April 2008 00:00

The house I grew up in ... was a detached house in Hampstead, north London. We six children were thrown out into the garden after breakfast and were only allowed back in at meal times. My mother did up the attic room in a feminine manner, for my use, but being a rather galumphing child, it didn't suit me.

When I was a child I wanted to be ... a gardener as I liked the design aspect. But that dream changed. That's life.

The moment that changed me for ever ... was having my first child. I should remember the date, she's about 34 now.

My greatest inspiration ... in terms of brilliance it must be Philippe Starck, who started off the design mania in hotels. I certainly don't follow what he does per se, but he gave us the chance to see hotels in a different way.

My real-life villain ... I could think of a few that I won't mention. Let's just say Ken Livingstone.

If I could change one thing about myself ... I would like to be less of a pessimist. I always see what can go wrong rather than what can go right.

At night I dream of ... nothing, I never dream.

What I see when I look in the mirror ... my husband's wife.

My style icon ... is Audrey Hepburn, who was always elegant yet fun, and whose classic style was suitable for the older lady. She looked great in everything, and particularly in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

My favourite item of clothing ... is a brown velvet coat from Romeo Gigli, which I've had for at least 30 years. It cost a fortune but is as good as any I've ever seen.

I wish I'd never worn ... the sack. There was a period in the Sixties when one wore this shapeless item. Mine was ghastly and my parents said so, but I thought I looked wonderful at the time. I did not.

It's not fashionable but I like ... Rupert Murdoch.

You wouldn't know it but I'm very good at ... sailing, which I do at St Mawes in Cornwall, near Tresanton. I fill in wherever needed, needless to say I'm not the captain.

You may not know it but I'm no good at ... playing golf. My father was always urging me to play but I never took to it, though I liked walking round the course with him.

All my money goes on ... new pictures and antiques for my smaller hotels, Tresanton and Endsleigh. It's nice having something other than yourself to spend money on.

If I have time to myself ... I like lying in bed listening to Radio 4, particularly the Today programme.

I drive ... I never know what I drive exactly – an Audi S4, so my assistant tells me. As long as it keeps going I don't care.

My house is ... very central, a small house with a little garden. It is quite eclectic, although I'm going very contemporary. I'm redoing it for the first time in years, so at the moment it's being ripped apart and there are no floors left.

My most valuable possession is ... the very few mementos I have left of the good times. My husband and I have been useless about taking photos over the years and have lost most of what we had.

My favourite building ... I love the church of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, which looks towards St Mark's Square.

Movie heaven ... is The Godfather, because of my family.

A book that changed me ... it seems rather grand to say, but something like Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. The theme of guilt and trying to get through it made a big impression.

My favourite work of art ... could be any painting held at the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, where Vittore Carpaccio has several works displayed.

The last album I bought/downloaded ... I have never downloaded anything in my life. The last disc I bought was Handel's Julius Caesar, which I bought at Glyndebourne.

The person who really makes me laugh ... isJohn Cleese. When I first opened my small hotels I would cry every day, and then put on Fawlty Towers. It was amazing what we had in common.

The shop I can't walk past ... is Poliform on the King's Road, which has wonderful modern furniture, and is next door to William Yeoward. The latter is also fantastic, with more traditional designs.

The best invention ever ... I should think, though I loathe them for being prissy and hideous, the wheelie suitcase. I like that it helps you not to pull your arms out of their sockets.

In 10 years time, I hope to be ... on my gap year, when I shall travel all the way down Italy from north to south. I'll do all the map reading.

My greatest regret ... is not having a good voice. I would like to have been an opera singer.

My life in seven words ... family, hotels, family, family, hotels, hotels, hotels.


Born in London in the late 1940s, Olga Polizzi is the eldest daughter of the late Lord Forte, arguably the world's best-known hotelier. She is the director of design for the Rocco Forte Collection, which owns hotels worldwide including Brown's in London, the Savoy in Florence and Tresanton in Cornwall. She has two children with her husband, the author William Shawcross, and shares her time between London, Sussex and Cornwall.

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