‘No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’
The birthplace of history itself, London is awash with attractions that each tells a tale of England’s heritage. From the disappearing princes in the Tower of London, to Shakespeare’s reconstructed Globe Theatre, to the bawdy story of Buckingham Palace, London can be a portal into the past that is well worth its weight in gold street paving.
This not only applies to tourist attractions, but also to the very rooms in which those tourists sleep. Now, suppose you’d like more from your hotel room than toiletries and turndowns; suppose you’d like the metaphorical skeletons to come out of the cupboard, tuck you in and tell you a bedtime story. Perhaps you hung out at the Ritz-Carlton in Sydney with Michael Hutchence, or shared a toast with Dylan Thomas in New York’s Hotel Chelsea, or saw Jacko dangle a fellow human being over Hotel Adlon’s balcony in Berlin. Now you’d like the opportunity to connect with a memorable event in London. What are the chances? Well, here are a few pointers that may spark your interest.
Oscar Wilde once said, ‘The man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.’ Understandable, given Wilde’s bittersweet relationship with the city. In an episode that would make it one of the most infamous accommodations in the world, the Cadogan Hotel in Knightsbridge saw Wilde arrested in 1895 under accusation of ‘gross indecency’, relating to his homosexuality. Wilde’s suite at the Cadogan was subsequently named in his dishonour.
If you’re looking for more physical damage than social scandal, you might enjoy a visit to the Sanderson Hotel in Soho. In August 2007, headline-hogging wild child Amy Winehouse escaped rehab in Essex and ended up remodelling her London hotel room, together with husband Blake Fielder-Civil. The bill exceeded GBP 11,000 which included the removal of a copious amount of bloodstains, and of course a new lick of paint.
Fellow musical superstar Jimi Hendrix didn’t get away with his excesses so fortunately. Sharing a bed with one of his innumerable female associates in Notting Hill’s Hotel Samarkand on 18th September 1970, Hendrix suffocated in his sleep following a vomit-inducing overdose of sleeping pills.
The lyrics he had been writing in the suite were originally taken for a suicide note, but his death was eventually found to be accidental.
A decade later, tragedy struck once more; this time at the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane. In the early afternoon of 22nd July, comedian and actor Peter Sellers collapsed from a heart attack in his suite. He died in hospital two days later.
Sellers had fond memories of the Dorchester; in 1964 he met Swedish actress Britt Ekland in the hotel and was so enamoured that he purchased the entire contents of a local flower shop with which to present her.
In a more entertaining connection, the Dorchester was also the venue of the announcement of Princess Elizabeth’s (now Queen Elizabeth II) engagement to Prince Philip in July 1947. The future Baron Greenwich, Earl of Merioneth, Duke of Edinburgh and horrendously undiplomatic public orator was also to hold his stag party in the Dorchester’s Park Suite in November of the same year. Conversely, the Dorchester was also reputedly the location of the split between Brad Pitt and Jenifer Aniston, prompting a veritable banquet of tabloid speculation.
If you want a happy end to your hotel room’s tale, you could check in to the Monet Suite at the Savoy in the Strand. During a period of six months, split between the turn of 19th and 20th centuries, Monet produced over 70 impressive landscapes of London, including paintings of the sun rising over Waterloo and Charing Cross Bridges. As an extra bonus association, Monet’s contemporary Whistler also painted Waterloo Bridge from the Savoy’s sixth floor.
Hopefully this is enough to whet your appetite, but there remain a few tasty morsels for you to chew over. During the ’70s rocker Alice Cooper kept a boa constrictor in the bathtub of his Portobello Hotel room in Holland Park.
For those of you viewing this post on your mobile, Alexander Graham Bell reportedly tested the world’s first telephone from his suite at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair. More recently, following the Polonium-210 poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, numerous London hotels were tested for radioactivity.
Seven members of staff at the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair were discovered to be contaminated with low level radiation.
Finally, an attraction you’d least suspect: Buckingham Palace… was built on the site of a notorious brothel.
Completed in 1702 as the Duke of Buckingham’s city residence, the building was popularly known as ‘Buck House’. The palace passed into the hands of royalty when it was sold to George III in 1762, and has been the permanent residence of the reigning monarch since the accession of Queen Victoria.
Granted, you probably won’t be able to book a suite at the palace just yet, but these accounts provide some food for thought. Maybe I’ve been a bit too hard on London. Maybe Johnson was closer to the truth. Or maybe he was a raving sycophant with an obsession for word compendiums. Maybe. There’s only one reliable way to find out. And while you’re at it, why not let us know what you think of it when you get there.