David Nicholson, who along with his wife Patricia formerly owned Holbeck Ghyll country house hotel in Troutbeck, Windermere, has died aged 60. Industry colleague Jeremy Rata, managing director of Bovey Castle, has written this obituary, recalling the life of one of the UK's most highly rated hoteliers:
1953 - 2014
David, with his wife Patricia, owned and ran for over twenty two years Holbeck Ghyll in Troutbeck, Windermere, one of Britain's foremost Country House Hotels. David took the hotel from its humble origins to one of the highest rated hotels in the United Kingdom, with a coveted Michelin Star, four AA red stars and three AA Rosettes. The wine list, one of David's passions, was regularly feted and won many awards not least the Conde Nast Wine List of the Year.
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne on 8 August 1953 to Jack and Jean Nicholson, David committed himself to his career at an early age, attending Westminster College to complete an HND in Hotel Management. He was awarded the Management Student of the Year in his final year, an early sign of success that was to become the hallmark of a distinguished career in hospitality. He met and fell in love with his wife to be Patricia at the age of 17 and was married on the 23 September 1978. They were inseparable.
After an early career with Centre Hotels, rising to be their youngest general manager at the age of 26 by taking on the Birmingham Centre, a 200+ bedroomed Hotel in the Centre of Birmingham, David then joined First Leisure as a regional manager. In February 1988 he and Patricia bought Holbeck Ghyll in the Lake District which became their all consuming passion for over 22 years. Initially living in a single room in the basement of the hotel for a number of years, they worked every day almost without a break to make Holbeck Ghyll what it is today. Even after buying an apartment at the bottom of the hotel drive David could never let go and was often seen peering out of the window to see what time the lights were turned off!
Holbeck Ghyll was awarded the prestigious Blue Ribbon by the RAC in the early 1990s and four AA red stars soon after. The award of the Michelin Star in 2000 was the culmination of their efforts and catapulted the hotel into the top 15 hotels outside London. The hotel was regularly a winner of the Cumbria Tourist Board Hotel of the Year and on two occasions was a runner up in the National Finals.
David was actively involved in the Industry being a Master Innholder (one of fewer than 100 worldwide) for over 17 years serving on their committee. He was on the Board of Pride of Britain Hotels and was at one stage Vice Chairman.
David was a warm, genuine and modest man loved by his friends and admired by all that met him. He rose to be one of this country's foremost hoteliers, respected by the industry as a consummate hotelier. Whilst he shied away from public speaking he gave a memorable speech to over 400 people at The Master Innholders General Managers Conference in 2002 on tourism and government funding which is still talked about to this day. He was a passionate Sunderland supporter and had a great interest in horse racing, owning a successful horse named after Holbeck Ghyll. He was a keen golfer, he and Patricia being members of Windermere Golf Club for many years. David loved travel and visited many regions of the world, always taking the opportunity to spread the Holbeck Ghyll word to whichever country he visited by taking time to visit travel agents and bookers. He had a particular love of France, was a great French speaker with a love of their culture and lifestyle, and loved nothing more than escaping with Patricia and their dogs to their villa in the South of France.
In the summer of 2011 he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour but as was the character of the man he fought it with all he had, surviving much longer than thought possible. He lost his battle on 23 January 2014.