Tower Bridge of London as seen from the Tower of London. Photo:
London. As you walk into Claridge’s, passing
through a brief entry way, your eyes are instantly drawn to the
that is so reminiscent of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers films of
the 1930s, that you could almost believe Van Nest Polglase, their
set designer at RKO created it.
there is the glistening black and white marble floor extending
across to the creamy pale yellow Edwardian atrium tearoom known
as the Foyer. And then, just to the right there is a wide sweeping
from which, (and I know this sounds like a writer’s hyperbole,
but ... ) you could easily imagine an overture swelling as Fred and
Ginger descend elegantly and effortlessly, he in white tie and tails,
and she in a diaphanous white chiffon pailletted gown, after which
they whirl across the shimmering white and black surface. It’s
a movie or the closest most of us will ever get to being in one.
The ivory walled lobby is tall and glamorous — really glamorous
and busy with guests, visitors and staff coming and going. Overhead
is a large chandelier. To the left, just outside the Foyer, is a
fireplace with two comfortable chairs and a small table set before
it. It is almost always occupied throughout the day and evening by
guests either relaxing before the fire or waiting for others to join
The leitmotif — from the revolving door entrance to the hotel, throughout
the lobby and its adjacent public rooms — two bars, a restaurant
and a tearoom — is authentic Art Deco, all of which was first installed
in the 1920s by Basil Ionides, a pioneering proponent of the design
The front exterior of Claridges built in 1898
A portrait of Mrs. Claridge in the lobby
from top left: The lobby of Claridges ready and waiting
for Fred and Ginger; Looking down towards the lobby from
the 2nd landing; Looking up the grand staircase from the
On the opposite wall to the right and just outside the Foyer is a commanding
oil portrait of Victorian lady in black, with bustle, stately, serene and serious.
She is Mrs.
Claridge whose husband built the first Claridge’s in 1812. Throughout
the 19th century it was known as The Palace of Mayfair and very popular with
visiting royalty. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert put their
royal stamp of approval on it when they paid a call on the visiiting Empress
Eugenie of France.
1894, Mrs. Claridge sold the hotel to theatrical producer and
D’Oyly Carte who also owned the Savoy, the Connaught and Berkeley
(then located in Berkeley Square). D’Oyly Carte was also a household name
throughout the world because his productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas
which were initially performed in his Savoy Theatre. After his acquisition of
Claridge’s, D’Oyly Carte demolished the building and built the present
hotel in its place.
Hepburn at a press reception for her new film, The African
Queen, Claridges, 1951.
the lobby and its surrounding bars and restaurants are
framed black and white photographs of some of the hotel’s
famous visitors such as Audrey Hepburn, Winston Churchill,
Jackie Onassis, Edward G. Robinson, Princess Margaret, John
Huston, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., the Duke and Duchess
of Windsor, and Katharine Hepburn.
Claridge’s was also the hotel of choice for Hepburn’s famous
paramour, Spencer Tracy whenever he visited London. When Miss Hepburn
was traveling with him, she put up at the Connaught so as to publicly
obscure what was already generally well known — their longtime affair
— because Tracy was also a married man.
Hepburn spent much of her stay in London visting Tracy at Claridge’s. And
the hotel management (and the guests too) were very pleased to have her and Tracy
in their company. However there was one small problem: Katharine Hepburn was
in the habit of wearing pants (or trousers, as they were called), and “women
in pants” was officially against hotel policy (as it was in many public
places all over the world right up until the mid-to-late-1960s).
But ... because
the breaker of the official rules was a world famous film star,
the hotel management was at loss as how to tell
her to STOP WEARING PANTS IN THE LOBBY. Finally they decided
to ask Spencer Tracy to ask her to stop. So one day, the
hotel’s general manager made an appointment to see
his famous guest. Arriving at Tracy’s door, the man
was already working up a bit of a sweat about the planned
request of so celebrated a guest.
On the other side of the door, unbeknownst to the general manager,
Mr. Tracy too was working up a bit of a sweat as to why he was
being visited. He imagined it was about his relationship with
Hepburn and her frequent visits. So when he shortly learned that
the general manager was merely requesting him to ask Miss Hepburn
NOT TO WEAR PANTS IN THE LOBBY, it came as a great relief.
The problem was immediately resolved: Katharine Hepburn was never
again seen in the lobby wearing pants (or trousers), although
she continued spending most of her time with Spencer Tracy in
his suite. Nor did she change her mode of dress. She simply entered
and left the hotel through a side entrance where no one could
see her. In her pants. (Or trousers.)
Ms. Jean Stewart
and Mrs. White at a party, Claridges, 1939
Zsa Gabor with Porfirio Rubirosa, Claridges, 1954
Onassis exiting the hotel, 1970
Margaret arriving the hotel, 1960
Merle Oberon in her suite, Claridges, 1963
Viscountess Astor, Lord Winterton, and the Countess of Lytton at a
fancy dress ball, Claridges, 1910
Hepburn at a welcome home reception after filming Roman Holiday, Claridges, 1953
Margaret at a dance in the Drawing Room, Claridges, 1951
G. Robinson relaxing in his suite, Claridges, 1966
Duke and Duchess of Windsor leaving Claridges, 1953
Huston, Claridges, 1966
Brynner at a press reception, Claridges, 1959
Elizabeth II attending a banquet hosted by King Paul and Queen
Frederika of Greece, Claridges, 1963
Isaac Stern viewing photographs of himself, Claridges, 1970
checking in to our rooms, we joined Gill Christophers, who is
director of public relations for the hotel, in the Fumoir, a
discreet little bar off the lobby where people can have a cigar
and a cocktail, or tea.
When I stayed at the hotel several years ago, this bar did not exist. In fact
there was no bar for people to congregate in the hotel. On my earlier visit,
I also found the staff to be very stuffy and even snooty. However, I accepted
that as British-ness. So I was surprised on meeting Mrs. Christophers to find
a very welcoming and friendly personality.
Since it was the end of her workday, she ordered pink champagne for herself and
me (JH had mint tea) and although it was a first time meeting, we embarked on
a conversation like old friends catching up. Mrs. Christophers is fairly new
at Claridge’s having come from a position as head of public relations for
Harper & Queen, (recently renamed Harpers Bazaar), and before that as director
of public relations for Mohamed al-Fayed at Harrods.
director of public relations Gill Christophers in the Fumoir
on Friday evening.
Right: Fifth floor hallway.
Fumoir. Above right: Scenes from our suite.
both of her previous work experiences, incidentally, were very
rewarding and interesting, naturally I wanted to know what it
was like to work for the man whose son was killed along with
Diana in the tragic accident in Paris, and who has long been
a thorn in the side of the British Establishment.
She told us she really liked working for Mr. al-Fayed. She described a man who
was demanding and driven but very kind and generous, and very charitable and
very often anonymously. In short, she found him to be very sympathetic.
She told us she’d taken on this assignment because it was a new challenge
and because since Blackstone’s acquiring it, and with the new owners, the
hotel was being transformed from its previous stuffy (and snooty) image into
a modern establishment.
Sitting there in the tiny Fumoir with its small bar, its tufted velvet banquettes
and small round cocktail tables, all of which were occupied by young men and
women who were clearly having a good old time, I could see they had already succeeded.
The same could be said about all the public rooms — filled and lively — as
well as the lobby where right after our drinks we ran into Michele and
Herbert who’d come over from New York to attend a dinner for the Prince’s
Trust at Buckingham Palace.
night was a work night for us since, as it has been throughout
this trip to Europe, we were way behind schedule in going online
with the Diary. Fortunately the five hour time difference between
London and New York gave us some leeway.
We never finished up until almost ten o’clock Friday night, after which
we went down to the Claridge’s Bar for some light supper. The place was
really jumping — another surprise compared to my memories of the previous visit.
The crowd was attractive very contemporary — suits and ties, jackets and no
ties, sweaters; women in cocktail dresses or just casually — a mixed bag. At
that hour it was reasonably rousing too. We sat at a banquette next to the bar.
I had their small (rectangular) pizza (excellent) along with an arugula salad
with shaved parmesan and JH had the Claridge’s version of Fish and Chips.
morning. It was cold in London. We went to Richoux’s, a
tearoom off Grosvenor Square for some breakfast and then a walk
to exercise off some
of this constant eating on this trip. We passed the American Embassy, surrounded
as it now is with a variety of heavy barriers both metal and concrete with even
the roadway in front of it cordoned off. The enormous building looked devoid
of humanity save for the lone guard in a black uniform and wearing a black hood,
the bottom of which covered the lower half of his face. He was standing by the
entrance carrying a black machine gun.
walk through Grosvenor Square — On the right hand side of the
embassy is a larger than lifesize bronze sculpture of Dwight D. Eisenhower
— his most common costume in the years he resided in London during
the Second World War. The statue was a gift from the people of Kansas
City and President George H.W. Bush’s Ambassador Charles
Price and his wife Carol who dedicated it with Margaret
Thatcher in 1989.
on the statue I was filled with a sense of nostalgia and sadness.
I couldn’t help wondering what the great military general
and president would have thought of the world today as well as
the barricades in front of our embassy. JH took a photo of the
statue although he regretted there was no sunshine to do it justice.
the air around it.
London Street scenes
walked on down the several blocks back to Claridge’s where
we got a taxi with the intention of visiting the Churchill museum
at Clyde Steps. It was
here that housed the bunker where Winston Churchill worked and often slept during
Inside the taxi, as it pulled away from the curb, we gave the cabbie our destination.
He pulled over to the side and stopped. We couldn’t go there, he said because
the whole area surrounding it, from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace had
been closed off by the police and everything shut down. Why? There were tens
of thousands of people fill those streets and roadways, staging a massive anti-Iraq
War protest. Even the museum had been closed.
headlines in all the London papers on this day was about a new
scandal — one
that many believe could spell the end of Tony Blair’s government.
that Mr. Blair had raised 14 million pounds in “loans” from supporters
who in turn were apparently rewarded with peerages. Furthermore a large chunk
of the millions were unaccounted for. Suspicions led to more suspicions. One
Englishman told me it was believed Blair wouldn’t last the year.
With the Churchill Museum out of bounds, and already in the taxi, we asked the
cabbie where else we could visit.
“Have ya been to the Tower of London?” he asked. No.
“Is there much to see there?” I asked, with visions of the London
Bridge towers in my mind’s eye.
“Oh you could spend the day there and not see it all,” he advised.
So we started off to the Tower of London. And, it turned out, we’d lucked
out with this cabbie who was a repository of history of London, its buildings,
and the monarchy that has presided over it since William the Conqueror moved
in (and built the Tower of London) in 1066 — the perfect tour guide.
As we moved along, noting our interest in his tour, he turned one corner just
so that we could see the house where Charles Dickens lived between
1837 and 1839
and wrote The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.
cabbie Ricgard Patten and the house where Charles Dickens lived from
there we moved along into the City, the oldest
part, the original London town where our driver Richard
Patten, a Cockney, was also born. We passed
St. Paul’s where Lady Diana Spencer married Prince
Charles on that fateful day of July 29, 1981. Mr. Patten
referred to her simply as “Diana.” The cathedral
is called “the
London Miracle” because the entire area around it was destroyed
by the German bombings during the War but the cathedral miraculously
survived. St. Paul’s is the fourth church to occupy that
site where one has existed for the past 1500 years.
We passed the Old Bailey, the now officially re-named criminal courthouse
that is still referred to by the neighbors by its old one, named for the
ancient street on which it sits.
We drove down along the Thames until we came to the end of one road. And
there before us was a huge and massive ancient walled fortress, surrounded
by what obviously had once been a wide moat. The Tower of London.
outside and inside the walls of the Tower of London.
don’t know why but all my life until the moment we arrived
at this spot, I’d thought of the Tower of London as one
of those towers on the bridge over the Thames that you’ve
seen in all the pictures and history books since childhood. And,
furthermore, I thought it was simply an Elizabethan structure
used for keeping the crown jewels and where they tortured and
executed political enemies of the crown in Elizabethan times
and before. That’s rank ignorance for you.
The Tower, which was very crowded with visitors of all ages on this cold very
March day with the winds whipping up from the Thames and the sun intermittently
shining through is what in America we would call a fort — which holds the actual
Tower (built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century) as well as many other
buildings, houses, and castle-like structures that have been added to it over
For a long time in its earliest incarnation it was a royal palace. It was also
at the same time a prison (for more than seven centuries — its last most famous
prisoner was Rudolf Hess during World War II), an amory and a gunpowder storage.
William built it, the tallest structure in all of England, to
lord over the city of London, so as to send a clear message to
any of its defiant
citizens: “we are watching you!” They got the message. Ah, la plus
ca change ...
Elizabeth I, as a twenty year old was imprisoned here by her older half-sister Mary, so
as to keep her away from the coveted throne. Of course we all know that in due
time Mary died, probably of cancer, and Elizabeth became queen. It was
father Henry VIII had her mother, Anne Boleyn, beheaded.
So that he could marry another and still be a devoutly religious monarch.
le godliness, no? Convenient
in some quarters, if you’ll pardon the pun; the ultimate abusive husband.
Henry frequently found beheading very convenient when it came to wives and associates
he no longer had a yen for.
Elizabeth followed suit with the rule of the axe when it suited her also. The
operative phrase (never uttered aloud, I’m sure) was “I’d kill
for a crown.” It went on like this for centuries, and considering it all
while touring these buildings it gives one pause for considering the whole idea
of monarchy and royal personages ... anywhere, anytime.
from top left: Traitor's
Gate where prisoners were transported to the Tower from the river,
including the future Queen Elizabeth I; Sentry Guardsman; A view of Waterloo
Block, home of the Crown Jewels; St. Thomas' Tower above Traitor's Gate.
White Tower built by William the Conquerer and a weather vane atop
the White Tower
another of the many buildings is a collection of the crown jewels. Although I’m no gemologist, it’s hard to believe
that what we were looking at were the actual crown jewels. Nevertheless
what passed for them was more than satisfactory to the eye and
had the crowd staring in wonder and probably thinking how useful
those diamonds and rubies and emeralds and sapphires (not to
mention the gold) would be in paying off the mortgage. Or the
plastic. Alas, the thoughts of the common man.
We spent three hours touring the Tower and its other buildings and walking
along the wide cobbled roads and narrow cobbled lanes and trudging up the
copious narrow stone steps within the thick ancient stone walls. We could
have spent another three hours had time allowed because there is so much
to see and so much to ponder.
In the end, one is left at the wonder of
the Tower’s continuing existence — a thousand years later — bestowing
solid evidence of the political natures of man and woman, and of the heritage
of Britain and the British subjects and their descendants who now cover
the globe. It also renders today’s monarchy nothing more than a picture
postcard to decorate our fancies of the high life. At least they don’t
have to worry about the executioner’s axe.
from top left: A child studies his history; Sir Walter Raleigh's
study in the prison of the Tower of London; Scaffold Site
where Anne Boleyn was beheaded; A crowd getting a tour.
along Mint Street
building Where Rudolf Hess was imprisoned in World War II until
his transfer to
Spandau (left) and Beauchamp Tower (right)
to right: Waterloo
Block, Martin Tower, and Fusiliers' Museum
the White Tower
bedchamber in the Medieval Palace under restoration
Looking towards the Tower Bridge
20th Century London architecture outside the Tower; Taxis waiting
for their fares.
from the Tower of London in late afternoon —
I don’t know about you, but we ... or at least I ... was
ready for a snooze. About an hour later we were up and at ‘em
again, and this time to meet Andrew Saffir and Daniel
Benedict for drinks before dinner.
It turned out that they were staying right across the hallway from us at
Claridge’s. RIGHT across the hall (although we never saw them in
the hall). Andrew realized it first when he was following our travels on
the NYSD and sent us an email.
travelers face reality in the suite at Claridges
invited us to Soho House in ... Soho of course ... for
a glass of champagne (or two). They had come to London just for
like many other Americans to dine at a Prince’s Trust fund-raising
dinner at Buckingham Palace. Prince Charles, taking a page from
the Americans’ book of charity benefit hosts these dinners
where the guests pay a nominal sum (in this case I think it was
$1500 a ticket) to attend a reception and a dinner at the Palace
in the company of the prince and his wife, Camilla, the
Duchess of Cornwall, Her Royal Highness, of course.
Although no doubt many of his American guests were unaware, this past weekend
was one for at least some celebration for the prince. He scored a minor
legal victory the day before with a judge’s ruling in a lawsuit he
filed against the Daily Mail for printing excerpts from some of his private
journals — journals in which he expressed very undiplomatic opinions about,
among other things, foreign leaders (namely Chinese) and, among other things,
their less than attractive physical presence (in his presence). The prince
maintains that although these journals had been distributed as he wished
amongst a number of individuals, (confirming that every writer likes an
audience, in one form or another), the journals were not meant for publication
per se. And whatwith he being The Prince, certainly not. Not.
Mail has argued that as the Heir to the Throne the prince’s
private musings were no longer private once they were printed
up and sent around to be read by whomever.
The matter is, alas, just another chapter in the beleagured life of the
prince who no doubt considers himself always under siege by the nosy old
press who just don’t seem to show any respect for an individual member
of the monarchy. At least not the way they did when the Tower of London
was the hub of monarchical activity, ahem.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Soho House very much resembles the one we
have in New York in the meatpacking district although the decor in New
York is occasionally more post-modern interior design kitschiness with
its tufted leather elevators (lifts, they call them here in England), etc.
Observing the membership present in the London club, one could have been
in New York, for they looked very much the same crowd. In fact, if you
counted us, it was the same crowd.
and Daniel in the taxi on the way to Soho House and the scene at Soho
a couple of drinks and our exchanging tales of our excellent
adventures, we parted ways — Andrew and Daniel off down some
narrow lane to a very trendy London boite, and we to meet an
old friend, Dominique Kirby who now resides in London, at an
excellent (and excellently priced) Italian restaurant called
Teca — just around the corner and down the lane from Claridge’s.
DPC with his longtime friend Dominique Kirby
walk back to the hotel through Lancashire Court
at Claridges with Dominik
Walli, supervisor of the Reading Room