(c) Jeffrey Robinson 2014
When Lee and several other Embassy officials came to see the rooms and discuss specific requirements, Buckolt conducted the tour, which included a visit to the Royal Suite.
The grand staircase led up from the Front Hall to the mezzanine, where a smaller staircase — at the far end of the mezzanine — took them up to the first floor. There, in the corner of the building, double doors led into a pale green lobby.
Off to the left there was a dining room, also in shades of green, with a period English table large enough to seat 12. Straight ahead, another set of double doors opened into the large sitting room, in shades of light yellow, with a large salmon pink, plum red and pale green carpet. A large couch faced a coffee table and, beyond that, a working fireplace. There was a writing desk to the right and a beautiful, light wood grand piano in the corner to the left. Made by Broadwood and Sons in London in the nineteenth century, that piano once belonged to Richard D’Oyly Carte, the British theatrical producer who became famous for staging the operatic works of Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan.
Overstuffed armchairs were scattered around, with side tables next to them.
From the sitting room, an internal hallway led to the main bedroom. Running the length of the first floor, that inside hallway paralleled the main hallway so that anyone staying in the Royal Suite could interconnect with all of the rooms along the front of the Hotel. It created a totally secure area so that the guest in the Royal Suite never had to use the main hallway, except to enter or to leave the hotel.
Although the room numbers assigned to the Royal Suite were 112-114, they never appeared on any door. In fact, the Royal suite was the only room in the Hotel without numbers. But even if there had been 112-114 engraved on a small brass plaque in the middle of the front doors, that would have been misleading. At its smallest, this was a three room suite. But it was possible to turn it into six, eight, ten, twelve, twenty interconnected rooms.
The bathroom, set off the main bedroom, had that sturdy, old fashioned, white enamel look, with shiny gold taps on the basins. The bathtub was heavy, white cast-iron. At some point, very much as an afterthought, a shower had been fitted on, with a glass door that cut off half the tub from the rest of the room.
The main bedroom was surprisingly unspectacular, featuring an ordinary queen-sized bed. But then the list of people who had slept there was quite spectacular — from Nikita Khrushchev to Jackie Onassis, from the King of Morocco — who brought his own bed because he liked that one better — to Enrico Caruso, from Sophia Loren to Ronald Reagan.
Because the Royal Suite was the most special place in the Hotel — it cost £1200 a night for the minimum three-room configuration — not just anyone could have it.
Requests for it had to be put in writing to the General Manager. Anyone just ringing up and asking for it was invariably turned down, such as the man who phoned the Night Manager one morning at around 4:15. Refusing to identify himself, he told Adam Salter that he’d like to book the Royal Suite for the remainder of the night.
Without even checking to find out if it was available, Salter apologized that the suite was not available. “I’m terribly sorry, sir.”
“Listen, I’m really in a spot,” the man confided. “It’s only for the rest of the night.”
“Sir, I’m afraid the Hotel is fully booked.”
“If you knew who this was for, you’d change your mind. But I can’t say, you know, for security reasons.”
“I understand, sir, but there isn’t anything….”
“Let me put it this way…” The man dropped his voice to a whisper. “My client is an extremely famous pop star. We’re talking instantly recognizable, here. The thing is, he’s with a young lady… you understand, it’s not his wife… and anything you could do, you know, in the most discreet way possible, would be greatly appreciated.”
Admittedly, his interest was aroused. Yet Salter stood his ground. “I’m afraid it’s impossible, sir, perhaps another hotel….”
“Ah,” the man screamed, “to hell with you,” and slammed down the phone.
Salter never found out who the pop star was. But that wasn’t the point. This was not one of those “celebrity” hang-out hotels. Even when requests came in writing for the Royal Suite, they were refused to celebrities who might somehow detract from the quiet and discreet nature of the Hotel. For instance, they turned down Madonna when she asked for the Royal Suite. From actors to pop stars, from teen heart-throbs to heavyweight champions, the management turned down anyone whom they felt would create a crowd control situation that would inconvenience their regular guests.
One rare exception was Clint Eastwood.
When he arrived for his first visit, some years ago, the then General Manager — a Touzin predecessor — was notified by the front desk that a V-VIP had arrived.
The first V stood for “Very”.
The General Manager rushed out of his office to escort the film star personally to the Royal Suite.
“It is a real pleasure to have you with us, Mr. Eastwood,” he said. “And I would like you to know that my wife has read all your books.”