Time travel is an expensive business; first you need a handful of serious A-levels, an astrophysics degree and a doctorate or two. Then, get a white coat, wildly unruly hair and a pair of coke-bottle specs. Now you’re a proper scientist. Next up, you need to actually build the machine (I’m grossly unclear on the specifics, but I imagine iron, steel, sticky-backed plastic and at least three washing-up-liquid bottles (I am a child of the Seventies) are involved.
While the brainiacs focus on that, let me recommend a quicker, more cost-effective portal that will whisk you and your loved back in time – a revolving door that twirls you right into the heart of 1920s glamour: the door to Claridge’s.
To enter Claridge’s is to enter a fairy tale, particularly at Christmas. The grand curving stairway, the polished sleekness of black-and-white geometric tiles, the Ionic punctuation of pillar and post… Even the name conjures a quintessence of sophistication. And I, a girl from Croydon, am about to stay there.
The first face you see as you approach is that of Roman, the doorman, a silver fox resplendent in grey stove pipe and garbardine coat. Roman is the very model of gentlemanly decorum, too gentlemanly to remind me that the last time he’d seen me leave the establishment was on all fours after a particularly boozy Mary Berry do.
On presenting ourselves at reception we were told we’d been upgraded to one of the Mayfair suites. I leapt up and punched the air with my fists. Apparently that isn’t the done thing in a five-star hotel, but the manager didn’t bat an eyelid. That’s the thing about Claridge’s – no one ever makes you feel like you don’t deserve to be there. Surely that in itself is a sign of true class.
We journeyed to our floor in a beautiful old-fashioned cage lift, operated by John, the liveried bellhop with an infectious laugh and encyclopedic brain. I say ‘lift’ – it’s more a travelling antiquity, with worn and silvery mirroring, original sunburst clock and a stunning, deep-button upholstered banquette too beautiful to sit on (though rumour is it that Madonna saw fit to park her material assets on it).
Our suite was one of the more recently refurbished available, although kept to the traditional style. Muted russet and earth tones dominate the spacious living room, which features a working fireplace, leather armchairs and fabulous Deco escritoire. The bedroom was more uniformly period: full-length mirrored wardrobes, ladies’ vanity unit and a vast bed that envelops you like an overfamiliar granny. The mini bar was impeccably stocked with essentials: chocolates, champagne and scented candles – all scoffed, quaffed and set fire to within minutes of arrival.
But it was the bathroom that was the star of the show, with its deep black sink with veins of creamy marble running through it, chunky polished solid-silver taps and rich pea-green walls. ‘I’m never leaving this bath’, said Mrs Smith, climbing in, and she meant it. It was three hours before I could drag her out of the tub to dinner, by which time her skin resembled a farmyard roof.
We had a casual meal in the Foyer, a carnival of colours and tastes: truffled Cornish lobster risotto, mackerel with beetroot and innumerable carby sides. Afterwards, we waddled across to the Fumoir for drinks (a paradise of brushed steel and Lalique crystal that makes you feel like you’re in a Baz Luhrmann movie). I ordered a julep, because it felt Gatsby-esque, while Mrs Smith opted for the classic boozy slick of a martini.
We had decided to spend our weekend at London’s most famous hotel as though tourists in our own city, checking out the myriad sights that go unnoticed by regular inhabitants. We picked the London Dungeons as our first stop and popped to the front desk to get directions to London Bridge.
Concierge kings Martin and Nigel are blessed with the unique gift of never letting you feel foolish for being a fool – explaining in the most tactful way that the dungeons were no longer at London Bridge. New directions issued, we set off by foot. On our return they asked for honest feedback so they could relay it to future customers (a hearty thumbs up – what finer way to spend an afternoon than watch a drama school student take you through a catalogue of mediaeval disemboweling tools?).
Disembowelment notwithstanding, we woke refreshed and took breakfast in our room, which ranks as one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve ever enjoyed. It was served on a vast hostess trolley with linen so crisp you could cut your hands on it. The food was hidden under sparkling silver cloches large enough to serve John the Baptist’s head in to Salome. I didn’t order his head (not in season) opting instead for a triple pancake stack. Sensational. Once finished, it was with genuine regret that I looked out of the window onto London’s streets and contemplated my imminent switch back from tourist to resident.
Claridge’s has an incredibly difficult balancing act to pull off – that between modernity and tradition. I believe they have got it just right. It meets all the expectations of the five-star traveller while retaining the integrity of its history. Sure, it has some wear and tear. It is, as buildings go, a bit of an old girl. But if I look that good over 100, I’ll be delighted. It’s expensive, of course, but the service is exemplary, and it has class and charm in spades.
‘When I die, I don’t want to go to Heaven’, said Spencer Tracy; ‘I want to go to Claridge’s’.
I entirely agree.