Have you seen that ludicrous BBC ad promoting swimming: the big splash. It sounds like 2am in Soho when a chap doesn’t have a place to go except the doorstep of Trashy Lingerie on Old Compton Street. Big anything is terrible: big society, big love, big friendly giant. Makes you weep doesn’t it Rowley? Well, it is 6am and I am getting heart and soul together to present the Maria Callas suite at the Savoy to the GM Kiaran. This week has been a mad gallop with Mrs T at the Savoy to re-dress what I think is potentially the most gorgeous hotel suite in London.
How did this all begin? About two years ago, I was commissioned by the Savoy to dress the nine Signature Suites named after historic guests such as Churchill, Coward, Dietrich and Sinatra. It was a lovely brief but I was not allowed to choose the artworks. Long story short, with hands tied one can only struggle. With a free hand, it’s a horse of a different colour.
So, first things first, I spent a couple of hours in the suite playing a marathon of Callas and simply sitting in every chair trying to work out what would make the rooms more user friendly. I came to the conclusion that we needed a new landscape in the room so Brett and I foraged in the furniture store in the basement to find new pieces to make the suite palatial rather than corporate and dull. I do love Brett and his partner in crime Charlotte. They cannot do enough for one and want the Savoy to shine.
What impressed me most – and I said this to Kiaran when we bumped into each other on the back stairs – was how fabulous the Savoy staff have become. Every time I rang a butler for furniture polish, biscuits or moral support they were there. When Mike came up to Callas to re-hang my new pictures he took such pride that I felt like singing Rule Britannia. Everything was effortless.
But as you know darling, nothing is effortless. I spent many weeks looking for new original artworks to replace the generic pictures that hung in the suite. I found 1819 prints of the Royal Opera House, a marvellous 19th century Claude Lorraine quartet of Greco-Roman scenes, original sheet music from Callas’s canon such as Norma and Anna Boleyna and the most drop dead gorgeous fine art photography of Maria at the Royal Opera House and she as Lucia. When it was all hung, I could have sung the last eight bars of Tosca with pure joy.
What else was amusing in the suite? I found a photograph of Callas at her dressing table to put on the (ahem) dressing table with two Edwardian Savoy silver mirrors. I revived the Maria Callas Suite writing paper that Smythson printed for me last year and cleared the desk to make a feature of it. I borrowed fabulous things from Elinor at It’s All Greek such as the Antinous bust, a Minoan hand-painted vase and a Trojan bronze helmet to make the suite refer to Maria’s roots.
As for the flowers, well what can I say? Belinda Bowles is the Savoy’s prima donna assoluta of the blooms. I briefed her to create bouquets such as La Callas would receive after a first night at the Royal Opera House and she did not disappoint. Flowers absolutely make a hotel suite: that and a visible champagne bucket with two chairs poised at the window to look at the historic view that the Savoy has in spades. The flowers were absolutely divine. Don’t you love the bouquet in the fireplace? Belinda even thought to put a single red rose in the bathroom as if Callas had plucked it from a bouquet and handed it to a tenor such as di Stefano.
Naturally, there are more prosaic things to consider when dressing a hotel room…even at the Savoy. I have an OCD reaction to power cables that are not tied-up, hidden and made unobtrusive. I like symmetry on a table top and lots of space to plonk your glass of gin down on. I like a natural eye line to the telly even though no civilised being thinks of telly in a hotel room unless they are lounging in bed with their significant other and a bottle on ice to hand.
It is terribly gratifying to return to a project that you knew was unfinished business. It is always a joy to float around the Savoy and relish being in a bastion of civilisation and class. When I had polished the last table and placed the last picture, Brett and I decamped to the American Bar (voted the finest bar in the world bar none) and sank a couple of Negronis mixed by Erik the drop dead gorgeous head barman. Some people mix Negronis as if they are fuelling a Boeing. Erik’s low balls are pure poetry.
That said, one must go to some measures to sleep a little easier. I dream luridly, wake often and find myself watching BBC News 24 at the most obscene hours when I really should be falling out of some Soho boite hollering ‘I wasn’t the ring leader’. But some months one has to knuckle down, do the work and sleep the sleep of the just. If only…
So the riots in London have died down, the courts are sitting all night and David Cameron is finally talking tough. About bloody time too. Let’s be under no illusions that we have reaped what New Labour sewed with mass immigration, a benefit culture that gives feral rats a sense of entitlement and a bleeding heart public sector that makes excuses when all that is needed is a bit of stick rather than carrot. It is time all the tax-paying, uncomplaining, keep buggering on Brits stood up for ourselves and said ‘we matter too’. Until next time…