Being served, Claridge's style

By Sarah Lang

Which hotel keeps doggy favourites?

Inside Claridge's, screening on TV One.
Inside Claridge's, screening on TV One.

Imagine spending £6900 (more than $13,300) on just one night in a hotel; that's a decent second-hand car, a year at university, or 283 Oxfam goats. Now imagine spending 16 nights at that hotel for £5500 a night - and only leaving the building twice. That's what octogenarian couple the Melchors did during their last Christmas stay at London institution Claridge's. They've been coming for 40 years, and consider the staff family.

Family who charged them £88,000 ($170,000) for their visit.

The Melchors appear in the first episode of three-part BBC documentary Inside Claridge's, which screens Thursday night on TV One. It's the first time cameras have been allowed behind the scenes of the 1854-established hotel with its art deco style, extravagant luxury, 400 staff, 203 suites and 83,000 guests a year. The doco, which aired in Britain in December 2012, was a ratings hit and award nominee that had other networks salivating over the recipe. After all, it's a fresh angle on the lives of royalty, celebrities and the super-rich, and a modern take on the relationship between upstairs and downstairs.

And it's certainly no once-over-lightly. It took months just to negotiate access, then a year of filming as unobtrusively but often as possible to capture those golden moments you can't recreate. Heard but not seen behind the camera, award-winning filmmaker Jane Treays directs and narrates, and asks guests and staff the questions we're curious about: whether paying these prices is ridiculous, whether such luxury is justifiable in difficult economic times, and whether staff envy the guests' wealth. But by phrasing questions tactfully, she doesn't offend anyone.

We see the Lanvin-designed Christmas tree erected in six hours overnight alongside life-size marionettes of the Lanvin family savouring presents and brandy. We see an unfortunate staffer cleaning all 800 pieces of the million-pound chandelier, also overnight. But what's most jaw-dropping is the attitude that "no request is too outrageous". Staff literally renovate rooms to satisfy guests' whims. When an unnamed Japanese pop star rents the £6700-a-night penthouse for a month, and demands a jacuzzi, Claridge's installs one. And when a party of unidentified foreign royals books the entire third floor - 40 rooms for 27 females - the staff line the glass doors to protect their privacy and renovate the rooms to effectively create a temporary palace. All this when the booking could still be cancelled; the group arrives two days late.

We don't see the royals or the pop star, but we do meet intriguing guests, such as 81-year-old working model Carmen Dell'Orefice, who poses in pearls and leopard-print for Claridge's Fashion Artist in Residence (who draws favourite guests). Then there's 20-stay VIP Sammy the spaniel, whose personal bed, bowl, toy and towel are kept at the hotel. His owner tells us Sammy used to get depressed staying in London, but not when he's at Claridge's. Aha.

But the spotlight stays on the staff. Treays interviews managers, maids and many more, including the Keeper of the Lift (elevator operator) and the Telecom Manager (receptionist). The breakout star is Thomas Kochs, the quotable general manager with a keen sense of humour to balance out his fastidiousness. Every morning he sits down to write personalised welcome notes. U2 is staying again, and the usual predicament crops up. "Do you write Dear Edge? You can't write dear Mr The Edge or Dear The Edge."
So far, Inside Claridge's is TV gold.

Inside Claridge's premieres Thursday, 7.30pm, TV One.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 28 Aug 2014 08:24:16 Processing Time: 692ms