Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas at Claridge’s

The entrance to Claridge’s.
By Delia von Neuschatz

My husband and I are spending Christmas at Claridge’s in London this year. We have been fortunate to call the hotel our home away from home for many years and it’s always a special experience, but it’s especially so during the winter holidays. A festive mood abounds. The storied place is even more abuzz and glittering than usual.

Adults and children alike ooh and aah over the decorations which beckon and sparkle inside and out. A toy soldier here, a snowy scene there, everywhere you look, there is something to dazzle the eye. But the showstopper without a doubt is the massive tree set up in the hotel’s iconic lobby.
Claridge’s Burberry-designed Christmas tree. Fashion notables who have decorated the tree in previous years include John Galliano, Dolce & Gabbana and Lanvin.
Designed by Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s Chief Creative and Chief Executive Officer, this year’s tree sports nearly 100 umbrellas, each made out of bespoke gold and silver metallic fabric. The design draws inspiration from Burberry’s heritage of providing protection against the elements. But that’s not all. Scattered throughout the tree are 77,000 individual lights providing an interactive light show, triggered as they are whenever a guest walks by.
View from the mezzanine.
An ornament-laden entryway.
A Claridge’s Christmas tradition – the South End Choir serenades guests at tea time.
A cozy nook in the lobby.
A platter set up for Santa.
A toy soldier stands guard outside the main doors.
A view of the foyer and the foyer restaurant.
The hotel’s 200-year history is as dazzling as its holiday décor. Countless heads of state, artists, musicians, kings, queens and movie stars have slipped through its art deco revolving doors. Empress Eugénie of France used the hotel as her winter quarters during the 19th century. Often referred to as an annex to Buckingham Palace, Claridge’s offered refuge to the exiled kings of Greece, Norway and Yugoslavia during World War II. It is said that when the phone rang at reception and someone asked to speak to the king, the standard response was “Which one?” Winston Churchill too sought solace at Claridge’s after his post war electoral defeat.
Sir Winston Churchill outside Claridge’s.
And when it comes to Hollywood royals, the guest roster includes Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Yul Brynner, Bing Crosby Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Alfred Hitchcock among too many others to name. There’s also Jackie and Aristotle Onassis, Mick Jagger, Bono, Mariah Carey and Lady Gaga. Kate Moss threw herself a 30th birthday bash in one of the hotel’s art deco suites.
Kate Moss heading to her 30th birthday bash at Claridge’s where the theme of the night was The Beautiful and the Damned. Jackie O exiting Claridge’s in the 1970s.
Kate Middleton making her way inside the hotel. Hugh Jackman leaving Claridge’s earlier this year.
Charlize Theron outside the hotel. Victoria Beckham leaving Claridge’s.
Claridge’s certainly has an illustrious history, but it is not stuck in the past. Its unique mix of modernity and heritage is what sets it apart from the other luxury hotels in London, continually attracting the great and the good from fashion, the arts, politics and finance and mere mortals alike. Just on recent visits, my husband and I spotted the following VIPs gliding across the lobby’s famous black and white marble floors: Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Sigourney Weaver, Ralph and Ricky Lauren, David Walliams of Little Britain fame, Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore and Idris Elba to name a few.
At the concierge desk: Martin Ballard, Head Concierge (left) with Miles Wakeling (center) and Nigel Firth. Martin has been at Claridge’s since 1980, Miles is a 32-year veteran of the hotel and Nigel has been there for 8 years.
Concierge Bill Capelan has been with Claridge’s for 30 years.
Agnes at the reception desk has been working at Claridge’s for 11 years.
Glenn John Piper, Foyer and Reading Room Restaurant Director.
John Alves operates the oldest working lift in the UK.
John Watts, Head Doorman.
Claridge’s in the late 19th century. The hotel was founded several decades earlier when William and Marianne Claridge who ran a boarding house at 51 Brook Street, bought the adjoining establishment comprising five buildings. Claridge’s opened in its own right in 1856. In Downtown Abbey fashion, William, a butler, had married Marianne, a housekeeper whom he had met while in service.
Marianne Claridge.
A deluxe king room. Each of the hotel’s 197 rooms, including 67 suites, are decorated by renowned interior designers, including Viscount Linley, Guy Oliver and Diane von Furstenberg.
One of the hotel’s generously-proportioned marble bathrooms.
In 1893, the hotel was bought by theater impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, owner of the Savoy. He promptly closed it down, demolished it and rebuilt it in its present guise. The hotel reopened five years later in a building designed by C.W. Stephens, who had also designed the Harrods building in Knightsbridge.
The hotel received an art deco makeover in 1929. Many of the features, including a beautiful Lalique door panel, remain to this day.
But it’s not the star power that keeps us coming back to Claridge’s. It’s the peerless service and the warmth. We have gotten to know quite a few of the staff members, many of whom have been with the hotel for decades. And also, there’s the one-off aspect offering a sense of place, a rootedness, something increasingly rare in today’s homogenized, impersonal world. There’s only one Claridge’s and when you pass through its doors, there’s no mistaking that you can only be in England. Oh, and let’s not forget the beds which you will dream about long after you’ve checked out. "When I die I don't want to go to heaven," said Spencer Tracy. "I want to go to Claridge's." I’ll drink to that.
Enjoying one of Claridge's signature cocktails, tropical morning glory, served up in a vintage glass.