Madam, could I say something to you?” Tatsuo, one of the two butlers attached to the Presidential Suite at the InterContinental hotel in Hong Kong, looks as if he’s about to impart grave tidings. As Tatsuo and his colleague Pang are of the merry school of butlering (Jeeves-style shimmying, yes; Jeeves-style intimidation, no), I brace myself for something deeply serious – a presentation of the bill, perhaps. One night at the InterContinental’s presidential suite can cost HK$87,000 (£6,000). Plus 13 per cent tax and service.
“The laundry has just rung,” Tatsuo continues, with lowered voice and eyes. “You sent them a skirt …” I had. It was silk and typhoon-rain-spotted and I was hoping it would receive a thorough presidential cleanse. “They say that they cannot remove the marks. The material is too delicate.” I nod, devastated. I know Tatsuo feels my pain. The word “cannot” rarely sullies the fragrant air of the presidential suite.
“Tea?” he suggests.
Before you check in for your presidential stay at the InterContinental, the butlers ascertain from your aides your likes and dislikes: your transfer preference (by Rolls-Royce Phantom VI or Bentley Turbo R90 or Mercedes-Benz), the newspapers and magazines you read, the pillow you prefer (feather, foam, therapeutic), your chosen bathroom amenities (Chanel and Bulgari are supplied but anything can be sourced), your favourite snacks. A fully-stocked bar is at your disposal, and is included in the price but I told them it was English Breakfast tea I particularly desired. Fortnum & Mason, I’d blithely specified when asked, not realising I was condemning Tatsuo, who is Japanese, to a long search around Hong Kong’s supermarkets.
“This is Fortnum & Mason tea,” he’d said, anxiously serving the first cup when I’d arrived. “But it is called Breakfast tea, not English Breakfast tea. If you would like the English Breakfast tea, I have the Twinings.” I told Tatsuo that it was fine. If I’d been a tea-purist president I might have objected to the fact that it was in tea-bags but as I hadn’t specified loose-leaf, I let this pass. When you’ve been picked up in a Rolls-Royce Phantom VI so enormous that it can’t find room to park in the narrow Hong Kong street of dried-seafood warehouses where you live, a certain regal graciousness begins to take over. In any case, as I remarked to Tatsuo, I’m Irish, not English; and shortly afterwards, unprompted, he appeared with a printout of that day’s The Irish Times (and could have supplied any one of 390 other newspapers including Heves Megyei Hirlap in Hungarian and Argumenty I Facty in Russian.
At the same time, he placed my room-key on the sitting-room table, where it remained, ignored, for the duration of my stay. Residents of the presidential suite don’t need to concern themselves with keys. The butlers escort them everywhere like a cheerful security detail.
Prior to the suite’s launch in January, there used to be two corner suites, 1600 and, on the floor above, 1700. These, after 253 days’ labour, were knocked into one five-bedroomed duplex space of 7,000 sq ft at a cost of $2.5m. Part of the expense went into reinforcing the hotel’s existing foundations so that it could support the infinity swimming-pool and jacuzzi that now rest within the suite’s 2,500 sq ft terrace overlooking Victoria Harbour.
Ah, the harbour. The InterContinental’s presidential suite is the largest in Hong Kong, it’s one of the largest in Asia and it’s on the Forbes’ list of the 10 most expensive hotel rooms in the world but it is the harbour that makes it truly priceless. Even if you’re a Hong Kong resident, it’s impossible to walk on to the terrace, with its perfectly-angled aspect of the island, and not gasp at what’s set out before you. The Christian Fischbacher sheets may have a 500 thread-count, the Sharp Aquos LCD television may have a 65in screen, the sinks in the bathroom may be hand-carved from single blocks of green marble from Fujian province in southern China but the visual impact of the city’s gleaming thickets and ceaseless shipping is immeasurable.
Fortunately, the hotel has recognised its most valuable asset and the entire suite, including the retractable 37in television at the foot of the master bed, is planned around what lies beyond its windows. If you wish to use the large raindance shower or the sauna or the loo – which is Japanese, has a heated seat and a panel of intriguing options: Rear Cleansing, Front Cleansing, Oscillating, Pulsating – while gazing upon deeper waters, you may do so. The evening I arrived, Pang drew an aromatherapy bath with oils and flower petals, surrounded by vanilla candles. I’d already had an Ancient Rituals of the Orient treatment in the hotel’s spa and was feeling narcotically mellow but, still, the boats and buildings looked spectacularly, unnervingly . . . close. Pang scanned the horizon, as if seeking whales from a crow’s nest and pronounced it safe “unless someone has the telescope”.
The city winked back with a coy shimmer. Officially, it performs every night at 8pm in the Symphony of Lights when its laser-show carves up the sky. That’s the time to have drinks on the terrace and to feel, if not a master of the universe, at least mistress of the metropolitan, anticipating a presidential dinner.
“Madam, you look like a fairy!” cried William Ng, who came to give an outdoor tai chi class on a perfect morning when the ships and ferries and junks, slow and fluid, exercised alongside us. Indeed. What strangely cossetting places, devoid of reality’s harshness, money can buy (in fact such is the seduction of comfort, I find myself thinking that for a group of 10, why, it’s almost a bargain). Earlier, as the Bose speakers had filled the terrace with Tibetan music from my iPod and I’d asked Pang if he liked the sound, he’d replied tenderly, “I love it very much.”
“Imagine you are in a wonderland!” William said, as we began to flex in tandem, and, you know, it wasn’t a stretch.
Fionnuala McHugh was a guest of
the Intercontinental Hong Kong.
Tel: +852-2721 1211;
Get alerts on Hong Kong when a new story is published