Hotelier John Cunliffe, co-owner of the Gilpin Hotel & Lake House in Windermere, has died aged 76.
Cunliffe passed away late last week at the hotel with his immediate family. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer nine weeks ago, just days after publishing his book Slightly Perfect: A Lake District Love Affair, which tells the family's story of their experiences of the hospitality industry and their journey creating the Gilpin.
A message from son Barney on behalf of the family said: "His illness was made all the more challenging in the Covid era, but we locked down together at the Lake House with Mum, Dad and my brother and his family, and were privileged to be able to spend time with him.
"It is one of life's injustices that having spent the majority of his time in the last few years writing Slightly Perfect, he saw the finished product but will never see its launch or indeed how it is received."
Because of the lockdown the family is having a private family service today, and ask that it is family flowers only, but all Kindle proceeds from Cunliffe's book during May will be donated to Hospitality Action to help hospitality workers in need during the pandemic. The book is also available in hardback here.
John met wife Christine at hotel and catering management college in London. On graduating, he started his first job at New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel before returning to London where he worked at Brown's hotel. He later joined Christine at Trusthouse Forte as catering manager at City catering firm Ring & Brymer before moving to the Café Royal.
After stints in Cyprus and Jamaica and a return to London to manage Grosvenor House hotel's apartments in Mayfair, as well as roles at Ring & Brymer in the 1970s and 1980s, the couple bought the Hole in the Wall hotel in Bath. But it was an advert in the Caterer & Hotelkeeper that eventually took them to the Lake District.
They bought the then five-bedroom Gilpin Lodge bed and breakfast in Cumbria for £350,000 in 1987. It had once been owned by John's grandmother and was the place where he had spent "happy childhood summers". The couple then set about creating the finest luxury country house hotel in the Lake District.
In 2000, John and Christine were joined by their son, Barney, and his wife, Zoë, in running the hotel, and together they have aimed to meet and get to know every guest at what is now a five-AA-starred Relais & Châteaux hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant, 25 bedrooms at the Gilpin hotel and six bedrooms in the Lake House.
When the hotel won Hotel of the Year – Independent at the 2012 Catey Awards, judges described it as a "true family-run business" and recognised the family as being central to the success of the hotel. It was also named AA England Hotel of the Year 2011-2012.
Extra family input comes from the Cunliffe's younger son, Ben, an architect who has been one of the driving forces behind many of the hotel's developments, including the Lake House, which opened in 2010 as a self-contained six-bedroom property with spa facilities, one mile away from the main house.
John Cunliffe said of the hotel: "Our feeling about running a hotel is that perfection is a big word but a good objective. It's got to be right and it's got to be special – every moment. Nothing less will do."
Paying tribute to Cunliffe, former hotelier Jeremy Rata said: "John was first and foremost a wonderfully kind person. He was humble and charming but above all he was one of the finest hoteliers I ever encountered. His generosity in celebrating others' success whilst playing down his own amazing achievements was a measure of the man. He was admired by all the best hoteliers. I will miss him."