April 1, 2011 5:27 pm

Postcard from ... London

The FT columnist plays princess for a day at the Goring Hotel, where Kate Middleton has reportedly chosen to spend her last night as a commoner
 
Goring Hotel, London©Getty

The Goring Hotel, London

Is the Goring Hotel fit for a (future) queen? Kate Middleton has reportedly chosen to spend her last night as a commoner in this small, family-run hotel located, in its own words, “adjacent to Buckingham Palace”, but which is actually rather closer to Victoria railway station.

To find out whether it’s good enough for her (and her family and friends, who have booked the entire hotel for the royal wedding weekend), I’ve put it through an even tougher test. It’s relatively simple to be nice to a future queen when you’ve had ages to prepare the best suite and whip your staff into shape. It’s harder, surely, to be nice to a middle-aged woman who arrives out of the blue in a cycle helmet demanding the cheapest room (a “delightful queen-bedded” room, £335) and is looking shifty, as she knows the hotel wants no media attention before the big day and so she has given a false name.

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Lucy Kellaway

Yet the daffodils outside in the windowboxes smiled on me, as did the two sentries, clad in bowler hats and long Edwardian coats, on either side of the door. The young man at reception displayed an old-fashioned cockney warmth, took my scruffy bike pannier in one hand and a big brass key in another and led me up in the wood-panelled lift. All the time he kept up a cheery patter about his exercise regime that put me at my ease; I’m sure it will do the same for Kate.

The hotel has just had a refit, so its rooms now “encapsulate the quintessentially English feel of this grand English hotel”, which for my room involved papering it with lozenge-shaped silhouettes of 18th-century profiles, flocked in a black velour. There were some remnants of an earlier, tackier refit: mirror tiles and twee brass light fittings, the carpet had a couple of stains and the basin didn’t drain well. Yet, unlike most swanky hotels – which make one feel lonely and stupid for not being able to turn on the over-engineered lights – this room made me kick my shoes off and lie on the bed to wait for my daughter to arrive from school.

She shouted with pleasure at the wallpaper and gave the white towelling robes an appreciative stroke. But then we noticed three disturbing absences: no minibar, no kettle and no television. As our room was exceedingly small, a comprehensive search didn’t take long and soon yielded a TV, which had been hiding in an ornate gold frame on the wall that was pretending to be a mirror.

The continued absence of kettle and minibar were explained by the room service menu. Tea can be provided in a pot and on a tray, with or without cucumber sandwiches and dainty cakes, and costing anything up to £40. The old family firm that has been running the Goring these past 100 years turns out to be rather like the old family firm that Kate is joining, in that it upholds tradition. But unlike Kate’s future firm, the Goring family evidently believes in making a bob or two.

Downstairs, the gold-and-white Edwardian dining room was looking more elegant than its occupants, who were mainly ageing British businessmen. We decided that as Kate would probably not be eating there either, we could sneak off to Pizza Express. Our meal there was perfectly satisfactory but not as satisfactory as getting back to the Goring and notching up six smiles and four “good evenings” on the short journey from mahogany and brass door, across marble floor to lift. Back in our room, my daughter repaired to the bathroom for an exceedingly long time, emerging swathed in white towelling and declaring herself never to have been so clean in her entire life. Kate would also want to be clean, she was sure.

I said that all Kate would really want would be to try to get a little sleep. I find this a bit of a challenge on an ordinary night, even when I’m not about to be watched by 2bn people gliding about in a white dress. But as we got into our queen-sized bed, my eyes started to close. The mattress was soft yet firm, the linen was smooth and the sound of London outside a soothing rumble. In the morning I was woken by a lot of clunking china, which turned out to be the arrival of our breakfast on a tray.

The tea was strong, the orange juice fresh and sharp, the croissant flaky, the fruit salad plentiful and pretty, the china all blue and white, the strainer silver. I liked it all and even liked the man who brought it, a handsome Hungarian in a sleeveless, double-breasted beige jacket and a yellow tie.

As I checked out the next day, I asked the young man at reception if he was excited about the important guest who would soon be coming. For the first time, a Goring staff member looked uncomfortable. “We never talk about our guests,” he said. “I shan’t be telling anyone you stayed here last night.”

But I shall. Indeed, I am telling everyone that I now have the answer to my question. The Goring is, indeed, fit for a woman who is marrying a future king the next day. But, even more to the point, it’s also fit for a woman who is cycling off for another day at the office.

www.thegoring.com

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