One of the Isle of Wight’s most prestigious hotels is set to be taken over in an unusual ‘try before you buy’ lease deal later this month.
The George hotel in Yarmouth will be taken over by entrepreneur Howard Spooner, a friend of royalty, including Prince Harry.
Dame Dianne Thompson, chief executive of the National Lottery operator Camelot until her retirement in 2014, has owned the 17-bedroom hotel for nearly five years and she has spent £1.5m transforming the bedrooms and garden, creating a fine-dining restaurant, Isla’s.
“But I’m not a hotelier and I found it tough – particularly in the winter months,” confesses Thompson to The Caterer. “I’ve no regrets, though. Howard has plenty of expertise on the food and beverage front – plus he has a little black book you would give your right arm for.”
In 2014 Thompson told The Caterer that she wanted to make the George “one of the top 10 boutique hotels in the south of England”. Today it has three red AA stars and a two AA rosette restaurant.
Spooner, who was once a business partner of Guy Pelly, a childhood friend of Princes William and Harry, and ran nightclubs in Chelsea, Fulham, Clapham and Hammersmith, and had a club in the Swiss ski resort of Verbier, declared: “I don’t want to disturb what Dianne has done, I just want to add to it.”
He currently owns the Clapham Grand, an entertainment venue in Clapham, plus a couple of gastro pubs in Marlborough, Wiltshire, where he lives, including the Outside Chance, which he bought from the proceeds of his gambling winnings of his racehorse.
“I’ve been coming to the Isle of Wight for 10 years on and off and I fell in love with the George. I must say Dianne has the most amazing attitude. She feels she is a custodian of this landmark site and the basis on which we are doing business reflects this. I consider her more of a partner than a vendor. That attitude will be reflected in how I treat the George going forward,” explains Spooner, a keen sailor, who plans to use his new motorboat to travel to the Island.
“It does 50 knots – it’s a lot of fun. I want to try and introduce some fun on the Isle of Wight and with the summers just getting better and better, we really need to promote it – there’s fun to be had here but not a lot of places to go. Though perhaps I’ll be a bit more mature and sensible about it than in my former nightclub days,” he adds, with a grin.
His plans include introducing a mini-spa in the form of a sauna with sea views, hot tubs, and sunbeds, plus designated family areas that include a relaxed lounge where the fine dining restaurant once was. “The George has got to be flexible and offer something for everyone,” believes Spooner, who has four children with his wife, Lucy, and is a big fan of the Pig hotels.
Spooner also has a smart cocktail bar complete with a mixologist up his sleeve, and intends to keep the food offering in the current brasserie style. “Dianne told me you never really own a building like the George, you just look after it for a while, take good care of it and pass it on to the next person at the right time. I believe she is right.”