unionjack

As all eyes focus on today’s Scottish referendum, I started thinking about my own views of Scotland and how a separation from ‘Team GB’ will impact on not only people but business too.  Also, I consider a slightly nostalgic view of generations past and the implications for a shamed David Cameron and ‘Team England’, should Scotland ‘go it alone’.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Scotland.  I love the place.  It has a magical quality.  Perhaps I was so drunk I was hallucinating most of the time.  This is possible if not probable.  Scotland’s people are proud, hard-working and wild.  England could learn a lot, apart from the wild part.  Pubs help with this.  Scotland is famed for five of my favourite things: salmon, fishing, great beef, whisky and ‘beefcake’. 

I have spent many crazy nights supping on quite a few drams of the ‘liquor of truth’ when I worked as a whisky PR, many moons ago.  Along with my then agency colleagues, we almost missed flights, got escorted through airports for being in the wrong terminal (travel PR’s no less), danced the night away post-shinty matches, experienced 24/7 light and witnessed a well-known Scottish Earl smash open a Castle wall with his head.  Just because…

I have sat in an outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking Loch Lomond in the freezing November rain, happy as a larry, imagining that the Monster will pop out and say ‘ROAR’ to me.  Just taking in the partial view (due to the sheets of rain pouring down my glasses) and feeling at home.  So for me, Scotland will always be My Beloved Scotland and their people must choose for themselves.

But that is part of the problem.  No one really has a clue what the short, medium and longer term implications of such a change will include.  Winston Churchill and Maggie Thatcher will probably turn in their grave should the vote be an un-challengable YES.  I can understand why.

Britain used to be great.  Today, there is less passion, clearly unity, care, commitment and a terrible sense of apathy and blame culture.  Resting on our laurels and harking back to the Empire has passed its sell by date, sadly.  We came together for The Olympics but such highs go back to normality fairly quickly.  I do wonder what would happen if there was a world war and we had to go into battle, as did our grandparents and great-grandparents.  Scotland wanting to move away highlights these points and should make David Cameron sit up and think.

If Scotland votes YES, this probably says more about the state of England today than Scotland itself.  The beloved Union Jack (as I know it) won’t look the same without that flash of blue that we have all grown up with.  Not only will re-branding every piece of tourist paraphernalia need to be changed but also every team GB sports kit and logo etc.  These changes will cost English business as much as it will cost Scottish or Welsh.  The latter isn’t part of this discussion but who knows, may take its lead from Scotland.  And then our flag would just be white.  A modern day artist might re-name it ‘England – Gouache on Canvas – Team Bland’.

What will happen with the whisky industry?  Will different taxes and laws apply under English sale of goods as well as at airports?  Will people start sneaking off on booze cruises to Scotland or hop over with their cars to stock up on whisky like we used to do back in the day with short breaks to Calais in France?  I think Beaujolais season is round about now as it happens.

The bottom line is that no one actually knows how this will pan out.  For any of the parties involved.  Legal teams, officials and governmental big wigs will sit round tables and pontificate over the minutiae of six zillion page documents.  But paper is not people.  It doesn’t help Och Eye or Joe Public come to term with change and generations of history before them.  And for the voters today, probably 50 per cent are digging their heels in and 50 per cent haven’t got a clue what to do.  Such is the state of any type of ‘British’ politics today.  From a PR and human perspective, this will all take time.  England’s leaders seriously need to take a look at how this fares for Wales as well as the future of England overall.

In reality, change can be a good thing. I can’t answer this.  It can wake people up and take them where they need to be.  I love Scotland and want its people to make the right choice for the Land.  For England, I fear for its future, truly and sadly.  I only hope and pray that if Scotland goes it alone, England wakes up and makes a positive change for its people and communities throughout its borders.  I don’t want future generations to have to see a blank white canvas, formerly known as Great Britain.       

Abracadabra – The Magic of Life…

magic

Certain songs come to me, usually when I need them.  Ditto dreams.  They often can fill in the detail that I am missing, albeit names, locations, people.  And no, I am not about to be sectioned.  They help me tell a story – when I was younger I didn’t always listen to the words or pictures as I didn’t want to hear them.  But I always had a great imagination, which was noted by my junior school teachers and the prizes I was duly awarded for creative writing. 

Today, aged 44 and a half, I am much more open to my inner voice.  These same images and songs have told me many things: from partner infidelity to family death and future relationships.  And whilst you yourself might not believe this to be true and raise your eyes to the sky shaking your head, I can only share my own experience.   We can and do create our own magic.  It has to start in our head.

The song on replay this week in my head is ‘Magic’ by America from way back in 1982.  I didn’t even know I knew the song (if you see what I mean).  The lyrics tell us that ‘you can have anything that you desire’…and I believe this, within reason and without negative fallout.  But living amidst the backdrop of a fairly cynical and linear ‘grown-up’ world, at what point in our lives and why do we all too often let go of the magic, or allow it to become sinister or secretive?

I love talking to little kids.  They not only tell you ‘how it is’ but they have a wonderful gift for dreaming, creating stories and fantasy worlds that somehow tend to become grey (more of ‘Grey’ later on) and distant as we age.  Children paint pictures of princesses and superheroes and live in the indulgent and decadent world of their imagination.   We, the adults, encourage them yet let the day-to-day too often spoil our own ability to reach out to our inner craving for fantasy.  And this, by default, has a knock-on effect.

A great imagination is the gift that helped JK Rowling create the ‘Harry Potter’ series, the unilaterally adored works that brought imagination back to adulthood.  Adults were able to indulge their inner child perhaps because all the other adults were doing the same and it was ‘acceptable’.  And although I disagree with a recent article claiming that Harry Potter told the story of a mental asylum (although who knows) I am proud to say I still believe in ‘magic’ and ‘dreaming big’.  My imagination is still ripe and if I (and others) can’t dream or believe in something more, we have nothing to aspire to. 

A lot of adults are embarrassed to dream and would rather deny themselves mental freedom but why?  Perhaps fantasy is seen as something bad, particularly within certain cultures and where the word has certain negative connotations.  Certainly within relationships, unless partners both have the same level of openness, fantasy can be seen as something taboo or off-limits.  And thus the mind starts to wander elsewhere thus creating secrecy, distance and possibly more.  Fantasy (in the general sense of the word) in daily living should be encouraged.  It allows inventors to invent, artists to paint, musicians to write genius scores and us mere mortals to weep at the end result.  The tears may well be our magic soul crying out for more.  But at least the soul is feeling something…

Many will say that guys are driven by what is in their trousers.  When we talk about fantasy, I truly believe that whilst men of course love looking at a beautiful woman (or man of, course), if a lady (or fellow man) can’t titillate a man’s mind and keep his inner Action Man or Gloria Gaynor satisfied, he may not stick around emotionally.  It isn’t rocket science.  Men love to fantasise about all sorts of things – I am not generalising, I actually can concur only based on my own first-hand experience, for better and worse.  The sex industry thrives on fantasy but it is often seen as ‘naughty’ and private or secret and this can be dangerous.  If men and women allowed more fantasy into real time, I am sure that it could help save some relationships. 

And this brings me to the ladies…’50 Shades’, in my humble view, was truly awful.  So hats off to the author for creating such a worldwide success.  What it does prove though is that women also want fantasy in their worlds and men or fellow women are not bothering enough.  Women still want a man to be a man (in the context of Mr Grey).  I can’t tell you the number of women I know who errr, shall we say, were ‘stimulated’ by this book.  For me personally, I would have been more turned on looking at a courgette in the market although I 100% want and need a man to be a man.  I get the theme, just not the book.  Nine and a half weeks was 100 times better and by the looks of the casting choices, Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke were eight squillion times better looking!!!

The bottom line here is that we all need magic in our lives, both as children and adults, however it is manifested: both for different reasons and purposes.  For children, magic helps create curiosity, develop play and interaction skills and a progression of self.  For adults, it helps balance what can often be challenging and tiring daily routines as well as belief in self and success in business or relationships.  And, as with anything in life, there is the domino effect…magic creates magic, which creates positive energy: we know this from the film ‘Stardust’, a wonderful piece of work derived from the spectacular imagination of Jonathan Ross’s wife.  And I am sure ‘a great imagination’ rolls over into other areas of Jane Goldman’s life (nudge, nudge, Rossy) – not a bad thing when your husband is Jonathan Ross.

Dreams and magic help us go to our grave not saying ‘I wish…’.  And I can’t see Richard Branson saying that any time soon.  Dream big, my friends.  Let America’s ‘You can do magic…you can have anything that you desire’ be your mantra.  I am sure America, the country, would also concur.  Now where is that courgette (wink)… 

The Business of Charity – From Donation Bucket to Ice Bucket and Beyond…

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Charity is big business.  According to Third Sector magazine, global charitable giving could be worth $146 billion dollars by 2030.  But where does all that money go?

As many people know, my primary purpose on this Planet is to help others and give back.  It was ever thus.  From the time PR doyenne Lynne Franks interviewed me at her kitchen table (after I wrote to her for a job in 1995) I have always stated that what I want to do in life is ‘make a difference’.  I got the job, to boot.

With the above in mind, I would like to think that during my 20-something years working in the sphere of international comms, I have achieved this on many levels.   Whether it is helping an aspirational entrepreneur launch a new business, teaching some very bright and hungry students about the truth behind the façade of PR to working with numerous charities, celebrities and corporates with a heart around the Globe, this is and always has been my mission. 

I would like to go to my grave knowing that my hard work was not in vain and that my expertise, passion and knowledge didn’t go un-noticed or respected.  The reason for sharing this blast about me is that most of the people I know who work in the Third Sector, AKA Charity, are (also) passionate about what they do.  They do it because they care and also because they want to make a difference in the world.  They will often take nominal salaries because they believe in what they do.

Back in the day, the Charity Bucket was a viable way of fundraising. Fearful volunteers wearing sashes would look at you longingly on the street or at an event, hoping that you would open your purse or wallet and donate.  Today’s equivalent is the viral ALS ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ that is gracing all of our social media timelines and inboxes on a daily basis.  And please let me clearly state here that I am NOT against people doing this challenge.  I am simply examining the wider context and the questions and day-to-day challenges that the Business of Charity throws up.

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a fantastic and I repeat fantastic viral social media campaign and I will talk about this as a separate blog in due course.  The founders (one of whom I believe tragically drowned recently) should receive (posthumous) awards for coming up with this simple yet brilliant campaign idea.  The sensation created by the Ice Bucket Challenge (correctly done with iced water being poured over the head whilst feet are also immersed in iced water) is supposed to mimic the feeling experienced by Cancer patients when they receive Chemotherapy.  Monies are then donated to the ALS Charity, supporting a disease that affects 450,000 people around the world.       

And whilst I fully appreciate that the ALS disease is yet another awful waste of life and one that needs a cure (along with hundreds of other diseases) I question whether people around the world should be wasting water when millions of children struggle to walk to clean water sources on a daily basis?  I myself had never heard of ALS prior to seeing the videos and whilst I won’t actually do this challenge (for many reasons) I will regularly support all manner of causes, both with time and/or funds.  For clarification, when I refer to ‘clean water’ I also mean the toilet water that some people are using as many children around the world only have access to water that is the sanitary equivalent of toilet water as drinking water, FYI. 

Another thing to consider is funding and where money goes within any particular organisation and spend per capita.  I was actually surprised to see that ALS is funded with annual resources of $24 million (1).  Out of this $24 million, 27% goes to research and labour costs, ie salaries, total approximately $12.5 million (Source: healthimpactnews.com).  There must be some overlap here before you shout that I can’t do my sums.  In simple terms over half of the monies raised around the world go into company salaries.  Good job for a relatively ‘niche’ Charity, if such a term exists.  From an awareness perspective, ALS is way ahead and leading the Charity Pack.

I am actually surprised by this information.  I work with numerous amazing charities such as Arms Around The Child, many of whom would welcome such a high relative spend of funds per head.  This is not a direct criticism of ALS per se as this is the case with MANY charities, but mainly referenced for Joe Public awareness, before people jump on a bandwagon, when they don’t know the destination or whom the driver is.  And of course, we all need money to survive.  I am not questioning this.  I am merely questioning how much the Public knows when they donate to a cause.

By way of a complementary example of organisations where high percentages of monies go directly to the target audience, Arms Around The Child (2) is committed to helping some of the 17.8 million street kids and orphans afflicted by AIDS and HIV.  In 2012/2013, Arms Around The Child was instrumental in getting the US government to adjust their HIV/AIDS global budget in order to put three million people on HIV/AIDS treatment.  Subsequently, three million lives have been saved.

Unrestricted funding per annum breaks down into 30:60:10 whereby 30 per cent of monies go towards overheads, business costs and salaries, 60 per cent goes to direct care and 10 per cent is raised from fundraising.  Based on these figures, every precious penny counts towards saving lives for Arms Around The Child.  Even though the immense and absolutely relevant subject of AIDS and HIV has reached The White House, money coming through the fundraising funnel doesn’t reflect the scale and need for monies required to conquer the global plight of the ever-increasing number of orphans affected by AIDS and HIV.

It is because I have experienced working with many passionate and tenacious organisations (and the one I cite is one example of many) I know what is achievable on relatively limited budgets as well as the impactful work these limited funds support.  Basic arithmetic shows that dollar per head, ALS is storming ahead in terms of financial support per capita (as well as fat cat Director salaries).  And whilst we all have the choice of how we allocate our time and/or money, what now, post-Ice Bucket Challenge?  How can organisations like Arms Around The Child (as an example) compete with this initiative moving forward, or do they have to keep raising the ‘Bucket Bar’?

And talking of Bars, whoever is managing this ALS campaign should consider approaching bars, clubs and chains like Ocean Club to create an alternative ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’.  For the hundreds of people splashing the cash (literally and metaphorically) during the day and night, host organisations and their clientele might consider donating a percentage of the contents of each ‘Ice Bucket’ to a nominated charity of choice (not necessarily ALS).  Well, if I was looking after ALS’s PR, this would be my creative suggestion.  If someone reading this blog wants to pick it up and run with the Bucket (I mean Ball) please do so.  And I will donate my fee to a split of charities, including ALS. 

Thousands of pounds, dollars and euros are spent each Summer at Pool Parties to reserve poolside beds and spray each other with Champagne.  Surely there must be some element of opportunity here for these organisations to be seen as making a difference in the world (rather than taking)?  Or am I just old and over-zealous in my view of philanthropy?  I never said ‘don’t have a great time’ – anyone who knows my life story will know I am far from ‘bah humbug’ (apart from at Xmas when I hibernate).  I am just wondering what happens when we really get bored of seeing ALS challenges on our timeline or run out of nominees.  And what this means for other Charities trying to source funding from a similar global pool of donors?  How far do Charities have to (safely and responsibly) push this Campaign Bucket without creating chaos?   

I want the world to be a better place.  I may be idealistic in this sense, cynically so but the art of giving is always on my Bucket List.  I don’t want any innocent child or adult to not have choices or opportunities for a better life or any life at all.  But I also believe that we should be responsible with our actions and our choices.  So I ask all of you to consider your actions prior to giving to any Charity – either financially and/or with your time.  Not because ALS or any other Cause isn’t worthy.  Moreover because every action has a reaction.  Work with charities that tick your boxes.  If you don’t care whether money goes into Directors’ pockets rather than to the people that need it, no issue.  But never forget that every Charity is a Business.  If Third Sector’s prediction is anything to go by, $146 billion could fill one hell of a lot of Buckets.

(1)http://www.alsa.org/about-us/financial-information.html

(2) http://armsaroundthechild.org/

 

From Fabulous to Absolutely Awful

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Seeing JLo looking amazing on the red carpet at the VMA’s last night (and Amber Rose looking questionably so) got me thinking about my lifelong love of fashion or, moreover, glamour.  Along with millions of others, I love JLo and Kylie but what differentiates ‘Fashion Fabulous’ from ‘Fatal Faux Pas’?  JLo, Liz Hurley and Kylie are older women who haven’t messed around with themselves too much and still look ‘Absolutely Fabulous’.  My late mother was an in-house model back in the day when such things existed.  And even when she died, aged 70, her boyfriend thought she was 45’ish and she could pull it off, no problem.  With no enhancement, cellulite or Botox (‘hooray’ say my genes (and jeans). 

The thing about fashion it that you should find and embrace the look that suits you and not just buy pieces that will make you look ridiculous, whatever fashion bloggers say or to look ‘A La Mode’.  Leave that to Apple Pie – see ‘When Harry Met Sally’ if you don’t know what Apple Pie à la mode is.  From Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel and Elizabeth Taylor to modern day icons (including JLo and Kylie, for example) they all create(d) their own looks that are (still) copied today, both within Haute Couture and on the High Street.  Going back to Amber Rose, with her body shape, she could have looked fantastic, wearing the right outfit for her shape.  ‘Wow’ over ‘Boo’.

Over the years, I have worked in fashion, celebrity and travel PR and up until fairly recently, fashion magazines would have baulked at the idea of High Street names advertising within their precious pages.  Today, the High Street blurs with Bespoke as the ‘A’ listers capitalise on personalised High Street brands, lending their names to what undoubtedly become huge financial successes and fantastic ways to engage with an extended target audience.

Just because a crop-top looks great on Rihanna it doesn’t mean we all need to wear one.  Particularly when some of us will look more ‘Little Britain’ than ‘Little Waisted’.  And this is where fashion becomes dangerous.  A lot of women don’t wear what they should and particularly some of those who actually work in the fashion industry.  I call this a ‘Crime of Fashion’ rather than ‘Passion’.  I love seeing my friends look wonderful.  I celebrate the beauty of fellow women.  I generally don’t feel jealous or want to copy anyone else and I can name and shame at least three other women that copy my clothes and makeup.  I find this most bizarre as we are all unique creatures with our own Goddess-like gifts.

Whilst some women worry about what men think of their bodies, normally a man will focus on your assets rather than the bad bits you notice yourself.  If you have great boobs, work them; if you have a small waist, ditto and so forth.  I don’t think I have ever asked anyone if my bum looks big in an outfit.  Booty is a girl’s best friend and whilst every woman is born a different shape, we should all consider embracing the ‘Wow’ factor rather than a simple fashion statement for fashion’s sake.  Some women look great in clothes and others just look great naked.  I won’t say which category I fall into but ideally we want to feel and look great in both states. 

Some photos posted on social media really should be banned or reported.  It is as if some women don’t have any friends to tell them what they actually look like in the mirror or as if they have woken up after having a schizophrenic attack.  This isn’t an attack on women, it’s a public plea.  If women want to have more confidence and ‘look good naked (and by default, dressed)’ as the positively hopeful Gok Wan asks, they need to dress to their shape and define their own version of style.  And it doesn’t matter if you are a size 20 or a size 0, it’s about finding what works for you.

French women have a knack of doing this from birth.  It is as if they come out of the womb with a Style Guide.  Simple outfits can look stunning, even if ‘les femmes françaises’ are just wearing jeans and a tee.  They mix up their wardrobe into Staples and Specials.  I myself am quite happy to mix up Primark (I love Primark) with an Italian Designer but I always focus on a few specific items that give me a ‘finished’ and high impact look.  And when I travel I love a bit of a capsule wardrobe.  It’s taken some years to refine but when you travel a lot it becomes a necessity rather than a wish.

I recently went to an evening function in London and I went all over Spain and the UK to find a dress that I liked and that fitted properly.  I was going out of my mind and probably would have spent way over the odds to find something suitable.  Being a lady who is rather blessed in the chest department and whose bottom half doesn’t fit the top, it is never easy finding clothes without looking like a stuffed Xmas turkey or a bin liner.

By chance, I went into some dodgy shopping Mall in Hammersmith and happened to find the most stunning dress for £30.  Yes, £30.  So I bought it in two colours: navy blue and emerald green.  I wore the navy version for the party and paired it with amazing iridescent silver shoes and a stunning blue, silver and diamante ‘box’ clutch.  The outfit was a winner and, as it was stretchy, the boobs and butt both clung in the right places.  I hadn’t spent a lot but I felt like a million dollars.  And that, my friends, is Fashion at its best.

And whilst I would never risk of calling myself a Fashionista, I do have a good eye (just one, mind you) and can always find a bargain.  I can pick out clothes for F&F that they often think would never work and I just ‘know’.  My good eye is like radar when I walk into a shop.  Imagine Arnie in heels à la ‘Terminator’.  I scan the room and zone in on the items that I want to look at.  I never procrastinate or go back to a shop.  If I don’t love something there and then, I never will (ditto the men I go out with, LOL).  And I rarely go shopping with other people.  This is a ‘Lone Wolf’ kind of task for me, one that requires utmost concentration and no white noise from the rest of the world.  I take my craft very seriously. 

And so to the lesson of this blog and some fashion commandments.  Please have the confidence to wear what you should wear not what you think you should wear.  Celebs get it wrong sometimes too and hideously so…just look on some Instagram accounts, Lord save us – ‘shoot the stylist’, I say.  And talking of Instagram, I have banned myself from temptation as some of the accounts I follow are becoming like an addiction to temptation.  FYI.

The heart of fashion lies in confidence and an ability to find a style that flatters and makes you feel great.  Whilst JLo, Kylie and the like may have 24/7 Stylists, Hairdressers, Makeup Artists and PT’s, this is their JOB: they are paid to look wonderful and showcase the epitome of beauty and fashion.  Women should minimise their need to feel envy or deny themselves their own level of Fashion Pride.  Be inspired by the wonderful modern-day resources available to see what is ‘Hot or Not’ but don’t get called into ‘Fashion Prison’ where you will be held until you see sense. 

Hopefully I won’t be in Fashion Prison any time soon.  I pray that my good eye and genes grant me Fashion Freedom for many years to come…Fabulous over Awful any day of the week.  Absolutely.

The Mini Hotel Inspector

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When I was a little girl I would drag my mother into hotels and particularly their WC’s to see what they were like.  I don’t think my quirk was a toilet fetish (sorry, pervs) but I linked the status of the loo to the establishment overall.  Even now I do the same.  If the bog ain’t up to scratch, quite frankly, the hotel or restaurant can ‘bog off’.

I remember pulling my mother into the toilet of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (aged 11 or so) and it got the thumbs up because of the red plush carpet on the wall.  Over the years I have stayed in hundreds of hotels.  As a former celebrity and travel PR, much of my life was lived out of a suitcase and as a person who genuinely loves to travel (and who also is a complete perfectionist) my quest continues to this day.

I would actually love to own a boutique hotel.  I adore hotels and the associations therein.  For me, indulgence is a fluffy bathrobe, all my senses overwhelmed, decent room service, surrounded by magazines, books, newspapers and crap TV.  All on a massive comfy bed (with a delectable beau perhaps!).  My hotel would be unforgettable though.  One with a difference and hopefully I wouldn’t make the same mistakes made by others.  If you asked me what makes a great hotel or indeed restaurant, the most important factor is attention to detail.  ‘The devil’s in the detail’ is one of my favourite expressions and whilst you may not care if you have designer toiletries when you get in from work and just want to crash, you DO care and notice if the mattress is comfortable and the linen is decent.  I would actually offer both.

So in light of the above, the Premier Inn strategy works as a functional and reliable source of somewhere to stay for work or pleasure, whilst hopefully keeping costs down.  Rooms are clean, beds are decent and bathrooms are usually a reasonable size.  But a functional hotel doesn’t give you an ‘experience’.  For me, a hotel is as much about the fantasy that accompanies that stay, whether it be of a lustful or restful nature.  It gets my pulse racing, regardless.

I have stayed at five and six star hotels over the years and very few have impressed me.  The ‘famed’ Burj in Dubai couldn’t accommodate my dietary requirements when I went for tea.  What that means in real terms is that they couldn’t be bothered.  Which is where this piece started.  I would never go back.  Ditto Dubai as a destination.  As with any job, role or position in life, if you don’t care, you might as well not be there in the first place.

When hotels make that extra effort, you appreciate these little touches.  At The Ritz Carlton in Vienna (swoon) where my half Viennese best friend nearly blew up the hotel, they prepared home-made gluten-free bread for me.  I felt special and loved.  The bread was delicious (and it wasn’t poisoned, despite my friend’s antics).  I don’t think many chefs actually taste some of the GF bread they give guests.  Most of it tastes like chalk or rubber (not that I regularly chew on either).

The suites at The Chedi in Oman are impressive.  I nearly set fire to the room with all the candles burning for ‘me, myself and I’.  I did feel a bit of a knob on my own in a ‘romance’ suite with a 10 foot sunken slate bath filled with rose petals and lemon water but it was still glorious: from the smell of the room to the quality of the spa treatments, it was like taking part in a little slice of Heaven.  I also changed shower rooms depending on my mood (there were separate ‘His and Hers’ rainfall showers). 

In London, The Café Royal hits the spot every time.  Even popping in for a coffee at the café, you feel part of history, staring up at the photos of some of the truly good and great that have frequented this genuine London landmark.  Not only are the WC’s great (I still check, like some weirdo and wish I could sign off the loo checks on the wall) but the food is wonderful and the staff attentive.  Everyone can be a movie star at Café Royal.

One of the main problems with a lot of hotels is quality of staff (or lack of) and rubbish food.  I have told many a Central London hotel that they could be increasing their turnover by at least 30 per cent if they kept their guests dining in-house.  I love a bit of room service (and I mean in the traditional sense, wink) but I usually end up at Whole Foods, M&S, Da Mario in SW7 or Maroush because a lot of (London) hotel food is expensive and crap.

A good menu is not difficult to create and it doesn’t have to cost over the odds.  Simple fayre usually works well for business travellers and leisure guests from overseas should sample a showcase of local cuisine rather than go away thinking that British or xx cuisine is poor.  I sometimes wonder who designs hotel menus and whether any thought is put into the ‘why’ behind choices.

And now we come back to my greatest obsession: hotel bathrooms.  I am big on bathrooms (and toilets, clearly) and some hotels will try and cram a tiny creaky shower in the corner of the room, built for garden gnomes (I am not anti-gnome).  Some bathrooms are clearly designed by men, without being sexist in any shape or form, but with no regard for space and enough of the same for all of a lady’s essential toiletries and makeup.  Ditto lighting for makeup – if the lighting isn’t right, your face may end up looking like Neil in ‘The Inbetweeners’ with his fake tan (in the first film).  And why are hairdryers always only five volts even if the machine states 1600V?  Are there mice running on a wheel to power them?

And now to another obsession: hotel windows.  I won’t stay anywhere that doesn’t have a window that opens.  I feel locked in and could actually smash a wall…so airport hotels and mid-town Vegas don’t work for me.  Plus airco turns me into an advert for the ‘Tunes’ throat sweets (who remembers this ad?) with sinus pain.  In Kilburn, NW London, there is a hotel whose windows don’t open but I think this is more to do with insurance and local crime rates rather than jumpers from a tower block. 

Bottom line, hotels need to regularly up their game.  There is always a new investment project or flashier reception being built and recouping costs on a hotel is no laughing matter.  Who cares if there is gold leaf on the ceiling (as per a few hotels I have been to).  We aren’t going to lick it off are we?  What guests want is never rocket science but different travellers have varied requirements.  Management need to put themselves in their guests’ slippers and maybe even visit the toilets on occasion. 

Perhaps I will get a hotel in the future, one offering a spa, gym and Sunday BBQ’s by the pool for non-residents.  I know the name, can visualise it all and know that I would build a loyal customer base, probably mainly from my mates wanting to be fed!  You can guarantee three things.  Staff will be well trained (in the host country language); toilets will be the epitome of bathroom porn and food will be excellent, offering local and seasonal produce, tailored to the guest. 

The Grown-Up Hotel Inspector has a lot to live up to.