The story of a palace hotel and its famous guests, from kings and spies to presidents and poets

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But the reader has come for the hotel, and what a hotel it is, built as if it were a theatrical production itself. D’Oyly Carte had a great idea of ​​how the rich would like to spend their fortune. “Her own love of the good life allowed her to imagine a clever operation in which everything from shoe shining to champagne would be taken care of, against the romantic backdrop of a lavish purpose-built hotel,” Williams writes. . “From the moment a guest arrived, he wanted them to feel important, starting with a grand entrance.”

D’Oyly Carte succeeded in convincing two European talents – César Ritz, manager of a hotel in Monte Carlo, and the famous French chef Auguste Escoffier – to work for him. The arrangement helped elevate the hotel to new standards of service and cuisine, though the men went out of favor when it turned out they were taking bribes and siphoning off money from the food and drink orders. (They obviously went on to have brilliant careers, although I myself will never feel the same about a Ritz hotel again.)

Who stayed at the Savoy? Who does not have ? The Savoy is where Vivien Leigh met her future husband, Laurence Olivier. This is where Oscar Wilde had disastrous fun with young Lord Alfred Douglas. It was there that the famous Parisian courtesan Marguerite Alibert – a former lover of Edward, the Prince of Wales – quarreled and then murdered her husband, the Egyptian aristocrat Ali Kamel Fahmy, on their honeymoon, in 1923. .

Monet and Whistler painted scenes from the windows; Guglielmo Marconi made his first wireless broadcast in the US from one of the hotel’s ballrooms; the French writer Émile Zola experienced it at the Savoy while visiting London in a hilarious way “to observe its poor”. Winston Churchill used it as a meeting place for the Other Club, a catering company whose members drank port and spent hours “replaying salt and pepper shakers” in a private room.

D’Oyly Carte died in 1901. His son Rupert ran the business until his own death in 1948; it then passed to Rupert’s daughter, Bridget. Divided into three parts, one for each era of ownership, the book is rich in detail, both serious and frivolous, and skillfully situates the history of this singular institution in the context of the great forces of English history. It sags a bit towards the end, especially when the pressures of modernity and competition start to assault the company. (I got the impression that, as a parent playing favorites, Williams found D’Oyly Carte more interesting than his heirs, which he indeed was.)

The book ends in 1985, with the death of Bridget, and therefore omits my favorite Savoyard anecdote from the modern era. It stars the great Irish actor Richard Harris, who spent the last years of his life as a resident of the hotel.

Harris fell ill one night in 2002, and an ambulance was called. It would be his last night at the Savoy, but he left with a bang. As a stretcher carried him through the crowded lobby, Harris half-lifted and addressed theatrically to the crowd of guests arriving for dinner. “It was the food,” he says.


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