Claridge’s — the crème de la crème of society
It’s a Sunday morning in late October. Most windows are still closed because it’s too early to face the world and breakfast always tastes better after 9am. Now it’s only 7 and the world is still quiet while so many people are still naked under the sheets. Hello Madam, says the taxi driver, where to? Claridge’s, I say, wishing he could drive me nowhere in particular, but far away from all the noise in the city. Claridge’s, where the lobby smells of lilies of no particular valley, just lilies and people pose as happy, where every polished corner is filled with history and a kind of stillness. Not simply an absence of noise, but a collection of layers of silence. Which is always soothing, no matter where you come from.
Should I take off my shoes on your carpet and my jewellery in your bathroom? I fell in love with your stillness, your glamour so worn out and sincere, and the classic art deco beauty no longer considered modern, the soap by the sink, the hints of black and white, the saffron coloured touch of your curtains. And I wanted to know, to be told, to be promised. I wanted to be loved in the lobby with an agony like the agony I felt trying to understand the brilliance of the historical madness that must have taken place in London so many decades ago. But I won’t say more because I don’t want anyone else to know how old you have become; let’s dress handsome so no one will know that you’re on the last age and that I’m lost and without a penny in my purse. Let me pretend and I’ll let your classic glamour die. Take your final breath on my chest, leave me desperate and forgotten in the glitz, and in love with your shimmering ceiling and so, so sorry to leave your door and return home where I won’t know what to do anymore.
Tucked away on Brook Street, this magnificent 197-room five-star hotel is housed in a seven-storey terracotta edifice in the wealthy, private members’ club land that is Mayfair. The legendary lobby exudes a rich history and underlying femininity — a portrait of Mrs. Claridge, who founded and opened the establishment in 1854, still watches over the comings and goings of guests, business meetings, celebrity sightings and many servings of afternoon tea, finger sandwiches and scones from her prime real estate on the wall of The Foyer. Several royal families and heads of state spent part or all of the Second World War staying at Claridge’s, having been exiled from their homelands. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and King Haakon of Norway were among those who called Claridge’s home. It was also the London home for Winston and Clementine Churchill, after Labour’s unexpected election win. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited often and chose it as the venue for their ruby wedding anniversary party. In 1945, Crown Prince Alexander II of Yugoslavia was born in suite 212, and rumour has it that some earth from his home country was placed under the bed to ensure he emerged into the world on Yugoslav soil. I freshen up in the powder room and then join others in The Foyer, where truffles figure heavily on the menu. I find myself indulging in a glass of champagne, to the sound of people’s whispers and jazzy tunes. The Foyer is where visiting millionaires enjoy a languid breakfast, and where ordinary mortals bring their daughters for tea on their 18th birthdays. Past the three dazzling Art Deco arches and Ionic pillars, it’s all cream-and-soft-green hues. There’s also a spectacular chandelier hanging from the 18ft ceiling. The minutes pass like all minutes pass and watching others in the lobby makes me think beyond their bodies. I enjoy building up stories behind their expressions and wish I lived there for a week or two, maybe a month, maybe forever. In fact, who wouldn’t? I’ve known people who come here to get lost, and I’ve known people who have come here to be found, Claridge’s general manager Paul Jackson tells me. It’s hard to detach yourself from working in a hotel such as Claridge’s. It’s always open and you have to be ready for anything at all times. My goal is to be the first choice for our guests, colleagues, owners and our vision is to provide excellent services, because when you do something from your heart, it is automatically distinguished. Visiting Claridge’s, the place, is a treat in itself. But ever since actor Spencer Tracy said, “Not that I intend to die, but when I do, I don’t want to go to heaven, I want to go to Claridge’s”, it has become a favourite hotel to many. A home away from home, under the attic of a sky with no moon and the streets that vibrate with many shattered dreams, Claridge’s remains the epitome of timeless elegance.