Why I’m happy to steer clear of Claridge’s
People are fascinated by the rich, which presumably explains why the BBC2 series, Inside Claridge’s, is proving such a hit. Personally I have no desire to stay there. But I can see why guests become hooked on the place.
If all good hotels thrive on attention to detail, Claridge’s takes it to extremes. According to Guy Walters in the Daily Mail, minibar doors in the rooms are checked to ensure they aren’t stiff, while in the restaurants cutlery handles are placed exactly an inch from the edge of tables and “the labels on the pots of jam on breakfast trays all face the same way”. For regular guests who stay in a suite, the rooms are photographed when they have been arranged to the guests’ satisfaction – so the arrangement can be repeated when they return.
Take the American couple Jack and Norma Melchor, who have visited Claridge’s for 40 years. Anne Barnes, the deputy head of housekeeping, “consults her records to remind herself that Mrs Melchor likes her bed to be nearest the window, and made with sheets and blankets. In the sitting-room, a wing-back chair is placed exactly where the couple like it, and a table is placed at just the right distance to it.”
During their 16-day stay last Christmas, says Walters, the Melchors, who made their money by selling a software company to Hewlett-Packard, left the hotel only twice. They were in a suite costing £5,500 a night, so their stay, including food and drink, must have cost them more than £100,000. (Sadly, it was to be their last visit. Mrs Melchor died this year.)
Other guests have more outrageous demands. Last year, for example, a Japanese pop star and her 35-strong entourage stayed in the hotel for a month. “The singer insisted her room should have a Jacuzzi, so the hotel ripped out the existing bath, and replaced it with a top-of-the-range bubbler.”
Then there was the Arab princess who booked 40 rooms on the third floor for herself and her retinue. Ten of the rooms were turned into dressing rooms and dining rooms, some of the bedrooms became kitchens and two entire suites were set aside for storing shopping. As a final touch, says Walters, the princess “insisted her mattress should be lined with four duvets, because she likes her bed to be soft”.
More than 400 people work at Claridge’s, which, given the level of service it offers, doesn’t sound excessive. There are more than 200 miles of corridors to be vacuumed. The laundry washes 1,500 towels a day, nearly 550,000 a year. The kitchen serves more than 1,000 lobsters a year and 60,000 bottles of champagne are drunk.
It’s an extraordinary institution, no doubt about that. Yet even if I could afford it I wouldn’t stay there. My taste runs to somewhere less famous, and less conspicuously expensive. I’ll happily leave Claridge’s to the Arab princesses, Japanese pop stars and rich Americans who return to be pampered there time after time.
Tabloid money… “I hated Starbucks long before it was fashionable”
• “Talk about timing,” says Carole Malone in the Sunday Mirror. “In the week we’re told austerity will continue until 2018, and people already on the breadline are gong to have to cut back even more, this government announces it will donate £2bn to Africa to go green and build wind farms.
First, wind farms don’t even work here, let alone in Africa where there’s little or no wind. Second, might it not be better to teach Africans how to feed themselves and grow crops rather than teaching them to go green? But most importantly, why, when there are people in this country with no money to eat or keep warm, are we funding some politically correct scheme overseas for people who would rather be given land to farm or crops to grow instead of hundreds of useless wind turbines?”
• “I was first! I hated Starbucks long before it was revealed they have been paying even less tax than Ken Dodd,” says Rod Liddle in The Sun. “I hate the way you have to make 329 decisions to get a drink: Americano, macchiato, latte… just give me a bloody coffee, for Christ’s sake. We should boycott the place even if they pay the right amount of tax then hand their profits to a donkey sanctuary. I want the sort of coffee you got in the UK before they arrived: stewed Maxwell House with semi-dissolved particles floating on the top.”
• “Official figures show that junior officials working in the Foreign Office took an average of nearly five working weeks in sick pay last year,” says Jane Moore in The Sun. “Of course they did. After all, thanks to the ferociously bureaucratic, box-ticking world of state employment, there’s little or no chance of them losing their job in favour of someone more reliable, and, of course, it’s not their money they are frittering away with the inactivity. Consequently, the rate has more than doubled in the past four years. Nice shirk if you can get it.”