Millions around the world felt SAD, oh so sad, at the news that that unforgettable London icon, Mandarin Oriental London, caught fire on Wednesday, June 6th, 2018. Thanks to social media the headline news reached the furthest corners of the globe within seconds. Soon it was known that London Fire Brigade had sent 20 fire engines and 120 firefighters to tackle the blaze, and there were fortunately no casualties. One tiny blessing was that the alarm was raised at 4pm, always the quietest time at any hotel, and there were only 36 guests on the premises. They, and 250 staff members, were all safely evacuated.
Robbie Williams and his wife, Ayda Field, were among those guests – a bellboy knocked at their suite door and said ‘get out’. Hotels around rushed to help, bringing out the camaraderie in this industry, the heart of hospitality. Presumably HRH Princess Anne, due to dine officially in the hotel a few hours later, stayed home and rustled up the cauliflower cheese that is said to be one of her favourites. Presumably hotel GM Gérard Sintès (above) and his inner team, which includes one of the world’s great inhouse communicators, Sarah Cairns, went into immediate crisis mode (it is telling that they had time and inclination, early the following morning, to thank the fire brigade and police).
The irony is that only a few days before, the 200-room hotel, built in 1890 as chambers for gentlemen, had completed its meticulously planned 18-month renovation which is reputed to have cost £85 million. I saw some of the new-look rooms, and adored the way designer Joyce Wang had introduced leaf patterns on ceilings, and other reminders that this is London’s only town and country hotel. One side opens to Knightsbridge, the other to Hyde Park. Breakfast in the hotel’s confusingly-named DINNER by Heston Blumenthal is one of my unforgettable memories, looking out at Hyde Park and watching the Household Cavalry riding by for their daily morning practice.
But other memories include the ribeye and salad at my last visit to the hotel’s other main restaurant, Bar Boulud, and hearing of Gérard Sintès’ design plans as we took afternoon tea in the Rosebery Room, and working out in the gym that is overseen by trainer Ruben Tabares, and much more. Sarah Cairns said long ago that Sintès is a fantastic manager and nothing fazes him. This will be the ultimate test of that quality. The insurance people are undoubtedly working round the clock, and Mandarin Oriental head office is thinking back to 1996 when they paid £86 million for the hotel: whoever could have envisaged such an event? NO-one deserves this. From the other side of the world I send my thoughts and support to this great hotel and al its people.