From the day it was established almost two hundred years ago, Claridge's Hotel in London's Mayfair district has been a favorite rest stop for the rich, the famous and the merely royal. The hotel's luxury accommodations and storied history have also attracted “celebrities” of a different sort: until last year, Claridge's was owned by two of the biggest names in the private equity real estate industry, Colony Capital and The Blackstone Group.
Originally known as Mivart's in the early 1800s, the small hotel frequently played host to George IV, then the Prince of Wales, who maintained a suite of rooms in order to satisfy his playboy lifestyle. In 1854, the property was bought by its current namesake, William Claridge, and in 1860, when Queen Victoria visited hotel guest Empress Eugenie of France, Claridge's already high profile was elevated to hotel royalty, a distinction it has maintained ever since.
Once nicknamed “the annex to Buckingham Palace,” Claridge's is often used by foreign dignitaries to host banquets in the Queen's honor. During the Second World War, the exiled monarchs of Norway, Greece, Yugoslavia and The Netherlands all called the hotel home. When Yugoslavian Crown Prince Alexander II was born in Suite 212 in 1944, Winston Churchill declared the room Yugoslavian territory for a day. A year later, when he was surprisingly defeated in the parliamentary elections of 1945, Churchill himself became a temporary resident of the hotel.
Over the years, “royalty” of a different sort has also populated Claridge's hallways – Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Donatella Versace have all been guests, as has Joan Collins, who celebrated her fifth wedding in the hotel's ballroom. Mahatma Gandhi once stayed at Claridge's in the company of his pet goat. Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were known to play golf in the corridors. And the grand piano in the Royal Suite is the same one used by Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert & Sullivan fame. Perhaps it's not surprising that two-time Oscar winnerSpencer Tracy once remarked, “When I die, I don't want to go to heaven. I want to go to Claridge's.”
Heaven, at least on earth, does not come cheap. Blackstone and Colony reportedly spent £55 million on renovations, including a new three-Michelin star restaurant where guests can enjoy smoked eel and celeriac soup on the £60 per person a la carte menu. In the Macanudo Fumoir, champagne cocktails will set cigar lovers back £14. And rooms can run as high as $5,000 per night – Mick Jagger, who has been living in one of the penthouses for the past two years, has reportedly racked up a tab of more than $1 million.
Nevertheless, for many of the world's aristocrats and celebrities – or those who just want to pretend they are – Claridge's remains one of their favorite hotels in London. No price, it seems, is too high for a piece of the divine.
“The justification for such an eminent domain action is that our hotel will better serve the public interest.”
– Darrow Clements, a conservative activist, in a written proposal to seize the New Hampshire home of Justice David Souter and convert it into a hotel following a recent Supreme Court decision upholding the government's ability to seize private property for the economic benefit of a community
“In just a few hours each week – less time than most folks spend watching TV during a single evening – you can learn to cash in with estates by following my easy-to-follow ‘estate mining system.’”
– A newspaper ad for JG Banks, “legendary probate investor”
“These are people whose first concern is not money.”
– Benjamin Friedland, vice president of Richard Ellis, on the prices paid by hedge funds for New York office space, in Hedge Fund News
“We really don't know who is in there. And if we do know, we don't talk about it.”
Randall Griffin, president and CEO of Corporate Office Properties Trust, a REIT that provides secure properties for the US intelligence community and government, discussing the National Business Park in suburban Washington, in the Wall Street Journal