The Goring in London is celebrating its 100th birthday under the leadership of the fourth generation of the family to take charge of the five-star, 71-bedroom hotel. Janet Harmer talks to chief executive Jeremy Goring and his father George.
After spending an hour or so in the company of Jeremy Goring, the current incumbent of the Goring hotel, and his father George, it is easy to see why the hotel - which celebrates its 100th birthday next week - has maintained its reputation for so long as a warm, friendly and, above all, fun place to stay.
Father and son are a delightful double act. Their aim is to continually amuse you and as a result of their ability to never quite take themselves too seriously, they ensure you, the guest, is relaxed and happy at all times.
"When Dad is in the room, you know everyone is going to have a good time and that has pretty much set the tone for how we run the hotel - we simply want everyone to have fun," says Jeremy, 43, in summing up his father's legacy at the immaculately maintained five-AA-red-star, 71-bedroom hotel.
"He also knows and really cares about everyone who works here and, for instance, will not hesitate in helping out a member of staff with a family member who is sick," Jeremy adds.
While Jeremy's approach to hotel-keeping is very much in accord with that of his father - centred around enjoyment, generosity and kindness - George, 71, has assumed quite a different role to that of his father before him.
"My father was something of a despot and very mean with his money," says George of Otto Gustave Goring, more commonly known as OG Goring.
He recounts the fact that instead of buying new bedroom carpets his father would re-sew the old ones by using the unused sections from under the bed to replace the worn bits from elsewhere, creating a patchwork effect.
And any move towards involving the staff in meetings and improving their lot - for instance, by introducing pensions - was met with opposition. George, however, fought OG on this matter and pensions were eventually brought in.
"Despite being a real tough bastard, my father had the most incredible faithful staff, many who remained in their jobs for 20 to 30 years," he says.
A BRILLIANT MAN
Regarding his grandfather, OR Goring - the founder of the hotel - George emphatically describes him as "a brilliant man".
"He created the last authentic Edwardian hotel, opening the Goring two months before the death of Edward VII," he says. "It is a brilliantly designed hotel, with every thought given for the comfort of the guests, including the first en-suite bathrooms to every room."
George is under no illusions that he - and now Jeremy - are extremely privileged to have been given the opportunity to run the hotel that bears the Goring name and he firmly believes that its success is due to the fact that the property has remained with one family for 100 years.
"When I joined the hotel in 1961, at least 50% of the hotel stock in London was family-owned, and since then it is very sad that almost every single other one has been sold at least once, and in some cases, two or three times," says George.
"There is no doubt that the guests would suffer if the hotel was sold. Every penny of profit earned by the business is ploughed back into the hotel - and as a result guests can constantly see big improvements - rather than going into the pockets of greedy shareholders."
Working in a family-owned business is certainly beneficial for the hotel's 150 employees.
"We know that the family really care about the business and are always supportive of the staff," explains Derek Quelch, the hotel's executive chef.
"And we know that if there is ever a problem or something we need to ask, we will get a direct and instant answer."
It is the individual touches that make the Goring unique and none more so than the prevalence of sheep scattered throughout the hotel. The first, Barbara - a beautiful carved wooden animal, clad in a snowy-white fleece - was bought by George and placed in the bar, where it immediately created interest among the guests.
After discussions with an impoverished sheep farmer in Somerset who had to get rid of his flock, the fleeces were used to make more of the wooden sheep. George bought the lot and placed one in every bedroom, as well as introducing a soft toy sheep on every bed for each guest to cuddle up to.
"Out of all of Dad's crazy ideas, this stupid one has created more PR than anything else we have ever done," explains Jeremy.
"Anywhere we go in the world and talk to people who know the Goring, they will mention the sheep."
Both George and Jeremy have a maverick streak and love to raise the eyebrows of anyone who is regarded as a little too stiff and starchy.
"A painting of a nude that I placed in the men's loos brought a letter of complaint, saying that the picture was an affront to women everywhere," says George.
"I thought it was hilarious, framed the letter and hung it on the wall next to the painting."
Despite sharing a wicked sense of humour and closeness as father and son, George and Jeremy have never worked together. The decision was taken on George's retirement in 2005, that there would be no handover period.
TWO BRASS KEYS
George simply handed over to Jeremy the two brass keys cut for OR Goring for the original front door, walked out of the hotel and did not return for some three months. Maybe it was because of the difficulties he had endured working for his father, but George decided it was important for Jeremy to make his own mistakes.
Jeremy assumed the role of chief executive of the hotel, having returned from Australia, where he had been general manager at the Observatory, a property run by Orient Express Hotels. Earlier in his career, he had worked at the Four Seasons and Lanesborough hotels in London, and travelled the globe opening hotels for Rosewood Hotels & Resorts.
"It was really quite a ballsy thing for Dad to walk away, but I think it would have been a disaster for the two of us to be here together, as we're both a bit chaotic," explains Jeremy.
"I actually dreaded taking over, as every other job I'd had in the past I knew I could quit if I hated it, but you can't do that so easily in a family business. I knew this was for the long haul. Looking back now, I needn't have been so reticent. In fact, I should have done it years before."
George says it was definitely time for him to leave, although he thought there was no one who could fill his shoes. "But then Jeremy came along and dreamt up all these new ideas that I didn't think were necessary, but which have actually worked," he says.
Changes have included the transformation of the hotel's public areas, including the redesign of the dining room by David Linley and of the lounge, bar and terrace by Tim Gosling. The bedrooms have also gradually been refurbished by Gosling, Nina Campbell and Russell Sage.
Jeremy, together with the managing director David Morgan-Hewitt, has also worked hard at recruiting the right staff at the hotel to replace those who have retired. John Andrews has been brought in from the Lanesborough to take over from Ernest de Blasi, who was head concierge for 33 years; Stuart Geddes has been recruited from the Ritz as restaurant manager; and Stefanie Azuga has arrived from the Dorchester to take over as food and beverage operations manager.
"There have been many changes since my arrival, but Dad's insistence that we provide the warmest welcome of any hotel and ensure that the staff bend over backwards for the guests - whether it is by sewing a button on a shirt or serving breakfast outside the usual hours - is still central to what we do," says Jeremy.
THE MOST SUMPTUOUS
Future plans include the creation of a two-bedroom Centenary Suite from six bedrooms on the fifth floor. Designed by Sage and using Gainsborough silks with a grand piano and steps down into an enormous bath, the suite is expected to be one of the most sumptuous in London. A further 20 bedrooms are to be refurbished and a gym and pool are also planned.
Will there still be a Goring at the helm in another 100 years? "Well, my father said that if I ever sold the hotel I would go to hell," says George. "I'm certainly confident that there will always be a Goring at the Goring."
Jeremy says that he does not intend to push his children into the business. He and his Australian wife Karla have three children, aged three, nine and 10.
"If I was them I would do it," he says. "I just hope they can see what a fun time we have here and will eventually decide that it is what they want to do."
A CENTENARY OF GLORIOUS GORING GRUB
As more and more of London's five-star hotels have looked to outsource their restaurants and introduce a variety of different cuisines, the Goring has steadfastly retained the hotel dining room as somewhere to enjoy traditional British cooking.
"Of course, we've moved the food forward by modernising and simplifying some of the classics, but we've retained the identity of what is essentially a British restaurant," says executive chef Derek Quelch.
"As a result, more people are coming to us than ever before because we are doing something that has been lost from most of the other hotels."
To celebrate a centenary of British food at the Goring, Quelch and Jeremy Goring have trawled the archives to come up with a selection of forgotten favourite dishes from the past, which are being featured on the dining room menu throughout 2010. The dishes include potted Lannigan's shrimps and jam roly poly from the Edwardian era; jellied eels with parsley vinegar and bloater pie, featuring the long-forgotten bloater fish from the 1920s; with the Second World War and the rationing years providing the inspiration for steamed oxtail pudding with braised red cabbage and treacle sponge with ginger ice-cream.
Among the dishes featured from the 1960s are scampi provençale and boiled brisket with dumplings; with eggs Drumkilbo - lobster, egg and crayfish topped with a chicken consommé jelly (a favourite of the Queen Mother) - and crème caramel from the Thatcher years; while from today is a selection of Quelch's own dishes, including glazed Scottish lobster omelette (see recipe on page 12) and the Goring Not Quite a Trifle, which is a traditional trifle produced to order.
"My goodness, have we served some weird food over the past 100 years," says Jeremy.
"Looking back at the records, some of it was actually pretty awful, but chef and I have rediscovered some truly brilliant and gorgeous dishes. I'm amazed so many of them have remained forgotten for so long and we are pleased to be reviving them."
THE GORING TRIVIA
â- OR realised his dream by opening the Goring hotel - 50 bedrooms on four floors - on a 99-year lease from the Duke of Westminster.
â- The hotel was the first in the world to offer a bathroom for every bedroom and central heating.
â- A fresh flower continues to be placed in the buttonhole of a statue of OR in the foyer of the hotel, 365 days a year.
â- The price of a room in 1910 was 7s 6d (37p). Today, prices start at £295.
â- During the First World War, the hotel became the command centre for the Chief of the Allied Forces.
â- After the war, OR purchased the freehold of the property for £19,000 and extended the building to the side and by adding a fifth floor - resulting in a 96-bedroom hotel.
â- OR introduced air-conditioning by installing an enormous fan on the roof and piping air into every room.
â- OR's son, Otto Gustave (OG), was appointed manager in 1924, becoming managing director two years later.
â- The Goring's chefs were commissioned to bake Prince Charles's christening cake in 1948. Despite severe rationing, a 75lb masterpiece, which took four days to make, was produced.
â- OR Goring died in 1948.
â- In 1953, the hotel became an annexe to Buckingham Palace for the Queen's coronation, with many foreign royal dignitaries preferring the Goring as they got their own bathroom, unlike at the Palace.
â- George Goring joined his father at the helm of the Goring in 1961.
â- OG died in 1974.
â- Every prime minister since Winston Churchill has been a guest at the hotel, while senior members of the royal family, including the Queen and the late Queen Mother, have eaten at the Goring on many occasions.
â- George was elected Hotelier of the Year in 1990 and appointed an OBE a year later for "services to the hotel industry".
â- In 2005, George retired from the hotel and Jeremy took over as chief executive of the Goring.
â- David Morgan-Hewitt was appointed managing director of the hotel in 2006.
â- About 60% of guests have stayed at the hotel before, with many having booked in more than 100 times. A large number were introduced to the hotel by their parents or grandparents.
â- Bookings are split 50:50 between leisure and corporate business, with 40% of guests from the UK, 40% from the United States and 20% from the rest of the world.
â- The annual turnover of the Goring is £10m and its annual occupancy is 75%.
â- Both George and Jeremy have broken numerous bones as a result of their love for extreme sports - George through his equestrian activities, while Jeremy has sustained injuries surfing.
â- Sir Michael Redgrave spent the final months of his life at the Goring, Sir Anthony Hopkins held his wedding reception at the hotel and Russell Crowe marked the wake of Richard Harris by reciting a poem while standing on the bar.
â- The Goring was named Independent Hotel of the Year at the 2009 Catey Awards.