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G8 at Gleneagles

21 July 2005
G8 at Gleneagles

Ensuring that eight of the world's most powerful men stay in first-class and "extremely secure" accommodation is enough to increase the blood pressure of even the most seasoned of hoteliers.

But as manager of the world-famous Gleneagles hotel and resort, Patrick Elsmie claims he took the three-day G8 summit in his stride. "When we were informed last June that our hotel was to host the summit, our reaction was one of humbleness and sheer excitement," he recalls proudly.

The hotel had just over a year to take all necessary steps to ensure the event would run as smoothly as possible. The biggest issue was the major security threat that came from playing host to eight world leaders. The team also had to establish rules for liaising with the police force, the various presidential entourages and security teams.

Five-mile radius The security operation surrounding the five-red-star golfing resort was one of the largest to be staged in Britain. No fewer than 11,000 police officers were drafted in from UK-wide forces to protect the five-mile ring fence from being breached by 5,000 anti-global protesters.

Did the security threat worry Elsmie? "We had to put every faith in the UK police force, security and intelligence organisations. The hotel worked with key contacts within the Commonwealth offices and, thankfully, the operation took care of itself. Everyone pulled together."

Gleneagles is no stranger to hosting events that are the focal point for millions of people across the world. Previously it has been the centre stage for NATO summits. With staff already well drilled in security issues, Elsmie says, little extra training was needed - apart from heightening awareness among employees.

Such awareness included being alert for any suspicious-looking people and packages left in odd places. Specific briefings were given to telephone operators, who had to be extra vigilant of suspicious phone calls.

Above all, Elsmie believes, the best course of action was for the hotel to adopt a business-as-usual strategy, providing the eight VIPs with normal high levels of service and hospitality. "Our catering and hotelkeeping regime throughout the event was no different from our normal day-to-day business," he insists. "We provided our usual levels of hospitality, including bed, breakfast and dinner - but were very conscious that we were catering for high-profile guests."

As part of the security operation, staff had to pass through two checkpoints to gain access to work. Elsmie says that any greater disruption to staff and service levels would only have interfered with the summit itinerary, which had to run like clockwork.

Such was the tight time schedule of the event, the eight world leaders had little time to indulge in outdoor pursuits available within the 850-acre grounds. (These include horse riding, falconry and, of course, golf.) Despite the lack of uptake from the leaders, George Bush still found time for a frenetic cycle ride and an unfortunate collision with a policeman.

"The meeting sessions were so intense that leaders were given little time for rest and relaxation," Elsmie explains. "This was a summit for serious business. This was work. The mood at the event became even more sombre when the leaders were informed about the London bombings. It was a terrible moment."

Tony Blair flew down to London, but the staff did their level best to make the remaining leaders as comfortable as possible following the tragic events, Elsmie says. Did the London attacks provoke fear within the hotel? "We had every confidence in the high level of surveillance and safety standards enforced by the police and security organisations," he adds. "We had to remain vigilant and alert at all times - but we did not for one moment stop offering our usual standards of hospitality."

The eight delegates were accommodated in the hotel's "exclusively decorated" suites by prior arrangement with the Commonwealth offices for security reasons. While it's unclear whether Tony Blair required extra mint sauce with his roast fillet of Glenearn lamb, or if Vladimir Putin said ‘nyet' to caviar, there were no particular culinary requests from delegates.

Haggis Fan? French President Jacques Chirac, obviously no fan of British food, was reported in the press as calling haggis "unappetising" before the summit. Happily he ate his words after enjoying Michelin-starred chef Andrew Fairlie's offerings. In fact Chirac was so pleasantly surprised by the taste of haggis, that he even ventured into the kitchen to thank Fairlie in person.

No one expected George Bush, a well-known teetotaller, to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, but surprisingly not one of the G8 leaders took up the offer to sample the delights of Gleneagles's well-stocked cellar.

Elsmie is "politically-inclined" to relay there were no special housekeeping requirements among the VIPs. Likewise, he says, there weren't any anecdotes of leaders oversleeping or being late for any of the meetings.

On a more serious note, he describes the summit as the most significant event in the hotel's 81-year history. But what did it mean to Elsmie personally? "It was an absolute honour and privilege managing a hotel that hosted such a major event," he sums up.

"The occasion raised the profile of the resort and will enable us to host future prestigious events. It was one of my proudest achievements."

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