Withnail And I star Richard E Grant has added a new string to his bow as presenter of Richard E Grant’s Hotel Secrets for Sky Atlantic. The show reveals the truth about the luxury travel industry and what goes on in some of the world’s best known hotels. The actor talks to KATE WHITING about 5,000-dollar burgers, David Coulthard’s favourite haunts and his own worst hotel experience
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO HOTEL SECRETS?
I got to meet, interview and stick my head into places you’d never get the opportunity to in real life. They reckoned that as an actor, I’d travelled and stayed in a lot of hotels, so the combination of being a nosy parker and well-travelled made me the ideal person for this job.
Obviously Martin Clunes wasn’t available, so they asked me.
DID YOU GET TO STAY IN THE HOTELS?
I stayed in about half of them because we were on such a tight schedule. We were visiting about six to eight a week, but sometimes there was no availability in a place such as Cap d’Antibes on the French Riviera. The hotel was completely full, so I stayed in another hotel nearby, which was pretty gorgeous too.
WHICH WAS THE MOST JAW-DROPPING HOTEL?
There was a suite of rooms in the penthouse of the Caesar’s Palace hotel in Las Vegas that you can’t rent, they are comped by the hotel to people who are the highest gamblers. It has a cyber golfing range where you programme in which golf course you want to go to, so I put in St Andrews. It’s got Jacuzzis with unbelievable views, private security, private elevators, room service, butlers, masseuses, a grand piano, home cinema and could sleep up to 16 people and then there are staff quarters for your pilot too. There’s also a 40,000-dollar-a-night penthouse suite at the Four Seasons hotel in New York; they have a waiting list of people trying to get in. These are people who are so wealthy they’ll take it for three weeks. It’s a creme brulee crust of wealth. You’re seeing what people can spend their money on and it’s completely bonkers.
WHAT WAS THE MOST OUTRAGEOUS SERVICE OFFERED?
There was a concierge at the Mark Hotel in Manhattan who said a Middle Eastern client had asked for a hamburger which he’d had up the road to be delivered to his friend in Jordan the next day. He put down 5,000 dollars on the concierge’s desk and she said, ‘Yes of course’. So she found out the restaurant, got the chef and the recipe, and emailed it to a hotel in Jordan, made sure it was wrapped in similar paper and delivered. So he had the illusion it had been put on a plane. That sort of initiative is extraordinary. Now whether the man who ordered the burger knew that she’d done that or not is kind of irrelevant, the fact that she’d said yes and delivered meant that she got another 5,000 dollars.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A GOOD HOTEL?
I’ve stayed in so many hotels now, I like feeling that you’re personally valued as a customer and that applies to everything, it could even be a chippie where somebody knows you and look after you. I interviewed David Coulthard in Monaco and he said after a while, when you’ve been around the world as much as he has and have the money he’s earned, the metres of marble and gold taps becomes less important than when he gets to reception and somebody says, ‘Mr Coulthard, it’s wonderful to see you, please come this way’. He says if he’s standing at reception and has to wait five minutes while someone is blathering away on the phone and he’s jet-lagged, he doesn’t want to go back to that place.
HAVE YOU EVER WORKED IN A HOTEL OR RESTAURANT?
I was a waiter in Covent Garden for six months in 1982. I was never drunk on the job because I don’t drink and that in the waitering world is a bonus. And I didn’t steal anything. I worked in a hotel too in my university holidays to earn money. I worked in the PR department and had to remove dressing gowns that people had stolen and say,‘I’m terribly sorry, Mrs... but you seem to have accidentally packed two bathrobes, four ashtrays and some pens, I’m just going to have to remove them’. Housekeeping would phone up and say these things have gone missing. What they do in hotels now is they have labels in them and things on the desks that say, ‘If you would like to purchase this robe, it can be added to your bill’ so people don’t scarper with them.
WHAT’S YOUR WORST HOTEL EXPERIENCE?
I stayed in a hotel on the Red Sea which was terrible, the smell was bad, the hotel wasn’t finished, the food was a buffet that looked like it had been hanging around for five days and then when I left and went back to Tel Aviv to do some filming, I was strip-searched at the airport with a torch shone up my bum because I only had diving gear with me and they accused me of being a spy that had come from Egypt into Israel. I stupidly didn’t have my passport on me because I’d flown from Tel Aviv to Eilat which is an internal flight. My wife said, ‘Ah a woman is quite used to having a torch shone up her front bits at all times of the year by a gynaecologist, don’t feel so special’, so I couldn’t even get a brownie point on that one!
HOW DIFFERENT IS PRESENTING FROM ACTING?
There’s no script, no costume, you can’t blame anybody else. It’s very enjoyable to be able to ask people questions and fly around. I’ve gone back to my day job now though, I’m doing the Doctor Who Christmas special and a film with Jude Law, so I do have to go back into my costume and make-up and behave.
:: Richard E Grant’s Hotel Secrets starts on Sky Atlantic on Thursday, October 25