Show Hide image

Rich pickings inside Claridge's

There's nothing so snobbish as the staff of a posh hotel.

Inside Claridge’s

Some people are painfully naive about poverty; they have absolutely no idea what it feels like to be broke. But I am naive about wealth. When I was organising my wedding six years ago, I decided that it would be just the thing to have the breakfast at Claridge’s in Mayfair, a hotel where I had once interviewed someone over a cup of Earl Grey tea.

So, one bright morning, having arranged to look over its very cheapest room (OK, I’m not that naive), I was led by a supercilious young woman with a clipboard right to the very top of the building, where I was shown . . . an attic. I’m not exaggerating: the roof sloped and there were dormer windows. It was awful: like a room I lived in as a student, only with thicker carpets and a lot less air. How much is it? I asked, weakly. And lo, the answer came back: far too much for you, she said, in this life and the next.

Oh, well. We can all dream. I still love Claridge’s, which is why I’m completely baffled by its decision to allow the BBC to do a fly-on-thewall series of documentaries there (Wednesdays, 9pm). Just as a magician should never reveal how a trick is done, so a truly smart establishment should never allow a camera on to the back stairs.

The whole thing is hilarious, of course, there being nothing half so snobbish as the senior staff of a posh hotel. Thomas Kochs, its German- born manager, can make even the word “minibar” seem grand, should he put his uniquely prissy mind to it. But it’s still an incredibly shabby thing to do. It’s not even as if they need the business: according to Kochs, it’s necessary to book three months ahead should you wish to have afternoon tea.

The series feels a little stretched. Each film – there are three – is an hour long, and there just aren’t enough characters to populate them. I like Roman, the hotel’s doorman of 36 years, who came to Britain from Poland as the child of a refugee and now has a son at Oxford; and Dean, the deputy restaurant manager, seems like a nice boy.

Before he arrived at Claridge’s, he’d never tasted asparagus; now he’s the kind of person who is prone to measuring how far the handle of a fork is from the edge of a table. There is an 85-year-old bookie, Gerry Parker, who once did time for possession of a sawn-off shotgun, who has had breakfast at the hotel every day for almost 40 years. But you can tell the producers were disappointed with their ready-made cast because they’ve had to wheel in various celebrity regulars, including – is that the rustle of false eyelashes I hear? – Joan Collins, who married her fifth and current husband, Percy, at Claridge’s.

Oh dear. I know Joanie’s getting on a bit but someone really should have told her that she wasn’t filming an ad. “I look for total luxury!” she said, in pretty much the same voice she once used to go on about Cinzano Bianco to Leonard Rossiter. Suddenly, Stephen Fry’s jokey comment about how getting old in Claridge’s would be a lot nicer than getting old in a care home started to take on a whole new meaning.

Still, you’d watch it for Kochs, who should definitely be played by David Walliams in the biopic and is the kind of fellow who wears a cravat on a day trip to a jam factory (he was in search of a new breakfast preserve for the delectation of his guests). It’s fascinating watching him in action, whether he is trying to find the perfect alarm clock, or teaching the staff the correct protocol should they find themselves in the presence of the Emperor of Japan (“Bow from the waist once they enter your presence”). Who knows why, but I do adore a man who can get excited about something that is really, really unimportant.

In Claridge’s most expensive suite (yours for £6,900 a night), Kochs gazed ecstatically on the frou-frou canopy of its four-poster bed. In his mind, I think, this extraordinary embellishment alone justified the eye-popping cost of the room. “When you lie in bed, you look at heaven,” he said, breathlessly. If he had fallen down in a swoon, I would hardly have been surprised.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 17 December 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Will Europe ever go to war again?