If the walls at Claridge’s could talk, they’d have a super-injunction slapped on them. Visiting royalty, Middle Eastern sheiks and their WAGs, the American super-rich, celebrities across the spectrum from A- to Z-list, dignitaries, politicians and their dangerous liaisons… The branding and decor may have been updated and modernised, but there is a sense of history dripping from this grande dame’s rafters.
Any time is good, but a stay in high summer on a Sunday is the perfect time to experience Claridge’s. The Brits who can normally afford to stay have jetted off and left the muggy city for their homes in the South of France; the MPs normally frequenting its hallways – and those that come here to meet them and lobby them – are on their extended summer break. It’s the perfect time of year to make like a well-heeled, high-net-worth tourist.
As we arrive we are treated like old friends. Check-in is as well-oiled as you’d hope for and as we’re being ushered through the busy lobby, the concierge promises us that he’ll secure us a hard-to-get table for lunch – he’ll let our butler know when it’s confirmed.
Up, up in that iconic little Art Deco lift where, before ours, the bottoms of Winston Churchill, Joan Collins, Victoria Beckham and Rihanna have sat, we are whisked to our mammoth Linley Suite. The butler, this time mentioned by his name – Stephen – will be with us shortly. Stephen has already been here, though: there is fresh ice, chilled bottles of water, plenty of glassware (as he knows we are expecting guests), a bottle of Laurent Perrier rosé on ice and chocolates awaiting our arrival. The lighting is perfect.
The lounge area and bedroom of the suite are filled with David Linley’s bespoke furniture, created or restored exclusively for the hotel, including his iconic, playful tub chairs. As well as the nods to the hotel’s illustrious past, there is also a tick-list of mod cons: TV screens embedded in bathroom mirrors, the must-have Japanese loo with its heated seat and hot air blower, HD televisions and impressive sound systems – all of which work easily and instantly. We’ve already made ourselves very comfortable when there’s a gentle knock at the door, announcing Stephen’s arrival. He introduces himself, welcomes us and insists that we use his services – whether to order room service, unpack, ask for extra towels, sort out our laundry, arrange our turn-down service or merely request more champagne. He leaves briefly, only to return with a bagful of Bamford bathroom goodies – just in case we need more than the array already laid out. A man proffering the spoils of a five-star hotel? We love him already. Then we happen to mention we’ve left our iPhone charger at home and off he dashes again, to return with his own, personal charger for us to use.
It’s Stephen who wheels in our room service order later that evening and lays a wonderful table for us, pouring us wine and dramatically removing the lids on our platters (revealing the best hotel club sandwich I have ever eaten, along with a side order of outrageous truffle fries). As he’s opening an excellent bottle of Malbec we tuck in and talk about my partner’s memories as a child visiting Claridge’s for afternoon teas and long lunches with family. After pouring the wine he asks us if, after dinner, we’d like a tour of the hotel. As it’s a Sunday, there are a number of suites empty, in preparation for Monday’s arrivals.
God, this city is beautiful. Is there a better spot anywhere in town to view London from than here?
Up and down the stairs we go, along the corridors that welcome over 80,000 guests per year. First is the Diane von Furstenberg suite, dressed with her trademark prints and images from her travels. Stephen tells us it was once redecorated for a guest as he had found it too feminine for his taste. We ask, rhetorically, what class of customer would expect a hotel to change its design for their stay and their stay alone. Next, a suite that’s been the home-from-home for the Japanese emperor, with a dining room complete with a screen behind which Stephen would stand hidden during meals (the Empress would ring a bell to signal that plates were ready to be removed). Another – this time one of the more traditionally-decorated rooms – was recently home for several months to a famous composer who worked by night and slept by day, as Stephen crept around him. He had a piano especially delivered. One of the vast rooms on a higher level – with a walk-in wardrobe as large as my flat – was where Stephen unpacked and colour coordinated a certain female singer’s clothes to her precise instructions. Then there’s the room that became Yugoslav territory during World War II so that the crown prince’s son could be born on native soil. He talks openly and passionately about the hotel and how the demographic of its clientele have changed dramatically over the years.
And then he takes us up to two of the penthouses, where a Mary Poppins version of London’s rooftops lies stretched out before us. The sounds of the streets waft up on the warm air. God, this city is beautiful. Is there a better spot anywhere in town to view London from than here?
For over an hour we take up Stephen’s time, bombarding him with questions and begging him to show us just one more room. Stephen has turned this into one of the most memorable hotel stays we’ve ever had. We were won over as soon as we set eyes upon the Linley Suite, but these tales and these stories are something to remember. This is what Claridge’s does best: it creates wonderful memories. C
Claridge’s, Brook Street, Mayfair, London, W1K 4HR
0207-629 8860; claridges.co.uk